Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Conference Fatigue? 6 Strategies To Avoid Burnout At Education Conferences
I once ditched part of an afternoon's worth of conference sessions I was supposed to attend. The culprit? I could blame a friend and coworker who agreed to ditch with me (was it my idea or hers?). I could blame my undiagnosed adult ADD. The real culprit, though, was conference fatigue. Fortunately, my friend and I had a cover. We were skipping conference sessions to visit the book store. Which translated into a fictitious conference session, "Breaking Down Borders and Building Literacy." Get it? Borders? Actually, that would make a good conference presentation. (Squirrel!) Okay, if you're worried that I lied to my boss, I am pretty sure I 'fessed up later.
But conference fatigue is a real thing. Sometimes you need to pack up your tote bag and head to a quiet place to digest what you've learned, not keep cramming in new information on dozens of topics over a three-day period. We're like cows. We have to ruminate.
How can we optimize our precious time at education conferences so that we glean the most valuable new learning, yet keep sane and engaged enough to retain it? Here are my six best tips:
1. Go with a friend, or better yet, a group of friends. You'll bounce ideas off each other on the car ride there or in the hotel room. You'll swap notes, handouts, and links to double or triple your take-home stash. You'll still network with strangers, but you'll have a safety net of friendly faces if social anxiety kicks in. And when you return to work, you'll have backup when it's time to present to your school staff.
2. Take few notes. It sounds counter-intuitive, but you'll actually take away more of value the fewer notes you take. If, that is, you listen attentively and jot down Web site addresses, key words, and other links to allow you to access the information later. Don't skip note-taking altogether. Just don't worry about encapsulating the whole presentation every hour. Chances are, you'll receive an email with a link to a Dropbox folder containing all the conference sessions. If not, you can often purchase CDs or audio files for a minimal fee. If you'll listen to it later, it's worth it. If not, skip that, too.
3. Interview people. In other words, network. When I go to conferences, I like to visit with other attendees between sessions. I'll ask, "What's your favorite education book?" or "What Web sites do you use every day?" or "What's your favorite science unit that you teach?" It's a great way to get right to the heart of what other teachers are doing well. They'll be thrilled to be the expert for five minutes!
4. Attend for the job you want, not the job you have. Okay, it's supposed to be "Dress for the job you want," but this applies, too. When choosing which sessions to attend, pick one or two that are intended for school administrators, technology leaders, or reading specialists. Branch out. Aim high.
5. Eat out. Don't go back to the hotel room with a doggy bag from the conference. Either eat in the conference dining room with other attendees or go out to a nice restaurant with a few old or new friends. You'll all be ready to talk after taking in lectures (or if you're lucky, interactive sessions) all morning. Share!
6. And yes, do carve out some time to ruminate when the need arises. Maybe you attended a STEM session that has you frantically texting ideas to your teaching partner back home. Or maybe it's day three and you have a migraine starting. Take a break. Put your head down on a table somewhere, sip a latte, or check out your favorite Bible verse app on your phone. Thank God for the growth you're experiencing as a teacher-leader. Breathe.
I hope you attend some fantastic ed conferences this year! I'm looking forward to the P20 Educator Conference in Twin Falls, Idaho in July (I'm presenting on Faith and the Classroom Teacher) and the Idaho Super Conference in Boise in October. What conferences are you looking forward to? What are your best tips for avoiding conference fatigue?