The Importance of Attending Professional Conferences

About Katie Sluiter

Katie Sluiter is currently an 8th English teacher in West Michigan. She has taught middle school, high school, and community college and has her Masters Degree in Teaching English. Her writing has been featured on BonBon Break, BlogHer, Today Moms, and The Washington Post. She has also been published in numerous anthologies, most recently Mothering Through The Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience. She is a member of and has presented at both NCTE and MCTE. She is a National Writing Project participant and has been published in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan multiple times.

Last Friday, I attended and presented at the Michigan Council of Teachers of English (MCTE) annual fall conference held in Lansing, Michigan. This was my third consecutive year attending and presenting at a professional conference after many, many years of not going at all. I do not think it’s a coincidence that the past three years have also been my best, most inspired years of my teaching career.

For eleven years, I taught high school English–mainly juniors and seniors–in my district. In what would be my final year as a high school teacher, I voluntarily attended a workshop with Penny Kittle. It was there that not only a new love of teaching was inspired, but also a renewed quest for best practice, research-based teaching strategies and self-betterment as a teacher. I had forgotten the value of getting out of the classroom every once in awhile to learn new techniques and practices.

That summer after I learned I would be moving to our junior high to teach eighth grade English, I voluntarily signed up for a workshop with Donalyn Miller. I was officially hooked on workshops and conferences. That fall I officially got back into the habit of attending yearly English teacher conferences by going to MCTE. Being around great teachers and having real conversations about what works best in the classroom is not just inspirational, it’s essential for keeping my own practices from getting stagnant and ineffective.

The keynote speakers alone are worth the price of the ticket (which my district pays for because they value good professional development too!) This year Nancie Atwell, the winner of the 2015 Global Teacher Prize and author of the renowned book In the Middle, was the morning keynote. As my colleague and fellow presenter commented, listening to Atwell talk about teaching reading and writing is like getting guitar lessons from Hendrix. She is a master. Last year Jeffery Willhelm spoke about how choice reading is a social justice issue. And in 2014, Penny Kittle spoke on the importance of giving students choice and time to read. 

Being around great teachers is essential for keeping my own practices from getting stagnant and… Click To Tweet

Each of the past three years I have attended, I have also had the privilege of co-presenting a session. Not only do I advocate for teachers to go to conferences to learn from their colleagues, but I encourage them to submit a proposal to present as well. As teachers we know that the real experts on teaching practices are teachers. We also know what works well in our classroom, so why keep that to ourselves? Share it!

Teaching conferences are full of dreamers and doers. Click To Tweet

Three years ago, I co-presented on a panel discussing the use of Reader’s Workshop in the middle school classroom. The following year I  co-chaired a round table discussion on how shared personal narratives–specifically witnessing painful ones–can help build relationships in the classroom. This year I co-presented with another English teacher from my building on how we give students choice and time to read while at the same time meeting the requirements of having full class texts and essays. The discussion that is generated from the seed of knowledge I bring with me is wonderful. Participants in my sessions brought me as much–maybe more–than I brought them.

Teaching conferences are full of dreamers and doers. Presenters range from college professors, to grad students, to pre-service teachers, to classroom teachers, to retired teachers. It’s the absolute best way to stay in touch with your content area and have professional discussion and collaboration with educators doing the same thing you’re doing: teaching kids.

Next year, MCTE is welcoming author Jeff Anderson to the main stage and in 2018, Kelly Gallagher will be there. I’m sure the line up for conferences in other states is equally impressive. I encourage you, whether this is your second year of teaching or your thirtieth, to check out what your state has to offer. Browse your ISD’s professional development offerings (that is where I found the Penny Kittle workshop). Get yourself to a conference in the next year…and if you’re feeling especially confident, start drafting a proposal to present. 

 

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By | 2016-11-01T13:43:22+00:00 October 20th, 2016|Educator Professionalism, Featured, Professional Development|0 Comments

About the Author:

Katie Sluiter is currently an 8th English teacher in West Michigan. She has taught middle school, high school, and community college and has her Masters Degree in Teaching English. Her writing has been featured on BonBon Break, BlogHer, Today Moms, and The Washington Post. She has also been published in numerous anthologies, most recently Mothering Through The Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience. She is a member of and has presented at both NCTE and MCTE. She is a National Writing Project participant and has been published in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan multiple times.

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