It was the year 2000. While the world was rejoicing in making it successfully through Y2K without disaster, I was excited and rejoicing in the world – my new world, that is, as a budding music educator. In January 2000 I would have attended my first ever professional music educator conference as a freshman in college.
Yeah, I took piano lessons since the age of seven. Yeah, I had been both a band and a choir kid at one time or the other since 5th grade. Yeah, I played piano for my church ever since I was a kid (despite running off the stage in tears the first time after messing up). Yeah, I helped teach parts in high school choir (because I could play piano) and student taught as a senior. That was all good, but my new role of learning to teach music rather than just do it myself was what I was focused on as I attended my first M.E.N.C. (Music Educators National Conference) at the turn of the millennia.
Conferences. Are. Awesome. I love every minute – I really do, and that’s what I want to talk about today.
Later this week I’ll be headed to the 2017 Music Teachers National Association Conference in Baltimore, MD so the topic is fresh on my mind.
There are three things I want to cover with you today.
- Why you should attend a conference (especially in person).
- How I manage the wealth of knowledge I gain at conferences, so I don’t wake up three months later realizing I’ve not applied what I learned as much as I should.
- I have a free download of 22 Professional Development Resources including online and live conferences, workshops, courses, and webinars that an independent music teacher like myself might want to check out.
nothing More Powerful Than…
Let’s get the elephant out of the room before we continue.
- Can conferences be expensive to attend? Of course.
- As often self-employed teachers, do we lose a week of billable teaching hours? Depending on how you look at and schedule fees/tuition, yes.
- Does it mean time away from family? Most likely.
It costs money but not once have I EVER attended a conference and regretted it. After telling a friend that when I first opened my studio, I did skip a couple because of cost, they proceed to ask me:
Can you really afford not to attend?
Hmmm. Don’t get me wrong – I do understand life and cost is a factor, and I am a proponent of smart personal financial management. However, I did feel that I HAD lost time and progress as a teacher in those couple of missed year. Since that conversation, I’ve gone to at least one annually.
There are numerous conferences available both online and live. It’s incredible the world we’re in today that we can can a wealth of knowledge without so much as moving a foot out the door.
While being able to attend online conferences is convenient and a blessing for many who can’t make the trek to a location. There’s still nothing like attending a live conference.
Live conferences are important because there is nothing more powerful than a shared experience.
As Sam Holland once stated in his “Questions and Answers” article in the May/June 2015 edition of Clavier Companion:
We are social animals. We learn from one another in direct exchanges… A live conference is an IMMERSIVE experience in which you leave the regular workday world behind and immerse yourself morning, noon, and night.
The more I attend conferences, and the longer I teach, not only do I continually get new ideas and inspiration from sessions but sometimes I love the feeling of simply reinforcing to myself what I already know and believe as an educator.
I often learn more from my colleagues than in sessions whether it’s over morning coffee with a new friend, state dinners, or talking into the wee hours of the morning in the hotel lobby. After one of our Indiana State Conferences, a friend and colleague sent me an email and it simply said:
Hey, Amy, I just wanted to let you know I really enjoyed the conference, but I especially enjoyed getting to pal around with you and others in the hotel lobby.
So, this is my plea to you – if you’ve never attended a conference or if you rarely make it to conferences, I promise it will be worth your time and effort.
Being worth your time is an empty promise, however, if we can’t actually apply all the information we gain by attending. Let me share some secrets of how I manage myself at conferences.
I bet you are wondering. “Hmmm…what in the world does she mean and have to say about “managing” conferences?”
Well, put it this way, do you KNOW how many different topics are getting thrown into your brain before lunch?
I’m sure we’ve all been through the routine of attending a conference, getting excited about the new ideas at the moment, and then the following Monday we return to reality. Suddenly it’s two weeks later, and you’re back to your routine and realized you hadn’t taken steps to implement anything.
I’ve heard many suggest over the years that we should pick one major thing to focus on in our studios for the year, to improve ourselves and not feel like we have to always do a complete overhaul. I completely agree. I think we can take that same principle and apply it to conferences as well, but surely we can action more than one thing, right?…
Michael Hyatt hits it spot on as he says:
Information you can’t find or use isn’t information. It’s noise.
Let’s learn how to take the information we gain and apply it immediately so it doesn’t get lost in all the noise.
Here’s what I do.
- First, allow yourself breathing room. Don’t feel like you have to attend every single session or performance. Sit one out and go for a walk or spend time processing the last session.
- Second, give yourself processing time during the conference. Don’t wait until several days after the conference to process. If you don’t during the conference, it must be within the first day or two following. I find if I don’t do it while it’s happening or immediately following, it doesn’t get done or I literally forget what I learned and ideas I had.
Using Evernote to Manage Conferences
Here’s how you can process both physically and mentally. Like many things, I use Evernote for all my note taking and information-processing but you could apply this to any tool you use whether it’s another app or pen and paper.
1. Create a note with a list of overall “action items” from the conference as a whole.
Here’s an example of mine from the last conference I attended. I add to this note throughout each day. Often, it’s just unloading my brain. You’ll notice thoughts from state board meeting, miscellaneous items that came to mind such as remembering to submit a proposal for the following year, and specific action steps from specific sessions. Try to use action verbs as much as possible like “read,” “create,” and “watch.”
2. Create individual notes for each session.
In the title, list the conference followed by the session title and presenter. I add the session description (this may be a bit tedious for some but I type pretty fast so I try to include it), any “action” items, and then my general notes.
3. Sit out a session and go through your handouts. Have an app like Evernote’s Scannable app and immediately scan the handouts and save them directly into Evernote.
I then later go in and copy and paste – merging the scanned pdf note with the session content note. (Another screenshot from one of my Evernote notes).
In Evernote, I tag each note with my “conference sessions” tag which allows a nice overview of all the notes I have for the sessions I attend.
As you can see, I’ve only started using this method for the last year or two but I’m really happy with the results so far. I know, I’m an organizational nerd!
In honor of our conversation regarding self-learning, professional development, and the management of information, I’ve compiled a Google Doc of professional development resources for the IMT.
Since we’re talking about conferences specifically today, this list only includes conferences, workshops, webinars, courses, and certifications that are destination and online-based. In the future, I will be sharing similar resources of other p.d. opportunities such as podcasts, live video, blogs, YouTube channels and more.
Having this resource as a Google Doc will allow me to keep it up-to-date easier in this constantly-changing world!
Click on this image to download.
Tell me, what do you love about conferences and how do you tend to manage the wealth of information?