What is your professional goal for the year? What do you want to bring to your students and what do you want them to leave with at the end of the year? It is always important to set goals to help guide your practice, but these goals can also help guide your choice of professional development. Many of us have what my friend, Pauline (@PaulineZD) would dub “Shiny Object Syndrome”. We hear about new theories and/or practices and we throw ourselves into them without a thought as to whether they really help us meet our goals or not. Think about deepening your knowledge in one area as opposed to knowing a little bit about everything.
Attending a conference? Pick sessions that are directly connected to your goal. Plan your time to maximize the PD potential from the sessions. Even better, team up with a friend to double the amount of sessions you can attend.
Before choosing a PD, take a look at what is available over the course of the year. If there are multiple conferences and workshops, compare and contrast to determine what will best meet your needs (including cost, offerings and location). Check out what sessions are available and who is presenting those sessions. If you are new to the scene, ask around to find out which presenters may be best suited to match you needs. If you are planning to attend a multi-day conference, check the offerings for each day to determine whether you really need to attend all of the days or whether you could put your time and money toward another PD later down the road.
Match your proficiency level
I personally love attending national conferences. Not only does it give me an opportunity to see a new city, but also a wider group of like-minded teachers with which I can network. National conferences, however, are not always the best choice for everyone. Sometimes, it makes more sense to start with a state or local conference. It is important to connect with educators nearby and to learn from the best in the state; they often tend to make up a part of the best of the nation. Not only are these conferences more accessible in terms of cost and travel, but the information disseminated can also be better suited to gaining a base of knowledge. As you become more comfortable with new best practices or ideas, the regional or national conferences are a natural next step to deepen the knowledge gained at the state level. Use the state conference as a barometer for what is happening in your content area and where the profession is going.
Whether you work in a department of many or as a department of one, ask for others’ opinions. Reach out to colleagues and pick their brains about various opportunities and presenters. Have they attended sessions by these presenters? Are there PD opportunities they recommend over others? Don’t be afraid to reach out to the presenter via social media to ask questions about her session. It is never a bad thing to make a connection with someone else! Many conferences and workshops publish information about coordinators and committee members. These people are a great resource about the conference as they are the once planning it!
Think outside your subject
Sometimes a subject-specific conference does not what you need at the moment. There are so many PD opportunities out there it is a bit of a shame to limit yourself to only a fraction of the pie. As a language teacher, I might not attend a math conference, but I may look into a literacy PD if one of my goals is to do novels with my students or a bilingual conference if I am interested in learning more about second language acquisition as a whole. Often, PD provided by special education groups or behavior management services can offer a different perspective on student behaviors or ways of learning.
No matter what, PD is an invaluable part of any profession. It is important to choose the PD that is right for you!