A teacher in a group I participate in sent along a Facebook post that her local university was hosting a literacy conference and she noted that people in the group had valuable knowledge and expertise to share–would they consider submitting a proposal to present a session? It’s a smallish school, but the conference has been well-received in the past and thought members of the group might be a good fit.

I submitted on a whim one night thinking surely they’d reject my proposal. It would address giftedness, which most education conferences aren’t interested in–their participants want remediation strategies, curriculum and cross-curricular ideas, and tips and tricks for typical or kids with special needs. In all the conferences I have gone to that were not a gifted focus to begin with, there were perhaps 2 or three gifted sessions out of several hundred others. It’s important that teachers get the opportunity to learn about these kids, and many won’t be provided much in the way of professional development otherwise.

I was thrilled to get an email from a sweet woman at the university inviting me to present a few weeks ago. I started looking into the cost, and she offered a number of options that will save me a little money. I still have to figure out the flight, but other logistics fell into place well and her kindness will be remembered. I hope I can pay it forward someday for another teacher.

There’s research to suggest that attending conferences, particularly education conferences, is the least effective way for teachers to get professional development. I understand and have overheard lots of conversations among teachers about how they feel about conferences. Teachers are overwhelmed by the number of sessions, unsure as to which they should attend. They go in with little to no forethought as to what would be useful and end up choosing sessions based on other’s suggestions or they simply guess that something might be interesting. Others fixate on what their administrator told them to attend, but don’t understand why they’re there, so they furiously take notes in the hopes that it’ll be what their admin wanted. Some bail completely and use the time away to catch up on grading, emails, and other projects while sitting in the common areas of the hotels. Others spend it in their rooms, watching the cable they can’t afford at home and taking some well-deserved time for self-care. While these last two are definitely not the norm, overall, conference attendance provides a few takeaways, but nothing that is able to be implemented in their buildings beyond their classroom or within their team.

Presenting at conferences isn’t a moneymaker. Generally you not only pay your own registration to the conference, but you also pay for the hotel and other related expenses. They’re not cheap, often charging $200-$400 plus the cost of the hotel, which is in the neighborhood of $200 itself. Some are kind enough to offer a small discount on conference registration and/or the hotel. Even staying off-site is difficult, because surrounding hotels raise their rates knowing the group rate at the sponsoring location. You aren’t paid, but you do get to meet some lovely people and make networking connections, which often matters quite a bit–education is all about knowing the right people, and sometimes you can find them in a presenter or attendee.

In my last post, I worked my way through finding my “why.” I’ve been thinking long and hard as to whether what I choose to participate in fits with that statement:

To engage in work that impacts the world around me positively so that others can grow, learn, and honor one another.

I brought up this opportunity to a friend in context with my why and she had some good questions. She came at this from a very different perspective, having a role other than teacher in a school. After we chatted, I tried to hide my hurt for a few days and wasn’t really successful–it hurt a lot to have someone say essentially that the thing I enjoy most in my role isn’t worthy of doing because it takes away from what others feel I should be focusing on. She noted that I ought to rethink about my purpose in presenting at conferences or even attending them at all since they do cost so much and research shows they aren’t worthwhile anyway. She questioned: am I doing it for the good of the school and our kids or for me personally? The latter is incredibly selfish, and in either case, why should a school pay for it if I benefit from the professional development? How do any of the conferences I plan to attend or have attended in the past align with the priorities of our building, our initiatives, our work? What benefit does the staff get if I go? Why would we bother to send me, who is no longer in the classroom, over other staff who is? Why should a school pay for any professional development for teachers as a whole if they, personally, are the only ones who are benefitting from having gone, and even that’s a stretch because no one ever knows what they learned from being their or how it will be implemented? No other industry pays for professional development–why should a school when those funds could be used for something more worthwhile?

I gave all of this a lot of thought. I wrote out my thinking, sharing it with a few who could help. My friend’s comments were hurtful in the moment, I won’t lie, but they did get me thinking, so were ultimately helpful. Why do we offer professional development to teachers and how can we make it more “for the good of all”? How can we make it affordable for teachers to go, while at the same time providing relevant and useful information that teachers can use and share with others in a format that is worthwhile?

Thinking beyond, if this is my why, “To engage in work that impacts the world around me positively so that others can grow, learn, and honor one another” how does my work as a presenter, a teacher, fit in to that? I find I keep going back and forth about it, from backing up altogether (“I won’t bother presenting anymore since too many are adversely impacted when I do”) to doubling down (“No, I ought to continue presenting and create a more diverse offering of topics as well to both meet my own need to learn and that of others.”) What other pieces of my world do I need to change or remove myself from in order to continue to honor my Why? Which organizations and obligations grow my Why and which am I participating in out of obligation?

I hope you’ve been thinking about your Why… And now that our school year is drawing to a close, what opportunities can you change in your world to better suit your why or your school’s why as a whole?

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