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Whether the conference is on the national level providing a broad range of topics, at the state level that suits the needs of similar demographics, or a small group focusing on AP curriculum, taking a day or two to attend an educational conference has a ton of benefits. Let’s be real, though; attending conferences can also take you out of the classroom and cost money out of your own pockets.
Let’s take a look and see why you should invest in attending a professional conference.
Obviously, the number one reason to attend a conference is to learn. But beyond choosing specific sessions that interest you, conferences typically offer connections to incredible speakers doing amazing things. Keynote speakers are often chosen for their innovative thinking, their contemporary art practices, and connections with the global community. Getting a chance to listen to current artists speak about the meaning behind their artwork, their processes and practice, and their artistic journey in person is a whole new level of energy. It’s like going to see a comedian live versus watching on tv; there is an exciting and powerful kinetic energy in the air.
Day in and day out, we are exhausted by the grind of the everyday happenings in our own schools and what’s happening in our communities. We get into a routine, often bogged down by the stress of the minutia that builds up over time. When we start feeling like the “rat race” is never-ending, it’s time to get back to your roots and remember why you love teaching in the first place. Heading to national, state, or even local conferences provide opportunities to meet with other art teachers who probably feel similarly. You can attend sessions you are most interested in and maybe even get to make some art practicing an old technique or trying something brand new.
Allow yourself to be reminded that the world is bigger than your school. Sometimes we need to reconnect with our global purpose of creating and teaching. What we do is of great importance, but we must remember not to take ourselves too seriously. Teaching art should be enjoyable; one little slipup doesn’t make or break our students’ lives. Tomorrow is another day, and attending conferences can remind us of just that.
In my first few years of teaching, I went to conferences to soak up as much information as I could. Now that I’m a seasoned teacher, I still go to those conferences to pick up any nuggets that can enhance my practice. However, one of the main reasons why I love to go to these conferences is to connect with my art teacher friends from all over and geek out on what we’ve seen, learned, or what we are working on in our classrooms.
Reflecting your own practice and discussing with peers is one of the most valuable experiences you can gain each year from attending conferences. The more you can clarify why you teach a certain way, what’s working and what’s not, with others, the more you can refine your own core values as a teacher and bring that right back to the classroom when you return.
Is there anything more useful than being introduced to new technology that is changing the footprint of art at every given moment? Whether it’s one session that provides a deep dive on using 3-D printers in your classroom or a fast-paced curriculum share out using ten different apps, you are bound to learn something valuable to either make your life easier or provide more options to your students. Even if you aren’t exploring the newest gadget, taking time to explore familiar materials in a new way, brainstorming how to integrate technology into your tried-and-true lessons, or getting outside your comfort zone to problem solve new media strategies and techniques can give you the boost you need when feeling a bit stale in your curriculum.
Trends are constantly shifting in art education. Whether you are just hearing about new philosophical approaches or are ready to dig into a new way to teach, conferences are a great place for you to gather more research, more resources, or to meet those teachers that are already working hard in their classroom. Hearing others talk about their experiences and journeys as an art educator is nothing short of inspiring. Even if you don’t agree with their philosophy or are still a bit wary, attending these targeted sessions can help you make a more educated decision on your practice.
Attending conferences can not only expand your horizons but can also reaffirm your own teaching practices. It is reinvigorating not only to bring what you’ve learned back to your students but also to be reminded we’re actually doing a pretty good job! Attending familiar sessions or favorites can be helpful, too. The content may not be new to you, but it can give that boost to remind you, “Ah, right! I used to do that, and it was so successful! I should bring that back!” Or other times. it is refreshing to hear others present similar content with different perspectives, tips, and tweaks on how to deliver the same assignment or technique.
Taking time out of the classroom comes with many headaches. Between writing sub plans and ensuring learning continues while you’re away, the stress that comes with preparing to leave for a conference can be overwhelming. The bonus awaiting you on the other side is a much-needed break! While attending conferences can be hectic, moving from session to session, you also have the freedom to pay for an additional workshop, attend local museums (usually for free), or just take in the scenery and food of a new locale. Taking time for yourself to recharge is an essential part of the conference experience.
Finally, if you haven’t presented at a conference, you should really try it. Reflecting on your practice in order to be a confident presenter pushes you to think deeply about your core values, what’s working, what’s not, and why. Because you work so hard with likely little outside validation, sharing your experiences can be incredibly rewarding. Being able to share with your peers and know you are impacting not only your own students but those of others is an exciting way to consider how you teach.
From reinvigorating your love of teaching to refreshing your classroom strategies, or changing your pedagogical approach altogether, attending conferences are essential to your teaching journey. Make sure to investigate both national and local ways to advocate for attendance and financial assistance that could help you pay your way. Not only will your students benefit from what you’ve learned, but you will also enjoy a refreshing time away to get back to your roots.
Why do you attend art ed conferences?
How have you found financial support in order to attend without breaking the bank?
Which are your favorite conferences to attend, and why?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors from across the nation and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University or any of its academic offerings.