It's a great pity, in my view, that one of the first things to go when the budget is tight is training. You can understand why: allowing a teacher to go on a training day not only costs the event fee, but also the cost of hiring a substitute teacher. Plus there is the hidden cost in terms of the fact that substitute teachers, no matter how good they are, rarely fill the shoes of the regular teacher. (And that is one reason, incidentally, why creating a lesson bank is such a good idea.)
Nevertheless, it's a short-sighted measure because I think continuing professional development (CPD) in any job is essential. One especially good form of CPD is — or can be — a one day conference.
I've already written about what I look for in a conference. But how can going to a conference help you become a better ed tech leader?
Benefits of attending a conference
If you choose the conference well, these are the potential benefits:
- Get the latest news and upcoming developments. Things move so fast in both technology and education that this is a good enough reason in itself to get along to a conference. One thing I have often found is that if a representative of officialdom is giving a talk, they will give you off-the-cuff news and insights which will either never find their way into published reports or will take some time to do so.
For example, they may give you interim results of some research they've been carrying out, or some options they've been considering plus a heads-up about a forthcoming consultation. All of these kind of things help you keep on top of your game and put you in a position to be able to advise the senior leadership of your team from an informed standpoint.
- Meet other ICT leaders. I do my best to keep up with the news, but even so I always manage to find something out from a fellow attendee that I didn't know before. In fact, just being able to, if necessary, have a good moan about the state of things can be very good. After all, being an ICT leader or co-ordinator is often a lonely job, and meeting others in a similar position can be therapeutic if nothing else.
- Another benefit of meeting colleagues in similar positions is that it enables people to exchange ideas. No matter how innovative you are, you can still learn something from talking to other people.
- If the conference has been good, you will not only come away full of new information and ideas, you will also have had a morale and energy boost.
One of the downsides of going to a conference is that the new information and ideas end up going to the bottom of the virtual in-tray. I think it's very important indeed that when you return from a conference you work to a simple rubric along the lines of:
- What were the three key things I learnt at the conference?
- What is one thing I can and should change immediately as a result of attending it?
- What is one thing I should change, or advise the senior leadership to change, over the long term?
If you lead a team of teachers, feedback should be given at the next team meeting. That in itself can provide valuable CPD, not only in terms of disseminating the knowledge to colleagues, but also in terms of the ensuing discussion.
If the team meeting is not scheduled for a long time, the information and advice should be disseminated to the team in some way.
I also think that one of the conditions of being allowed to go to a conference is that the notes made are distributed as necessary. Otherwise the benefits of attending are confined to only the attendee and can soon disappear.
Clearly, most of the points made here can be applied to any form of training, not only conferences.
There are aso online conferences, perhaps the best known being the K12 Online Conference. Attending such a conference is often easier than attending a physical one because you can watch the presentations in your own time, and so do not need permission as such.
However, I think there are two principles and one practical issue involved here. The principles are that, firstly, I believe that teachers should be treated as professionals. That means being given time to go to events like conferences. Secondly, expecting people to attend a conference in their own time effectively discriminates against those teachers who have family commitments and for whom, therefore, attending an online conference is impractical at best and impossible at worst.
The practical issue is that attending an online conference in real time enables you to participate in the discussion and Twitter stream taking place at the time.
It may be possible to negotiate for members of your team and yourself to have guaranteed no cover while the online conference is going on, so that each of you could attend in their 'free' lessons. Obviously, that kind of arrangement won't be possible in the average primary school.
In any case, it's not an ideal situation because in my experience you still get constantly interrupted and even called upon to do an emergency cover anyway. In fact, the ideal arrangement is to attend the conference at home or at a colleague's house. I don't underestimate the difficulties of getting that approved though.
Bottom line: attending a conference at least once a year is essential. It should help you do your job better. Everyone knows that teacher expertise is one of the most important factors in securing student learning and progress; conferences can help you maintain and increase that expertise.
You may also find this article useful: All About BETT: What it is, 9 Reasons to Attend,4 Reasons You Should Be Allowed to Attend, and 4 Other Colleagues Who Should Go Too