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  • Writer's pictureKathryn Laster

Conference Learning That Lasts

Updated: Jun 4


Conference Learning that LASTS, learningforwardtexas.org, #LFTX24

The annual Learning Forward Texas conference is just around the corner! Summer is a prime time for educators to dig into new learning, so how can we make conference experiences more meaningful? More importantly, how can we ensure that what we learn this summer transfers effectively into the new school year? When you invest time and money to attend events like #LFTX24, you want the learning to have a lasting impact. Here are a few things to consider before walking into the Hurst Conference Center (or wherever your summer learning occurs.)


➡️ To help you make the most of your conference experience, we’ve created a digital document for reflections and takeaways. Here’s the Google Doc. Select "USE TEMPLATE" to make a private copy, which adds the Doc to your Google Drive.


Before the Conference: Setting the Stage for Success

Advice for attending a conference typically begins with aligning your professional, district, or team goals to the sessions you choose. Start by doing your research now. Check out the Learning Forward Texas conference schedule and begin planning your days. If you’re attending the conference with a team, consider how to “divide and conquer” to ensure you experience as many different sessions as possible.


Are you new to your leadership role? Are you building a new program? Are you looking for ideas about a particular topic? Or do you have favorite speakers you want to learn from each year? (Learn more about some of our speakers in this interview with Debbie Silver and this interview with Trish Hinze.) There are sessions that will meet your needs and align with your goals, but it takes a bit of research to plan out your days effectively. So, start now. 


Additionally, I plan to hone in on the purpose of my summer learning by using my strategy of -INGs. By choosing an -ING word like connecting, participating, or applying prior to the start of the conference, I can ensure that every session, even those that might not initially seem aligned with my work, becomes a valuable opportunity for growth and engagement. You can read more about my -INGs strategy in this post.


With your pre-conference planning complete, it’s time to focus on making the most of your time at the event.


During the Conference: Maximizing Your Experience

You’re at the conference venue, your laptop is charged, your water bottle is filled, your sessions are scheduled, you have a purpose in mind, and you’re ready to engage and learn! How can you make the most of this learning experience? (Don’t forget about our Learning/Reflecting Doc!)

Engaging

While at events like the Learning Forward Texas conference, one of my goals is to limit outside distractions and notifications to focus on the event. What helps you fully engage in the sessions? Do you have a favorite place in the room that helps you stay focused? Can you close other tabs to concentrate on session resources? What is your note-taking strategy? If you’re with a team, do you have collaborative notes? How do you integrate pictures taken with your phone into your notes?


If your goal is engaging fully, what else can you do to set yourself up to enjoy every moment of the event?


Intention Setting

I have two favorite questions that I often ask during my own workshops, and these reflections may help you engage more deeply with your conference sessions:


  • Who else will benefit from today’s experience?

  • What is this teaching me?


The first question, inspired by the Headspace app, reminds me that I’m learning for the benefit of others. I think about new teachers arriving in July, my PLC team, future session participants, and even family members who will appreciate my contentment with work.


The second question, from Michael Bungay Stanier’s book How to Begin, encourages me to look for ideas beyond the session content. I might admire an introduction activity, a slide design, a closing quote, or a template. Being on the lookout for these session "bonuses" helps me stay present and engaged.


Setting Intentions: Who else will benefit from this learning experience? What is this teaching me? Michael Bungay Stanier, How to Begin Learning Forward Texas Annual Conference, June 10-12, 2024, Hurst Conference Center

Connecting

If one of your goals for attending this conference is connecting or networking, consider how you can fulfill that goal. One of my favorite parts about conferences is the “hallway conversations.” Prepare questions to engage with others during breaks. Many breakout sessions offer opportunities to reflect and collaborate, so take advantage of these moments to move around the room and find new connections. Instead of sticking with colleagues, try joining other attendees’ tables during lunch.


At the Learning Forward Texas conference, there are sessions called “Your Network, Your Topics.” These informal sessions provide space to connect with others, share strategies, and debrief the day.


Connect with the presenters, especially if you have significant takeaways from their sessions. And don’t forget about opportunities to engage with exhibitors. Even if you’re not in the market for their tools or resources, you might have interesting conversations and make valuable connections with the conference sponsors. 


Another way to build networks is through social media. If you take a photo or video during a session, or if you have a terrific takeaway, share it on social media with the hashtag #LFTX24. Connect with other participants and engage virtually to expand your network.


Reflecting

At many conferences, you attend back-to-back sessions, network during breaks, and perhaps facilitate a session yourself. It’s often challenging to take a breath and find time for reflection. Before you forget or return to work and home obligations, take a few minutes each day to organize your learning, curate your favorite ideas, and reflect on what happens next.


By determining your -INGs for attending the conference and maintaining a “What else is this teaching me?” mindset, you’re already taking a reflective stance on learning. As you engage in sessions, set up your notes to include sections for key takeaways and next steps. If the session facilitator provides reflection time, use those few minutes to reflect and synthesize. But do you need something more intentional to reflect at the end of each session, day, or week? 


If you’re attending with a team, when will you have time to debrief and share exciting ideas? Teams can use collaborative Google Slides, with each person having one slide per session, to capture their ideas. One year, our team created a Flip (formerly Flipgrid) for a large conference and invited people in our region to share takeaways via quick videos. Would a digital reflection tool work for your team? Additionally, debriefing in the hotel lobby is a terrific option for team reflection time when away from home.


One of my favorite John Dewey quotes is, “We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.” So, enjoy engaging and connecting during the learning experience, but remember to take time to reflect during and after the sessions.


After the Conference: Sustaining the Momentum

Don’t let your June learning experiences slip away into the summer! Some of you may return to work immediately after the conference, making it easier to integrate your conference learning. Others may now be on summer break, so how do you remember those terrific tools, strategies, and resources from your workshops? Here are some tips for sustaining the conference learning and there are a few additional questions on our Learning/Reflecting Doc:


  • Within a couple of days after the conference, try a quick self-assessment or reflection activity. Which of your conference experiences truly aligned with your goals, including your -ING words?

  • The Project Zero thinking routines, especially the 4Cs reflection, could work well for individual or team reflections.

  • Schedule time on your calendar right now to synthesize and organize your learning. Send a calendar invite to team members for a conference “show-and-tell” of favorite ideas.

  • Use a tool like FutureMe, or schedule an email to remind you to revisit a particular resource. Plan what you will do 30, 60, or 90 days after the conference.

  • Follow-up with new connections via email or social media.

  • Continue to engage with Learning Forward Texas (or other organizations) through newsletters, social media, and future events.


I hope these ideas get you excited about attending the Learning Forward Texas conference and all summer learning! Being intentional before, during, and after the experience will make your learning more meaningful and impactful.


What are your strategies for making the Learning Forward Texas conference last? Share your ideas in the comments or on social media using the hashtag #LFTX24. We look forward to seeing you June 10 - 12, 2024, at our annual conference!

 

Inspirations: 

Make the Most of Conference Learning, Learning Forward, October 2023

🎧 Making the Most of Conferences, PL Playbook Podcast, hosted by Jackie Wynkoop

 

Kathryn Laster brings over 30 years of education expertise, as a math teacher, instructional coach, and digital learning consultant. Now, as an independent consultant, Kathryn creates and facilitates transformative learning experiences through intentional, human-centered, tech-infused design. Connect with Kathryn at Refined Learning Design or on social media @kklaster.

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