Last week each school in our pyramid sent a team of educators (a mix of admin, teachers, tech coaches, and tech specialists) to the Virginia Society for Technology in Education (VSTE) annual conference. This is our state conference, attended by over 1200 educators from all parts and regions of our state. Presenters are educators, administrators, tech coaches, vendors and cover so many topics I couldn’t even list them all here!
I’ve been to VSTE many times and serve on the Outreach Committee. I usually attend on my own and present a session or two. Attending with a team was both awesome and sooo different than what I was used to!
Divide & Conquer: When I’ve attended on my own (or with a friend or two from another school), I’m usually very conflicted about what sessions to attend. I was presenting 4 times this year, so that meant 4 sessions that I couldn’t attend and there were so many great offerings! When there was a session I was super interested in, I asked if someone on my team could present. It was incredible to work together this way because it meant we learned and gathered the resources from all of the sessions that anyone on our team attended. We used a note-taking template that I got from my #TOSAchat friends. I made a copy of the template for our team and we all added our notes to the template as we went. My team took notes on one google slide deck. Other teams from our pyramid took notes collaboratively in google as well and we all shared those notes.
Relationship Building: Being together with teachers, admin, tech coaches and tech specialists from my school and these 9 other schools allowed us to relax and really get to know each other and build connections. THIS is what going to these conferences does for me. I’ve now got this huge network of people that I can reach out to. I KNOW that I don’t have the answers to every question, but I bet someone in this group does!! We were also able to connect with folks from around the state who are deep in the work we are all doing. It’s so interesting to hear this wider perspective. We often get bogged down by the district way of doing it and this helps us to open that up view of things!
Learning: the sessions offered were so varied that it was incredible. We were able to learn from PreK-12 educators who teach in rural and urban and every area in between. Educators from tiny schools and large schools shared their experiences. While some sessions weren’t what I was expecting or really very applicable to our current reality in a 1:1 high school, I was able to take away SOMETHING to use with our staff from every single session. Instructional strategies were plentiful! I’m so thankful that most sessions have moved beyond “a certain number of apps we can squeeze into an hour session!” and moved to really changing how and why we teach and the experiences we’ve designed for our students.
Presenter Experience: I present often at conferences. This was a neat experience because I led two different types of sessions. First, a traditional, presenter led session on Telling Your School’s Story using Social Media. This is a huge focus for us and we’ve been really purposeful, and in turn, really successful with sharing the work our students and teachers are doing. I’ve really tried to redesign these sessions as hands-on and discussion style since we know most learners learn more by doing than just listening. My other 3 sessions were pop up sessions about being a Connected Educator! These are my favorite because I got to hang out with some amazing educators and talk about what we do and why. We shared how to get connected, helped folks sign up for twitter and added our twitter handles to a large chart paper that we tweeted out to the group to help folks get connected! What fun!
I hope we’re able to continue this learning – we’ve already followed up with emails bounced around between folks who attended and connected. I’ve had teachers share with me how lessons they did last week after returning changed because they incorporated new learning from VSTE. It’s pretty incredible the power that these 3 days have had on our staff and students!