Saturday morning, I spent three hours with 30 educators from the DFW area who had come to my school to participate in the first-ever Talking Points Conference. In conjunction with the Discovery Education SciCon, this conference offered breakout sessions each hour for teachers to choose from – themes included 21st century classrooms and technology tools.
This conference was something I conceived several months ago. I was thinking about a professional development session that a few teachers at my school had conducted a couple of times where teachers came to the school and watched various archived videos from prior K12 Online Conferences. These sessions were very laid-back and offered the teachers an opportunity to learn alone or together, and share what they had learned.
I wanted to do something similar, but knew that it would need to have more structure to be something that teachers outside of my school would feel worth coming to on a Saturday morning. I decided that if teachers were given specific videos to watch, together in small groups, these groups could engage in the types of conversations I have always felt were far more valuable to my professional development than any other kind of learning.
Discovery Education was generous enough to pay for lunch for all who attended, because we had a room dedicated to the DEN SciCon, and because we had several opportunities throughout the day to explore ways that the DEN could benefit teachers seeking collaborative, technology-rich opportunities in their classrooms.
The conference was challenging, because I didn’t have staffing available to me to assign duties. I recruited the assistance of Andrea Keller, who is a special ed teacher at an elementary school in my district, and together, we found the videos and planned the agenda. I secured the catering and venue for the event, and didn’t get any sleep at all the night before – worrying about whether anyone would show up – worrying about whether everyone would be disappointed in what we had to offer.
The day started well. I spoke a bit about the reasons why it was vitally important that everyone be willing to engage in discussions in the breakout sessions, then gave everyone the information they needed in order to understand how the day was going to go. We encountered our first glitch when CoverItLive proved to be blocked by the new district filters. I was disappointed that we couldn’t use it as a backchannel that would have connected the three breakout sessions, but we managed to do with a few tweets instead. I referred to Andrea and myself all day as the “traveling facilitators” because since there were two of us and three breakout rooms, we got a lot of exercise running from room to room between sessions!
After the conference was over, the feedback Andrea and I received was all great! Several teachers told us they really like the format of this conference – that they felt like they were a part of it, rather than sitting and listening. They all felt they had received valuable, relevant information to use in their classrooms and the energy in the room at lunch was exciting to witness.
If you are a DFW-area educator – don’t you wish you had come? Well, you’ll get another opportunity, because Talking Points will not be going away. Next year, it will be bigger and better, so stay tuned!