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Professional Conferences Reflect, Restore Passion


Voice of ExperienceEach week, an educator takes a stand or shares an Aha! moment in the classroom in Education World's Voice of Experience column. This week, as she flies home from her second education conference in as many weeks, teacher Brenda Dyck reflects on what those conferences meant to her both personally and professionally. Included: A chance to share your story about "the best educational conference I ever attended."

Flying at an altitude of 35,000 feet for an extended period of time seems to foster reflection -- and I have plenty to reflect about as I fly back from my second teaching conference in two weeks. Last week, I participated in the National Middle School Association (NMSA) convention in Washington, D.C. Today, I am returning from Atlanta, where I attended the annual Technology + Learning Conference.

Lest you think this globetrotting life is typical for me, I should explain that I have never before attended a teaching conference farther away than my local downtown convention center!

What, you might wonder, could possibly lure this homebody away from the comforts and safety of her classroom? I must admit that I asked myself that very same question two weeks ago when safety concerns forced me to reconsider flying to Washington. In the end, I was lured onto that plane by

  • my commitment to continuous improvement;
  • my thirst to learn;
  • my desire to pick the brains of cutting-edge educators from across the continent.
  • my awareness that meeting with a kaleidoscope of educators would broaden my own perspective; and
  • the opportunity to connect with many of my virtual colleagues, including members of listservs I belong to.
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Have you seen these Voice of Experience essays from previous weeks?

I was taken aback by the sheer size of the two conferences I attended. I'm used to small, local conventions. To sit in a general session with thousands of colleagues was a completely sobering experience! I was cognizant of the fact that, for many attendees, their presence at the conference represented a personal refusal to let fear interfere with their right to practice their profession; each educator stood for me as a symbol of the "spirit of America."

I expected the bulk of my learning to occur in the sessions I attended. Although those sessions did expose me to new ideas and excellent examples of quality learning, my most profound learning moments were encountered outside the sessions -- while dialoging with educators across the country. From my fellow educators, I learned:

  • that passion for teaching is alive and well. If you want to get away from disenchanted educators who seek to drag you down with them, attend a teaching conference. I met dozens of educators whose passion for teaching, desire to become the best teachers they can be, and commitment to reach all kids shines bright. Sometimes that light was blinding!
  • that teachers are still the most resourceful people I know. I gained new insights and ideas everywhere I went -- even while sitting on the bus, walking to a session, or eating lunch.
  • that meeting virtual (listserv) colleagues in person is one of the greatest professional pleasures and privileges imaginable. Over the past year, my listserv colleagues and I have supported each other through many highs and lows. The highlight of my time in Washington and in Atlanta was when I shook hands with those who have been such a source of encouragement and inspiration to me.
  • what is meant by the "digital divide." I met teachers who carry out incredible programs in one-computer classrooms. As well as teachers who are blessed with a computer or a handheld device for every student. Such inequalities troubled me.

As my plane begins its descent into my hometown airport, I wonder what I should do with the learning gleaned from my travels. I wonder what I should do with the fresh realization that exciting educational reform is taking place in everyday schools, led by unlikely teachers -- teachers just like me! Could ordinary teachers like me -- educators who have discovered unexpected learning breakthroughs worth sharing -- even lead conference sessions?

Perhaps education conferences are not just places for taking. Maybe they also provide an opportunity for us to give back something to our profession.


  • Education Conference Calendar
    This Web page from the California Department of Education identifies statewide and national education conferences for 2001-2002.

  • Debate Rages Over Digital Divide
    Are your students "haves" or "have-nots"? Are they tech savvy or are they being left behind because your school hasn't kept pace with technology? Explore the "digital divide" in this special Education World story!

Brenda Dyck teaches at ABC Charter Public School, a school for gifted and talented children, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. In addition to teaching sixth grade math and science, Brenda is also the school librarian. She has written for various educational periodicals and is a teacher-editor for Midlink magazine.

Read more Voices of Experience