A comprehensive approach to conferences

Issue: Volume 97, Number 9

Posted: 28 May 2018
Reference #: 1H9iwY

How to walk away from a conference with more than just a slew of business cards.

Conferences are an important part of professional development, providing access to a wide array of information, resources and contacts all in one place. Importantly for educators, they offer an opportunity to upskill and keep up with new requirements, such as the new digital technologies strand of The New Zealand Curriculum.

However, they can also be overwhelming, with venues packed by people, technology and events. With so much happening at once, it can be easy to lose track of objectives and walk away with little more than business cards and bag full of Stuff We All Get (SWAG).

Becky Hare, Ulearn Core Education Event Manager, and Janet Matheson, Conferences & Events Managing Director, have some advice for getting the most out of a conference – breaking it down to what participants should do before, during and after attending.


Identify professional learning needs

Before attending a conference, teachers should look at their school and evaluate what information and assets they would like to gain.

“Have a look at what the main ideas of the conference are – if you go to Ulearn’s website, for instance, there are focus questions to guide this way of thinking,” says Becky.

Janet says it may be productive to hold a pre-conference staff meeting to share the programme and to ask colleagues if they have any specific information they would like the conference-goer to come back with.

Set up a plan

Once these needs are identified, it is a good idea to put them into a plan, as this will provide direction for the conference. Becky recommends this plan is formulated either personally or as a team research project.

“Teachers are involved in action-based research all the time. So by thinking about it before they go, they can set up a plan and come back with what they have found and the materials that go with it,” says Becky.

Get familiar with the programme

A simple step that can make a conference more manageable is going through the programme before attending.

Many conferences will have an associated app or website that will provide useful tools like a map, speaker details and event abstracts. This information can be helpful in creating a plan and picking the best events to attend in order to achieve specifically desired outcomes.

During a conference 

Record your learning

Conference days can be full on, so it is a good idea to keep notes, says Becky. Most conferences will share slides and speakers’ notes after the event, so it’s usually unnecessary to record this information word for word. However, recording key ideas and revelations can help with recollection at a later stage.

Process your thoughts

Similarly, with so much going on, it can be useful to make some time to process and reflect on learnings. Becky says good ways to do this are to keep a blog, live tweet at the conference, or even just meet up with colleagues to discuss and expand on the ideas presented.

Get involved

Though it can be intimidating, it is important to be brave and get involved by asking questions and participating in hands-on activities. Becky says this will help teachers gain the learning outcomes they are aiming for.

Janet says making the most of a conference can sometimes be as easy as walking up to a stranger and saying hello.


Likewise, an important aspect of attending a conference is meeting other educators and networking with them to share experiences and knowledge of each person’s area of learning. Becky says it is a good idea to set up a Twitter account before attending and use this as an easy way to connect, and stay connected, with new contacts.

“Your colleagues are your best teachers. They can share what they have tried, their successes and their failures too,” Becky says.

As well as information, Janet says networking is a great way to feel excited and inspired by other people in the same profession and walk away feeling affirmed.


Follow up

During the conference, opportunities may arise that require actions after the conference is over. Becky says it is important to make note of these during the conference. A good way to do this is to jot down what was discussed with each person on the back of their business card.

Share learning

Often one person from a school or kura may attend a conference, but the information will be valuable to everyone. It is important to share what was learned with the whole team so that everyone can benefit from the event.

“Put a presentation together and share it with your team – discuss it, pull it apart,” Becky says.

“Get everyone on the same page to plan to participate in a professional development journey. Because an event is not one to three days, it is part of a continuum of professional learning.”

Janet says she thinks people share less often than they should, and that it can be done as easily as putting thoughts and experiences into a bullet pointed email and sending it around. As well as sharing the knowledge, she says, this act will consolidate and clarify the knowledge for the individual who attended.

Put your plan in action

The final step is to use the information gained by applying it in the classroom. A conference is a place to share ideas, but new lessons are gained when those ideas are tested and refined, Becky says.

“Try out some of the ideas that you gained – have the courage to try new things and ‘fail forward’. It might not work for you, but then you can tweak it and make it work.”

By sharing findings at the next conference, the whole education community can benefit.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:00 am, 28 May 2018

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts