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Get the most out of your next PD conference

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  1.      It's been a very busy fall in my household for professional development.  My wife is also an educator and in the past two months, we have each attended multiple conferences and have each led sessions at conferences.  Some of these experiences were very good, and others were just OK.  I'm taking a class right now with a focus on designing and planning effective professional development, so I wondered what it was that makes a conference worthwhile.  Rather than writing about what goes into the planning and design, I think it's more important to start with what you do as an attendee.  In my experience and from reading the thoughts of others, here are some things to keep in mind before you head off to your next conference:
         Take time to read through the schedule and make intentional choices about what you want to learn.  If you get into a session and it just isn't doing it for you, politely leave at an appropriate time.  As a presenter, this used to bother me, but then I realized that as adults we know our needs very well, and if the session doesn't match those needs, it's OK. Go find something else that does.  You or your organization paid for you to be there.  Make good use of that money and more importantly, your own time.  
         When you are in a session, ask questions when it is Q&A time.  Asking your questions, gives the presenters a chance to meet your needs.  If you got something out of a session, go personally thank the presenters and give a specific compliment.  
         Share resources through social media.  If you hear a great quote or learn of a resource, send it out through Twitter so others not in attendance can also benefit.  If you know of another resource that is germane to what is being presented, share that as well.  What you know can help others fill gaps in their own knowledge.  They will do the same for you.  However, don't get so involved with your device that you miss a chance to have a conversation with a real live human.  
         Most important--Go connect with people.  Chat with those you sit near during meals and during sessions.  Being a somewhat reserved Mid-Westerner, I don't encourage you to share your life story at every available moment.  Just introduce yourself and share the basics about your position, home, what you've learned, etc.  You'll find that small commonalities can lead to some very good conversations.  Aside from making your own connections, be a connector to others.  If you find yourself in the presence of your own acquaintances, be sure to introduce them to each other.  Also take some time to strengthen new relationships.  Join a group that is going out for dinner or a drink.  It can be enjoyable to meet new people and listen to different ideas about the type of work that we do in schools.  
         Please complete the session evaluation form and also the evaluation for the conference itself.  Be professional and be specific.  Confirm what you enjoyed and challenge what you didn't. These do get read and your thoughts will be used to make improvements or keep things in place that were working well.  

    This same topic has been written about by other people, and the following posts were very helpful to me.  Jeff Utecht reflects on the Learning 2.012 conference.  Love the idea for sharing photos through Instagram.  Josette LeBlanc shares what she gained by being part of a connected community at a conference.  Pernille Ripp shares 10 tips for "staying involved, and stay[ing] you" while at an EdCamp.  Love the suggestion for being quiet in order to be a better listener.  Michael Griffin rants on what to do at a conference.  Love his suggestion for creating some white space for oneself by walking around.  

    I also posed this topic on Twitter and got some great responses that you can read below.  So whether you are planning a PD event or are attending one, keep these suggestions in mind.  You'll see that your experience really has a lot to do with what you make of it. 
  2. For the record, this next tweet is from my best looking Twitter follower! 
  3. I really like Chelsy's point below.  The session/presentation will get you thinking. The continuing connections will get you doing. 
  4. Thinking of Carolyn's tweet, sometimes the car ride home is the best part as you rehash with a colleague what you learned during the conference.  When my school district sends a team to a conference, we'll make a point to rent a conference room for an hour after each day to debrief what we've heard and also to plot out who is attending  what the next day.  Often the hotel will give us the room for free since we've rented multiple hotel rooms with them.  
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