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Networking, power lunches, panels, name badges, exchanging information on the newest developments in the field and listening to the biggest names describe their paths to success—that's the business of business, isn't it? Not necessarily!
The word "conference" may bring up images of smoothly exchanged business cards and sales professionals competing to make the best impression, but conferences aren't just a boardroom cliché. Every field has organizations that bring members (and interested outsiders) together to socialize, discuss the state of their work, and exchange ideas—from science to business to the arts to, of course, education!
Maybe you've never been to a conference for educators. Attending a conference can take some time, money, research, and planning, but the investment can pay off in new colleagues, new ideas, new knowledge, and new skills. Plus, you can snag some free giveaways in the exhibition room!
Conferences usually take place over a full day or several days, and are arranged around a general theme. One year might be "Diversity in the Classroom" and the next, "Great Debates: Engaging with Controversy." Registration allows you to take part in all of a conference's main activities.
Attend the keynote address (usually presented by a notable historian, author, educator, or other figure with experience and knowledge relevant to the theme). Engage in sessions presented by educators, organizations, and experts sharing content, tools, and strategies. Stroll through the exhibit halls, learning about websites, books, and other resources that might help you in your teaching. Meet educators who share your passion for growing as a professional in informal lunches and mixers. Come home inspired and ready to try out what you've learned!
Remember to register as early as you can. Most conferences offer discounts for early registration, as well as discounts if you're a member of the organization hosting the event. Plan ahead, and you may also be able to book a hotel room for a reduced rate—many conferences take place in hotel conference centers, and set aside a block of reduced-rate rooms just for attendees. These can fill up fast!
Planning ahead may also let you sign up for extra, ticketed events. Maybe the conference offers half-day workshops on the day before the conference officially opens. Maybe you can pay to attend special-interest breakfasts, lunches, or dinners. Maybe you can buy tickets for guided tours of local historic districts or group excursions to museums. Conferences often take place in large cities, and this could be your chance to take in some of the sites while you're in town.
Conferences take place across the country at the local, state, national (and international!) levels. Here are some to consider:
- National social studies and history education organizations host annual conferences, drawing hundreds of attendees. The National Council for the Social Studies's annual conference takes place in Washington, DC, in December of 2011, and the National Council of History Education's annual conference will explore "The Causes and Consequences of Civil Wars" in Charleston, SC, from Mar. 31–Apr. 2, 2011.
- Historical organizations organize conferences annually and on special topics. Check their programs ahead of time, but many of these include sessions and workshops designed for teachers as well as content that can be helpful in the classroom. The American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians both host conferences with teacher-focused sessions.
- Other organizations for K–12 educators organize conferences that can help you keep abreast of new tools and techniques that aren't content-specific. The International Society for Technology in Education's annual conference draws crowds of more than 10,000 and promotes thoughtful, innovative use of the many new technological tools constantly becoming available to schools and teachers.
- State social studies and history education organizations often organize at least an annual conference—some organizations may host two per year, one in the spring and one in the fall. Usually on a smaller scale and less expensive than national conferences, these may be easier to attend if you're tight on time or budget. Multi-state regions may also organize conferences.
And conferences wouldn't go very far without presenters. If you have a strategy or resource to share, look for calls for proposals on conference websites. These deadlines cut off months before the dates of the conferences, so plan ahead. Follow the guidelines and submit a proposal that is clear, succinct, attention-grabbing, and matches the stated theme of the conference.