Thanks to the generosity of our CTO Andrew Schwab, I recently had the privilege to be one of two district principals to attend the Palm Springs annual CUE event. If you've never attended this event, you need to. Put it on your list. Figure out a way to make it happen. It's an amazing event filled with edu-famous celebrities (look, there's Lisa Highfill... oh wait, to our right, there's Jon Corippo!) and more presentations than you'll ever be able to attend. It's a chance to hear from Kid President and Hadi Partovi (the founder of code.org) with seven thousands of the bestest friends you never knew you had.
But there's a way NOT to experience CUE... Learn from my mistakes.
1) Don't plan anything ahead of time.
Every attendee has access to the conference schedules weeks ahead of time. Some educators will scan the schedule and map out possible sessions for each time slot. Others, like myself, will look at the schedule and say "eh, I'll figure it out at the opening session". This was a huge mistake.
On our first morning, I found myself listening to the amazing opening keynote by Brad Montague, laughing and tearing up at his amazing journey from awkward teenager to inspirational speaker. Once he ended, I realized that I had little time to figure out what next session to attend. I scanned the attached booklet and figured out a session I'd like to attend. This session, it turns out, was a good 6-8 blocks away at another venue. I was not prepared for these travels. My failure to plan ahead of time compounded as the conference continued. Best advice: Plan out your schedule ahead of time. Map everything out. Have a back-up plan.
2) Avoid the social events.
CUE is more than a conference; it's an opportunity to meet your Twitter friends in person. You need to go out of your way to expand your Professional Learning Network outside of the conference walls. My first two nights, I retired to my hotel room as early as possible. I missed out on a lot of social opportunities by doing so. The third night, I did join our school district staff in our attendance of the CUE Karaoke, although I didn't make it onto the stage with the group. I know it's tempting, especially if you have four kids, to just take an early evening in your hotel room. Don't. Instead, get caught up on your sleep ahead of time and be prepared to sing awkward 80's songs into the wee hours of the night with your new best friends.
3) Don't present; just attend some sessions.
One of the best parts about the CUE experience is to hear from educators who may not be available through other means. The annual CUE conference brings in edu-legendary speakers to share their wisdom and inspire your practice. Just as important, there are sessions with first time presenters that become instant classics and well revered. That's the beauty of a CUE conference. You have a Thomas Murray presenting next door to someone who's a 3rd grade classroom teacher from a tiny district in Northern California, presenting for the first time in their short educational career.
Many CUE-attendees will think: there's no way I can present at CUE. I don't have anything special to share. Even if I do sign up to present, I don't think they'll select me. If they do select me, I don't think anyone will show up. Even if a few people do show up, I don't think I'll do a good job with my presentation. Ignore these thoughts. Apply. Apply again. Don't give up. And invite me to your session. I'll be there for support.
4) Go alone.
When you are at a CUE conference, you're never alone. You can stop by any session and make five new edu-friends almost instantaneously. There's always an opportunity to share meals, co-attend sessions, and just hang out in an un-conference session. That said, there's nothing that takes the place of attending a conference with educators from your district. If you're an admin, bring 3-5 other district principals with you. If you're a classroom teacher, make sure that you have a cadre of like-minded district educators to share google docs write ups from all of the sessions. Don't be afraid to invite a district principal to lunch with you. They'll be just as interested to learn about what you're doing in the classroom as you are to hear about their administrative perspective on "good teaching." CUE is an opportunity to leave the classroom walls behind and build better bonds with your district peers. Take advantage of the opportunity.
5) Eat poorly.
Perhaps the most important rule of CUE is to bring snacks. Power cords and mifi devices are nice too, but power bars, kind bars, protein bars, and every other kind of bar you can think of are essential for this conference. The distance to the downtown eating locations is a good 15 minute walk. The nearest shopping center is a mile away in the wrong direction. Make sure you bring snacks to tide you over between sessions.
Don't rely on the hotel buffet at lunch either. Make plans with your twitter friends at Sherman's or another semi-famous Palm Springs establishment. It's ok to miss a session or two to extend your learning over lunch. One of the best events of my CUE experience was getting to know some of our USD educators at a group dinner Thursday night. Plan accordingly and put food first.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my CUE experience. Most importantly, I know what to do next time to improve upon the experience. If you ever have the opportunity to attend the annual CUE event in Palm Springs, take advantage of it. Just make sure you plan ahead of time, be social, sign up to present, go with a team, and bring snacks -- from there, enjoy the most amazing experience of our edu-awesome journey.