In a recent post, I compared two professional development conferences that I recently attended. One conference, per my notes, was rather effective while the other conference didn't resonate as strongly. In talking with a close colleague and fellow administrator of mine, I was asked a series of questions about the second conference. Many of their questions focused on the following question: "What would you have done differently?"
That's a good question. In my recent blog, I listed everything I struggled with in regard to the conference. At no point did I offer solutions or ideas on how to fix what I saw as negatives. When my staff comes to me with a concern, one of my first responses is "you've come to me with a problem... now tell me what you think we should do about it." In my recent post, I didn't follow this format. To be fair, here's what I would change, first as a list and then with detailed explanations.
1) The Sessions
a) more sessions
b) shorter sessions
c) sessions from tech companies
d) more 21st sessions
2) The Scheduling
a) less breaks
b) different placement of general sessions
3) General Sessions
a) shift on awards
b) which speakers which days
a) more diverse population
b) encourage more online participation
The sessions at the conference were infrequent and quite long. In my opinion, the secret to a successful conference is to have more sessions, more often. If you happen to be a part of a session that isn't your cup of tea, knowing that it's just a short 30-45 minutes doesn't make it a huge waste of time. At this recent conference, sessions were anywhere from 90 to 150 minutes. That's just too long for today's educators to be a part of. Having shorter sessions means that there's the opportunity for more sessions. That's an important point of the conference. Additionally, to not have any educational technology companies present seems foolish and out of touch with today's 21st century schools. Imagine four additional 45 minutes sections led by various cutting edge edtech companies and their products. These 21st century topics would be of interest to all conference participants and energize the overall vibe of the conference. There is also a lot of value in learning about new methods or a new product that you can bring to your school site.
The scheduling of the conference was a huge issue. Long three hour blocks just can't happen. Imagine a three hour lunch at a middle school and then asking the students to return to their classes for social studies. What do you think the students would do? How is that best for learning? Instead, I'd have fewer breaks and completely overhaul the schedule of when general sessions take place. The middle of the morning or afternoon isn't the best place for everyone to congregate. I'd schedule these events at the end of the day prior to any evening events. I'd also change the content of these general sessions... specifically, I would encourage new leaders within education to present. The message of these general sessions can be very powerful if developed accordingly.
I'd change not only the timing of the general sessions but I'd encourage a more 21st century aspect to the theme of the conference. While I appreciate the stories of recent speakers, I feel that motivation and cutting edge technology is what should be at the forefront. Last year, the general session speaker spoke about a rose growing front concrete (google is your friend). I left not only motivated but invigorated to support today's youth and make a difference at my school site. I'd move these sessions to the late afternoon / early evening spot. After a long day in individual sessions, having a chance to congregate and celebrate the great work we do on a daily basis would be a positive reflection opportunity.
Finally, I'd figure out a way to invite a new professional contingent to the conference. While I realize that the conference is meant for school administrators, many of whom have belonged to this organization for decades, the future of the organization is built on the shoulders of our current teachers and aspiring administrators. I personally brought seven teachers to this conference. Imagine if every principal was given the task of bringing at least four teachers to the conference. How would this shift the conversations? What kind of Twitter presence would the conference have with this new influx of participants? One of the best parts of a conference is the ability to collaborate and communicate with other attendees. This aspect can be accomplished by including a more techno-savvy contingent to the conference. It may take a dedicated marketing or recruitment by current attendees but I think it would make for a better conference experience for all those involved.
These are just a few of my suggestions. As I always share with my staff members, we need to focus on how to improve the situation and not just stress on the negatives. How can we as a team attempt to solve the problem and by working together improve our practice for future students, parents, teachers, and community members? Even if we have a small role in the situation, there is still much for us to share and gain from improving the past practices of the organization. After all, when presented with the question of "what would you do differently," shouldn't we be prepared to answer the call and work collaborative to improve what we want to one day benefit from? I'd say yes... and I'm willing to work with the organizers to have next year's conference embrace these changes and improve into what type of conference it could be for today's 21st century administrators.