From Summers Off to Learning On (and On and On): What Makes Education Conferences Valuable

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By Beverly Carbaugh

For years, I proclaimed that I was a “lifelong” learner.

I wrote it in my resume, I advocated it in school improvement concepts, and I continually emphasized that we all had to be lifelong learners. But in hindsight, maybe I wasn’t always practicing what I preached.

Getting caught up in the day-to-day juggle of teaching or leading sometimes left me wanting my summer time off—as just that—off.  I didn’t reflect, think, or even read about education during summer break. When I returned to school and listened to my colleagues talk about the really cool conferences they’d attended, the professional practice groups in which they were involved, and how invigorated they were, I knew I was missing something.

But how could I give up my summer break, when my to-do list was already long, and I thought that I was tired of school?

All this changed when, years ago, a colleague invited me to an out-of-town education conference. I would have to pay for registration out of my own pocket; I would have to purchase my own airplane ticket and hotel room.

It was a tough decision. My rational side said that I needed to be home relaxing, getting away from school and the classroom, but my curious side wondered if maybe a getaway with a bunch of professionals who probably love teaching and learning as much as I truly do would be a great experience.

My curious side won out

I told my friend if she would share a room and if we asked the school district to help us pay for it, I would go. As it turned out, attending that one event started me on a new way of thinking! I met so many people just like me, people who wanted to learn from the best in the field, to make a difference, to get recharged, and who taught me that coming together in a large conference setting was a way to get invigorated about teaching.

What I learned was that sometimes as teachers and leaders, all we can see is our own school or district—we lose sight of the big picture. We forget about the other wonderful, positive things happening in education outside of our own four walls.

At that first conference I attended, just the numbers of educators alone were impressive—so many other educators wanted to be together, wanted to learn together, and wanted to be lifelong learners.

That one event began many years of seeking out conferences designed to help me grow in my professional role, and now the experience has come full circle. As one of the original designers of IE’s Building Expertise National Conference, our collective goal was to bring educators together and introduce them to speakers who would help them develop expertise in their areas of responsibility.

The first Building Expertise conference in 2012 focused on teacher and leader evaluation, with many sessions led by Dr. Robert Marzano and the experts in evaluation from the Learning Sciences Marzano Center.

This year’s conference, headlined by the theme “The Power of YOU!,” presents a broadened schedule of diverse educational subjects and experts on what individual teachers and leaders can accomplish with the right knowledge, strategies, and tools. Sessions and keynotes for teachers and leaders in a wide range of today’s most important educational topics include:

The world of education is constantly changing—and so is Building Expertise! Our aim is to connect educators with the latest and most applicable topics for professional growth and improvement.

Personally, I can’t wait to hear Dr. Marzano discuss the latest thinking in teacher and leader evaluation.  Like many educators, I want to stay current with my knowledge and understanding. And the original Freedom Writer Manny Scott promises to inspire us all with his nationally renowned message of hope and perseverance.