Friday, February 24, 2017

Getting Burned Out? Try a Free Trip or Conference 2017

Hang on a second while I count the number of awesome teaching conferences I have attended in Sin City. Oh right, that'd be none. 

While it would seem that well-educated professionals in other lines of work can travel more easily to such "conferences" à la all-expenses-paid support from their employers, teachers aren't often presented with such favorable circumstances. However, I would argue that, as a whole, we have a greater need for recharge and opportunities for productive discourse than any other occupation. 

Even though we're tired and overextended, we must take the time to invest in ourselves. So, let's check out some reasons to attend conferences and self-selected professional development (PD) provided by fellow educators: 

1. You'll "have a whole network of teachers to reach out to for questions." - Charla Dover, K-5 co-teacher and SPED lead

After swapping a few email addresses and making new Facebook friends, you'll have a support network to summon when you need a lesson idea or a sounding board for working through issues. This is particularly valuable when you teach a specialized subject (ESOL, Advanced Placement, band, etc.), and you are the only one in your field at your school. 

2. You can "walk away with a few good 'nuggets' that are easy to implement and help in the classroom without completely upending [your] teaching methods and style." - Wesley Brooks, middle school band director  

Unlike one-size-fits-all school and district-based programs which don't always align with personal preferences or your unique subject material, conferences allow you to select the sessions that are most relevant to you. Many of my best lessons were stolen in this manner- there's no shame in my game! 

3. When you choose your own PD it "keeps you in the know about the 'new' stuff... and reminds you of why you wanted to teach." - Christine Lauer, high school science teacher

I remember enjoying writing lesson plans in college when all my creative juices were flowing, and I didn't have piles of pesky paperwork to hinder my planning. One of the joys of teaching is that each year grants us a chance to change things up. Without taking the time to stop and examine the new practices that are available, we start to become like an old, stale box of crackers- we can still get the job done, but we're much less fresh and palatable for those who must consume our provisions. 

4. "The wonderful thing about teachers [at conferences] is the way they share what they have learned by trial and error." Dr. MaryLena Anderegg, K-5 classroom teacher and college professor, retired  

With so many lessons on the internet and from curriculum developers, it is refreshing to have a fellow teacher walk you through an activity, complete with tips and personal experience, so you can feel confident utilizing novel methods. As a conference presenter myself, it is invaluable to have session participants share their insights with me. The camaraderie is often palpable and always appreciated. 

For more about my personal motivation for promoting conferences and teacher travel, check out this week's video:

Pumped up and ready to go? I don't want to purvey the impression that magic unicorns will sense your desire to aid the children of the world and whisk you away to the conference or camp you desire. So, here are some meaningful conference funding sources and PD offerings with the targeted audience and financial information for each in parenthesis:

1. Edcamps (worldwide, free)

Edcamps are participant-driven, vendor-free, "unconferences" where organizers set a schedule for the day, but participants decide the sessions on the day of the event. Interactions are via presentations as well as impromptu discussions. At these events "anyone with a good idea is encouraged to lead a conversation." Check out their multitude of upcoming events, and see if one is in your area.

2. [Insert your state and subject matter] Teachers Association Yearly Conference

To me, your state's subject or level-specific conference should be your lifeblood. As a member of the Georgia Science Teachers Association, I have been kept up-to-date with trends in education for the last 11 years. Their awards and grants (due each November) not only helped me secure funding for my classroom, but they include registration to the conference along with some travel reimbursement. What a great investment of time to apply! Check your organization's offerings; you might be surprised at what is available in your backyard.

2.Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Teacher Seminars (nationwide, free)

These seminars are based on intriguing historical topics and are open to teachers of all subjects. As a plus, travel reimbursements are offered. The deadline for 2017 has passed. But, bookmark it for next year, and make sure your school is on the affiliate list before the 2018 cycle. Hosting institutions include Yale and Oxford College, and the topics are pretty intriguing, even for this science nerd.

3. American Wilderness Leadership School (Wyoming, free and may include a scholarship to cover travel)

Hosted in weekly workshops throughout the summer, this was one of the best programs I have participated in as a teacher. While staying in a beautiful area surrounded by the Tetons, we studied conservation and ecology, made fishing flies, went whitewater rafting, and learned archery- all with my travel and tuition covered. If you need to get away, apply with a friend (I attended with two!), and get back to nature this summer.

4. ASM Teacher Materials Camps (nationwide, free, often with $500 stipends for participation)

Teacher Materials Camps are designed to introduce STEM teachers of all levels to the world of materials science. Last summer, I attended one in our nation's capital in order to learn more about about plastics, polymers, and alloys. We blew glass, made pottery, and performed various engineering challenges. I went home with tons of freebies and lesson ideas. Check out their full schedule of offerings here.

5. American Chemical Society Hach Grants (funding source, chemistry teachers only, up to $1500)

Hach classroom and professional development grants are lucrative funding sources for conferences like NSTA or ChemEd. Last year, I was awarded two Hach grants: one I used for travel and the other I used for classroom models. The time required for the application process was well worth it compared to the funding I received, so I would highly recommend this program.

6. Advanced Placement Readers (paid position, AP teachers and college professors only, $1600+ pay with full travel reimbursement)

Being an AP reader sounds like work, and it is, but you learn invaluable information to share with your students about how their exams are scored. There are nightly social and educational gatherings, and you won't have to wash a single dish all week. If you want to make a professional learning network with like-minded teachers, this is a great start.

7. National Center for Science Education Grand Canyon Trip (Arizona, all expenses paid)

The only requirement for this free, 8-day rafting trip is that you teach K-12 science in public or private school in the US or Canada and "demonstrate a commitment to accurate, thorough, and uncompromising presentation of evolution, climate change, and the nature of science." Not a bad trade for an adventure through one of our country's most magnificent landforms...

If nothing above is resonating, you can always peruse other online lists, and leave no local stones unturned; other ideas for financial support fellow educators shared included using departmental and booster club funds to cover conference costs and exchanging a volunteer shift for free conference registration. 

I know I have often felt as though there was no money in my district for attendance or travel expenses; nevertheless, I persisted by approaching my administration with a clear goal for my participation. Bonus points for your plea: offer to share what you learned with relevant groups when you return. 

If you have a lesson or technique you're excited about sharing, tell your leaders you want to submit a proposal for a conference session of your own in order to help support your request. What principal doesn't want their school to look good through showcasing its teachers? Even if you think your school will say no, ask anyway. You have nothing to lose! 

Should you already have your own recharging conference in the works, check out this solid preparation advice from Education World. As for keeping your phone battery charged while you're there, you're on your own. 



P.S. My list is in no way an exhaustive one, so please keep the commentary flowing. If you have any other PD tips to share with willing ears, leave your ideas in the comments below.