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Education Conferences: Goin' It Alone

Voice of ExperienceBudget cuts are forcing many teachers into the uncomfortable position of attending educational conferences on their own. Educator Brenda Dyck shares how going solo to a conference can be frightening -- and unexpectedly enjoyable. Included: A link to an up-to-date calendar of education conferences.

For the past four days I've been at an education conference in Albany, New York -- on my own. This is the first time I've attended a conference solo. In the past, I've traveled with a few teachers from my staff or with my husband; or I've met up with a few colleagues when I got there. There's something very comforting about traveling in a herd. People can make decisions for you, you can rely on them when in unfamiliar social situations and, best of all, you have someone with whom to talk or dine.

After more than four days on my own I've discovered that the things that are intimidating about attending an education conference alone are the very things that make them a hotbed for learning, thinking, and networking.


The plane trip to Albany was a perfect opportunity for me to hone up on my professional reading. Finally, I had time to read all those articles that I've been itching to read -- what a gift! Lulled by the dim hum of the plane engines, I was transported into a reflective space where I could read, uninterrupted.

For some reason, I'm more open to talking with people I don't know when I'm alone. The "strangers" I find myself sitting next to have frequently transformed my travel time into a learning time. On this particular trip, I found myself sitting beside a middle school principal. She introduced herself when she noticed an education journal on my lap. This friendly educator had recently taken on the challenge of merging three small middle schools into one large one. We discussed how difficult it was to create a sense of community between three pre-existing staffs and how she struggled with getting around to having regular conversations with each of her teachers. This discussion was a unique opportunity for me to see school issues from an administrative perspective.


Most education conference hotels provide shuttle buses to and from the conference site. While on the bus, you have the chance to listen (is it eavesdropping when it's done for educational purposes?) to the conversations going on around you. Those conversations are almost always about what's happening in schools across the country, sessions the teachers are presenting, and, at the end of the day, what they learned and saw.

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It was on the shuttle bus that I got into a conversation with another passenger. A couple other teachers joined in. When we discovered that we were all goin' it alone, we made plans to sit together at the opening night banquet. I'd met my dinner buddies!

That night at the banquet, I sat at a table of lone rangers. Conversation quickly cut past the social niceties to what we really wanted to talk about: our recent teaching and learning discoveries, professional reading that had challenged or helped us, and the conundrums of our profession. At the end of the evening, several of us shared email addresses so that we could continue our conversation online.

The next morning I awoke and had breakfast in my hotel room. Eating alone can make you wish you had a travel companion, but the hotel I stayed at included something on their table that made me think differently about that. Along with traditional tableware was a pad of paper and a pencil. At first I wondered what it was for. Surrounded by a delightful breakfast, a newspaper, and my book, this paper and pencil called out to be used. As I started jotting down thoughts and ideas, my breakfast table suddenly became a think tank. By the time I was finished eating I had the beginnings of a new unit idea and some new resources to share on my listserv when I got home.

After breakfast, I headed for the conference. I was pleasantly surprised to see my "dinner buddies" at my presentation!


At the end of the final long but energizing day, I returned again to my room. As a mother of five children, time alone in a room is only a faint memory. I had forgotten how wonderful an opportunity time alone could be for thinking. I enjoyed playing back what I had seen and heard during the day. Doing that helped me process the important learning that had taken place. In the quiet of my room I found myself connecting new learning to pre-existing understanding.

The next day, as my plane lifted off the foggy Albany runway, I felt a sense of empowerment. Not only had I managed quite well on my own, I had learned that goin' it alone set me up to welcome the unexpected -- a place where anything can happen!


Brenda Dyck teaches at Master's Academy and College in Calgary, Alberta (Canada). In addition to teaching sixth grade math, Brenda works with her staff in the area of technology integration. Her "Electronic Thread" column is a regular feature in the National Middle School Association's Journal, Middle Ground. Brenda is a teacher-editor for Midlink magazine.

Article by Brenda Dyck
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Updated 03/28/2006