June 16, 2018 by Dr. Robbie Barber
Conferences, big and small, run amok during the teachers’ offseason, a.k.a. summer. And, of course, during the summer, all of the Fall conferences (held when students are in school) start trying to get your attention. It is enough to drive you crazy and not attend anything. And, of course, the county offers summer classes, you may be working on a new certification or renewing an old one, and a teacher /principal /colleague needs to go over something that can’t wait until August.
Remember: Teachers (and teacher-librarians) are paid for 190 days. We are not paid over the summer – we just agree to have our pay withheld during the year to receive a check year-round.
Having just assisted at the Georgia Library Media Association’s annual summer conference, Summer Institute, I need to take stock and decide why I go. Helping at the actual conference meant bringing supplies, setting up the night before and then getting up very early on the first day to make sure that everything actually worked before the first presenters arrived. It turns out that even at a smallish conference, there is constant work to be done. I helped presenters connect their personal devices and found alternatives when necessary, I answered text questions by others to fix their problems, I searched my bags for dongles, pens, packing tape and any other assorted items needed during the two days.
I skipped sessions. There – I admit it. I skipped some sessions because I was just tired and being pulled in different directions. I paid for the conference from my own pocket and I skipped some sessions. So why bother to go to a conference?
Here’s what I did get from going to the conference. I met some amazing authors and had a lovely conversation about the historical connection of Jews and HBCUs with Dr. Duchess Harris. (Look up where Dr. Albert Einstein taught.) I spoke to friends and friends of friends and complete strangers about sessions (even the ones I did not attend) and learned so much. I did attend some sessions. Ge-Anne not only talked about how to start a #CoffeeEDU, but did one during the session. I popped in late to a session and learned a little more about the Georgia Peach Book Award nominees. I presented my own session using every bit of energy I could muster in the hopes that someone would take something useful from my session too.
I spend a good bit of time talking to the exhibitors. Believe it or not, it is not about the hard sell. The exhibitors do want to make a connection with you and sell their products. But no one expects you to sign a contract standing in the exhibit hall. Instead, we are creating relationships, asking what we want, how their product may fill a need and connecting on a personal level. Since I was teaching a workshop a couple of days after the conference, I asked several exhibitors to share a few items they were handing out (7 to be exact) so I could have prizes for my workshop. Their response was overwhelming and my workshop winners were incredibly thankful. In fact, everyone in the workshop got at the least a pen and some bookmarks thanks to the generosity of the conference exhibitors.
Why bother going to a conference?
It comes down to this. This introvert, who desperately needs her quiet alone time, also needs to connect with people. I connected, had meals with, learned from, passed information, planned future sessions and cheered on others. Yes, I skipped sessions. But I came away with so much, that’s okay too.
Next stop, New Orleans and the American Library Association’s Annual Convention!