Why Professional Conferences Are Still Worth Attending

Guest post by David S. Ellena, principal of Tomahawk Creek Middle School in Chesterfield, VA

The landscape of professional development for school administrators has changed dramatically over the past five years, for a variety of reasons. The ability to be connected through Twitter chats and online resources make staying up to date on best practices easier than ever.

But is it enough? Is there still a place for face-to-face meetings? Is there still a reason to attend professional conferences like Ignite ‘15? For the cost, is there enough of a benefit in this day and age of reduced budgets and financial worries? I say yes. Hear me out, because I know what you are thinking: it’s too expensive, I can’t miss school days, what would my staff say? Yes, these are all valid questions. And yes, I still maintain that these conferences have their place. Here’s why:

Face-to-Face Interaction

Don’t get me wrong, I am all about learning through the web. I love a good Twitter chat (if you haven’t tried one of these, you are really missing out) and following great blogs and websites. But nothing beats the power of face-to-face conversations. Take it a step further. Combining the two forms is even more powerful. Knowing the people I interact with online personally enriches both forms of learning. At the Ignite ’15 Conference, there are so many great opportunities to connect in numerous ways. I follow the live Twitter feed so that I can keep up with sessions I can’t attend. I also renew old friendships and make new ones. Invariably, these conversations revolve around issues we see in our schools and how others are dealing with these issues. I never fail to walk away with something I can use back at my school.

Keynote Speakers

Yes, I can follow keynote speakers online. I can read their blogs and websites. But that is not the same as seeing and listening to them live and in person. Normally, these well-known speakers have a book signing or some other session where you can interact with them personally. You can’t do that online. I have been to seven consecutive NASSP Conferences. I can tell you that the breadth and depth of these speakers is the best I have ever seen. I have had the chance to talk to many nationally known speakers, and gained a different perspective about education at the national level from speaking to them.

Networking

Some of the most informative “sessions” I have attended at conferences weren’t sessions at all. They were impromptu social conversations with other attendees. The opportunity to sit down over a meal, a beverage, or just sitting around the conference venue cannot be duplicated online. I have learned so much from my colleagues outside of formal sessions. The Ignite conferences I have attended provided me with an opportunity to meet and interact with people from across the nation and the globe. That alone is sometimes worth the cost.

A Different Environment

Most of the reading and contacts I make online are done when I have a few free minutes at home or at work. Being at a conference location forces me to slow down and focus on what I am learning about. This is much different than the hectic minute-to-minute school day. I find that after a few days in this setting, I return to my work rejuvenated and with more energy. Ignite has always been a source of renewal for me. I always feel more positive about what we, as educators, do on a daily basis. The Ignite conferences provide me with the inspiration and drive I need to be a successful school administrator. It also doesn’t hurt that Ignite ’15 will be in beautiful, sunny San Diego. Sounds like a great place to learn and revitalize!

David S. Ellena is the principal of Tomahawk Creek Middle School in Chesterfield, VA. He has been in education for 28 years. He has served on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals. A version of this blog post previously appeared on his blog at aprincipalslife.wordpress.com.

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