So, you’ve discovered a conference you’d like to attend, but there’s a real possibility that your boss will say “No”. What can you do to maximise your chances of being allowed to attend?
The suggestions which follow cannot, obviously, be guaranteed to succeed. However, they will almost certainly give you more of a fighting chance than the usual approach, which is just to ask for 3 days off. The trick when talking to supervisors is to make your problem their problem, and their problem your problem. Let’s start with the first, making your problem their problem.
Making your problem their problem
Reasons to be allowed to attend
It’s a big challenge keeping up with current thinking and research and practice, so a conference can be a very useful way of doing so very quickly. The issue is: will you get more from going to the conference than you could obtain by other means? In this respect, two factors come into play.
First, does the conference, or a particular theme or strand of the conference, deal with something you’re especially involved in?
For example, are you running a particular course, are you about to buy and implement a particular type of learning platform, are you about to enter your students for a particular examination? These kinds of needs, if addressed by the conference, are powerful arguments in favour of your being permitted to attend.
Second, do the speakers have particular expertise in the area of concern? Note that this is not the same as “is the speaker famous?” If you’re about to start a new course, and the main speaker is one of the writers of the course, or from the relevant Awarding Body, that is likely to be much more useful than an entertaining but, ultimately, empty talk by a well-known personality.
There is a need to network. Even the best schools can become complacent or out of touch, if they have no external reference point by which to judge themselves. When I used to do inspections of schools’ ICT provision I often found myself recommending to the subject leader that s/he starts to make visits to other schools to see what they’re doing. You can’t really pick up good ideas from reading about them in quite the same way as you can by actually seeing the ideas in practice and asking questions of the appropriate people.
In fact, networking is so important that whenever I am involved in organising conferences I ensure that there is time for people to meet informally, and I always try to have this billed in the programme as “social networking” or “networking”, as opposed to “Bar”. Having “bar” as a timetabled activity almost invariably elicits the response “Why should I have to pay for you to go on a junket?” The fact that it takes place in your own time doesn’t make any difference, because it’s the perception that counts in cases like this.
Making their problem your problem
1. Minimise the disruption. If it’s possible to set work that requires very little effort by another teacher, but which is still useful, then do so. For example, you could set everything up on the school network in advance.
You can also compile folders for each lesson. Imagine being a cover teacher, and handed a folder containing the instructions to the class “Log on and click on the X icon”, a list of students’ names and their login details, and simple instructions about what they have to do.
2. Minimise the cost. While you’re away, the school may have to hire a temporary teacher. There are two main ways you can try to avoid or minimise this cost.
First, it may be possible for you to organise cover within your team, if you have one. This make sense from a learning point of view, because it means that the students will still be being taught in your absence. However, if your co-workers agree to this arrangement, you must negotiate a quid pro quo whereby they will not be asked to cover others’ lessons in addition. In other words, nobody should end up doing more cover work than they normally would.
The second is to see if there is a possibility of volunteering to assist with the conference arrangements, or to speak at the conference, in return for a free place and money to cover supply teachers. Obviously, not every delegate will be able to enjoy this kind of arrangement, but in my experience most of them never ask.
As I’ve said, these approaches are not absolutely guaranteed to work, but one thing is for certain: they mark you out as a professional who believes it’s their right to have access to continuing professional development.