1. Plan ahead.
Before you go, it is essential to determine your goals. What do you need to work on the most? What are you hoping to achieve from the conference? Once you determine your goal, spend some time going over the conference guide and decide on sessions that could help you meet that goal. By focusing your attention on those sessions, you are sure to walk away with ideas and activities that support your needs. As you read over the session descriptions, search for keywords and phrases such as: activities, ready to use, and tricks and tips. Spend some time looking at the presenters. Do you teach elementary school? If so, university presenter probably won't be your best bet. It's not to say that their presentation won't be good, but rather that they may not have the boots-on-the-ground experience you're looking for.
2. Don't be afraid to meet new people.
One of the best parts about attending a conference is meeting other professionals like you. These attendees are looking for the same things you are; that's why they're there! Pick their brains, share information, and ask lots of questions! Other attendees may have suggestions on sessions to attend, great websites and blogs to follow, or, they may just provide you with great conversation. It never hurts to broaden your professional learning community (PLC).
3. Connect with social media
Many conferences these days use Twitter as a way to connect attendees and cull information. This is a great way to share information from sessions you’ve attended and gain insights from those you couldn’t make. Further, Twitter gives a platform to reread highlights and re-explore ideas. By using Twitter during the conference, you also expand your PLC, which helps extend your learning beyond the few days spent at the conference. With so many attendees and so many points of view, the Twitter cache is sure to have tips and ideas you missed during your session.
4. Take time to process.
Attending a conference does not necessarily mean attending a session at every time slot. While sessions are a must, so is conversation and processing time; there is only so much you can take in at one time. Attending more sessions does not necessarily guarantee taking more back to your classroom. Some of my best learning and creating, in fact, takes place between sessions or at lunch. Focus on a few ideas that truly stood out to you and spend some time thinking them through. What will the idea look like in your classroom? How can you adapt it for your students? Look back at your notes and annotate with how these ideas connect to your classroom.
Taking time to process on your own is important, but so is conversation with colleagues. Invite a new friend to lunch or to grab coffee between a session you just attended together. Take the time to not only get to know them, but to process the workshop together. The back and forth can lead to bigger and better ideas, and to ways to begin implementing ideas on Monday when you return.
Attending a conference can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. With these quick tips, you can make the most of your time and create a scenario for continued learning and improving even once you return home.