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By Mark Estrada
This guest post by Mark Estrada discusses lessons he took away from the 2015 ASCD Annual Conference in March. This summer, teachers nationwide will have more great opportunities to supercharge their PD and expand and strengthen their PLNs at the ASCD Summer Academies, led by Heidi Hayes Jacobs and Harvey Silver. Learn more about these academies, Connect 21 Camp: Becoming a 21st Century Teacher, Leader, and School and The Strategic Teacher: Developing Every Teacher’s Instructional Know-How.
As educators we understand well the importance of having a commitment to continuous learning and improvement. Many educators are increasingly building a professional learning network (PLN) in order to grow in their craft. This includes a conscientious move toward online forms of collaboration and professional growth. I include myself as a connected educator focused on developing a strong PLN to learn from and grow with but I also believe that typical educational conferences still remain relevant. I would argue that educational conferences can prove to be a greater source of connection, inspiration, and renewal for educators. From my personal experience, the connections I make at conferences lead to my most powerful PLN colleagues since I am able to build my PLN off of personal relationships. I find these connections to be richer, more authentic, and more effective at pushing my learning and level of support.
This March, I was fortunate to attend the ASCD Annual Conference in Houston, Texas. At this conference I was able to connect, renew, and be inspired. We work in a field that will always have work, meetings, and events to attend and serve as excuses for why we can’t attend a conference. I argue that we must make time to attend conferences relevant to our work that will help us improve for our students and school communities. Our kids deserve it, our colleagues deserve it and you deserve it!
At this event, I was inspired by the likes of Baruti Kafele and Todd Whitaker. As Principal Kafele mentioned in his presentation, I was and still am “fired up” about leading my school. I was equally inspired by Whitaker for his practical and focused approach to school leadership. Since returning from this conference I continue to engage and expand my learning from these two influential experts. Inspiration also came from the many discussions I had with my colleagues during sessions, at the lunch tables, or on Twitter while tracking presentations.
Each time I attend a conference I return to my campus renewed and focused on helping our campus and district achieve our goals. By pausing from the work I believe that educators can benefit and be even more productive when they return.
I once had a mentor tell me that when I got to my twentieth year in education they hoped I would have twenty years of experience and not one year of experience twenty times. I often reflect upon this sentiment and feel comfort knowing that I am committed to improving and learning. The drive or flight back home is always a feeling of rejuvenation and excitement to get back on campus. I often find myself connecting with my new PLN members on various social media platforms and continuing the learning and holding each other accountable for fidelity of the work. These connections would most likely not have happened or certainly wouldn’t have been as strong if it were not for the conference.
At the ASCD Annual Conference I was also able to lead a career chat session that gave me the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience with others. Presenting at conferences is a powerful way to connect, renew, and be inspired. The feelings of support and validation coming from attendees push you to work even harder because you are on the right path. Each time I present I also learn from my colleagues, who are able to push my thinking and share their experiences. It is great because the learning is reciprocal! And that is the point of all professional learning. With so much talk about growing a PLN we cannot forget about the role of conferences and how they can make a PLN stronger.
Bio: Mark Estrada is a principal in the Lockhart ISD in Texas and a class of 2014 ASCD Emerging Leader. Learn more about the Emerging Leaders program and ASCD’s other programs, products, and services at www.ascd.org.