Published in e-newsletter hyphen in November 2005.
With so many educational seminars, conferences and conventions held every year, how can you be sure the events you choose to attend actually offer the most? In this article we’ll look at how to select the ‘right’ training sessions, and, most importantly, how to prepare and get the most out of them.
It is common sense that the more educational conventions you and your teachers attend the more benefits for your organization. Why?
Conventions and any other training sessions (or even professional ‘gatherings’) offer the ELT professional the opportunity to mingle and share experiences with other like-minded professionals. A career opportunity might come up, a good contact, or a good friend to exchange practical tips with.
- Νew approaches.
ELT professionals can see how others in their field teach/act in a similar context and perhaps more effectively.
- Stepping out of the box.
Teachers step out of their daily routine and have the opportunity to re-energize and re-evaluate themselves and their practices.
The benefits to you and your teachers attending professional development sessions goes beyond what the teachers actually learn. With such a plethora of events available in the Greek ELT market, however, choosing such a developmental session or convention has proven difficult over the last few years.
Choosing the ‘right’ conference
Tens of teacher-centered conferences or training sessions are held every year in Greece; how can you be sure the events you choose to attend actually offer the most?
- Examine the long-term goals of your school/working situation. Is there an emphasis on a particular teaching strategy or methodology, or another change in the curriculum that could prove a starting point for event selection?
- Explore and evaluate individual teachers’ professional development needs and goals. Are there particular teachers interested in pursuing some kind of formal certification, integrating technology in the classroom, or preparing for a promotion to, for example, director of studies, or internal quality controller?
- Consider financial and time constraints of both you and your teachers. Is sending a teacher to a half-day workshop in town a more appropriate allocation of resources rather than sending your highly qualified teachers to national conferences for a broader spectrum? Who is funding the teachers’ expenses and why?
Remember when choosing a conference, bigger isn’t always better. A teacher who has never gone to a conference before might benefit more from a smaller in-town event than from a bigger one across the country. Some teachers might feel overwhelmed or under-prepared for the grueling pace of a multi-day conference attended by hundreds of teachers.
Maximise the experience effect
To maximise the attendees’ conference time and energy, teachers should be encouraged to do a little pre-conference preparation – especially if they’re attending one of the bigger conferences mentioned above. It’s far too easy for teachers to attend dozens of sessions, grab hundreds of freebies, and return to school more confused! To help teachers prepare for such events:
- Preview conference offerings before the event and help your teachers set up a mini schedule of their attendance. Attendees who don’t risk missing key events, valuable giveaways, or important presenters.
- Set up the schedule in a way that avoids the crowds as much as possible.
- Don’t forget the exhibition hall, if one. Whether your teachers have a lot or a little input into purchasing decisions, listening to representatives can help them learn how other schools use various products/services to improve learning. Advise teachers to carefully choose the freebies and handouts they gather. Instead of carrying around tons of brochures, teachers can take quick notes on ideas and innovations that may make a difference. Encourage them to hand out their own business cards and get on a mailing list or receive further information.
- Encourage your teachers to approach teacher-led organizations and join their mailing list. This way they’ll become members of a wider network of professionals and be informed of other events and news from the field. The same goes for any field magazine/newspaper subscriptions.
- Reflect. Make sure time is allotted in the schedule for reflection. Teachers need time to sort through session handouts, contact information, and so on, and to organize the materials they’ve collected while still at the conference.
School owners and Directors of Studies see it happening all the time: a stressed-out teacher happily comes back from a conference all refreshed and fired up. Weeks go by, the stress returns, and no change in teaching or learning is evident!
The most important aspect of capitalizing on conferences is applying what was learned. Encourage your teachers to examine, evaluate and revise their teaching based on their experiences at the conference. Your teachers can apply conference knowledge most effectively if they:
- Organize immediately. As soon as teachers return home they should enter contact information into an address book; file notes in folders, and pass along materials gathered to colleagues.
- Implement one great idea a week. If teachers discovered five great ideas at the conference, they should pick one and focus all their energy on trying that one. Trying to bring about multiple changes all at once confuses students and confounds teachers.
- Maintain networking contacts. E-mail or phone new found friends and colleagues. Schedule time to read publications published by the conference sponsor.
- Hold on to the feeling. Months or even weeks from the conference, teachers can pull out a file, a freebie, or a photo and remember how the conference made teaching seem fun and lifelong learning possible.
- Once you and your teachers feel confident about attending conferences, start attending them as presenters!