Professional Development. Two simple words that can strike at anytime, yet usually happen when we most expect them: Monday afternoon faculty meetings. Okay, I’ll be honest. I sometimes cringe at the thought of attending professional development afternoons, because of all those tired clichés that come to mind: “Will this really work?” “Do you know how much I have to grade?” “Have you noticed this is the first sunny day in three months?” However, what if there was a place where like-minded educators could gather, where they could discuss and interact on a level that isn’t possible in their individual schools? What if educators could actually get hands-on experience with the tools we read about on the Internet before they magically appear in our classrooms? What if we were able to talk to literally thousands of other teachers about what works, and what doesn’t work, in our schools?
A Trip to ISTE National Conference
Trust me, I’m not speaking in the hypothetical, because I actually had the opportunity to attend such a place just like I described above, and it wasn’t exactly on the other side of a rainbow. Surprisingly, it was in the City of Brotherly Love, and the trip was made on an airplane rather than by the click of my ruby red slippers. I attended the 2011 ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Conference in June, and the experience was, in a word, incredible. There are also other words I could use, such as overwhelming, amazing, and life-changing, however, for the sake of alliteration, I will stick with Incredible ISTE.
Upon arriving, I was provided with a 200-page handbook filled to the brim with maps (the conference center covered over three city blocks), a list of sessions (there were over 1,100 presenters), and a section devoted entirely to the over 1,500 exhibitors. My brain actually melted a little bit, taking in the 14,000 other educators, administrators, and technology gurus in attendance. This was no Monday afternoon faculty meeting; this was the Super Bowl and the World Series of conferences, and I felt totally intimidated.
Luckily, I had some idea of what I needed to do, as I had been following the conference’s Ning site, as well as the Twitter feeds of what seemed like a million helpful veterans. I knew the basics: a) wear comfortable shoes…check; b) don’t be afraid to go up and talk to complete strangers…okay; c) get involved with the various social areas, such as the Blogger Cafe and Newbie Lounge…right! So, I knew what I should be doing, but like a kid in a candy store, I was too amazed by the spectacle to even remember my hotel room number.
Even though this was my first time at ISTE, I was in a unique position because I was also presenting two sessions. I represented the teachers involved with “the.News”, a video production collaboration program with PBS and the MacNeil/Lehrer group. I had also decided to present an ISTE Unplugged session about my television production program. The unplugged sessions were open to any teacher who volunteered to present. When I wasn’t presenting, I was attending sessions on infographics, cloud computing, and Google Apps. Probably the most difficult aspect of the whole conference was trying to actually decide which session, panel, or poster presentation I wanted to attend. Imagine the most talented educators in your field presenting their best work for anyone to experience.
In closing, if I could offer one piece of advice to educators, it is that everyone should make it a point to attend a national conference at least once in their career. National conferences allow teachers the opportunity to see the educational world beyond their individual classrooms. By traveling to the Incredible Land of ISTE, I was able to see professional development in action, and to feel part of something greater than myself. My only hope is that all teachers have this opportunity, and that they embrace the experience as much as I did. It was truly incredible.
About the Author
Laura Chytka is a 7th and 8th grade television broadcasting teacher at Alice Buffett Magnet Middle School in Omaha, Nebraska. She will be entering her thirteenth year of teaching this fall, and when she isn’t spending countless hours on her computer, she enjoys Starbucks coffee, spending time with her family, and figuring out names for her dust bunnies.