Sunday, November 9, 2014

Are formal conferences still relevant? Thoughts from AMLE

With the prevalence and accessibility of professional learning through Twitter chats, Google Hangouts, webinars, Edcamps and a myriad of other digital options, one can't help but wonder if there is a place for formal professional learning events and conferences. Is there a need to make a financial commitment and take time out of the classroom to attend (inter)national conferences? Can't you gain access to much of the content and access to professionals from the comfort of your home with little to no cost?

I've just returned from AMLE's Annual Conference (Association for Middle Level Education). As a middle school teacher, I love that there is an organization that is out there for the "middle child" who often is excluded from other professional learning events, in spite of having very unique needs. But, the questions are still lingering; is there a need for these professional learning events? I respond with a resounding "YES!"

Although I take advantage of informal learning opportunities regularly, those connections are somewhat two-dimensional. Yes, you can gain information and resources. You can even build a relationship with fellow educators from around the world. However, what you lack is the energy, enthusiasm, and passion that can only be delivered (and felt) when you are physically present. As a participant, you gain that third dimension that moves someone from a resource, to a colleague and a friend.

Where else but at a formal learning event, like AMLE, do you have access to not only learn from, but also have deep conversations with individuals like Rick Wormeli, Dave Burgess, Kim Campbell, Ruth Culham, and Katherine McKnight all in one place? Where else can build upon many of your PLN connections from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram? How do you find that new voice or new connection that can help you sharpen your own teaching practice if you do not have the dedicated time and space for teachers to meet and network that a conference provides? Where else are you able to lend your voice and expertise to those who may be searching for you?

AMLE provided all of this, plus so much more. Some of the best learning that I gleaned over the last few days were the informal conversation that blossomed at tables waiting for a session to begin, in the hallway between sessions,  standing in line waiting to get a meal, or at the end of an opening session. I was able to get answers to burning questions that I had. I solidified and built deeper relationships and collaborative partnerships with members of my PLN. I am leaving on fire with a passion to reach my learners in new and exciting ways. Without events like AMLE, that learning would never have happened. I can't wait to get back to my learners tomorrow, and I'm counting down the days until AMLE 2015.

Thank you, AMLE, for giving me the opportunity to grow and be with my middle level peeps. It was a blast!

(P.S. The last AMLE I attended was in 2012. I have seen some remarkable changes since then. If you haven't attended lately, I would highly recommend that you take another look and make plans to attend next year. If you have never attended, it is well worth your time and financial investment. I have attended many opening sessions over the years, and AMLE's was hands-down the best one I've ever experienced.)

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