In Texas, it’s time to register for our state conference. Because I’m an adopted Texan, I’m not shy to brag about how great our state library conference is–in fact, bragging is practically part of the Texas state pledge, so thank you for indulging me here. With several thousand attendees gathering for more than three days’ worth of learning and networking, it’s a wonderful opportunity for librarians and a great investment of personal or school dollars.
But conferences are expensive, aren’t they? Why spend that kind of money?
Because school librarians reach every student on our campuses. We co-teach with, mentor, and model good teaching for other teachers. We collaborate with librarians in other schools to leverage the learning to multiply the value even more. We’re expected to recommend well-researched expenditures of campus funds on technology, print, and digital resources. And even more so, continuing education is an expected part of any profession, and for most of us, our certification credentials require it.
Sadly, some members of our profession seem to feel that this sort of professional learning is a luxury that they can’t afford. Maybe it’s because as librarians, we’re exceptionally careful with spending. We are some of the most cautiously creative people I know when it comes to stretching a dollar, and it always seems like there’s less money to go around. However, I’m here to tell you that you are worth it, as long as you are willing to demonstrate why before you go, while you are there, and when you return:
Before you make your proposal to your administration about attending a conference, do your homework. Study the program. What workshops or speakers align with the goals of your campus? Which ones will you be sure to attend? How much will it cost? What is the dollar amount for you to register and cover your expenses? What is your district’s/school’s policy on travel and/or professional development?
While you’re there, make good choices about your time. Author sessions were always so hard for me to pass by at first–I could have spent entire conferences going from author to author. While those aren’t the meat of the conference, but rather the dessert, I was able to use those experiences with students and teachers to deepen author studies, liven up book talks, and be more knowledgeable with reader’s advisory (I also would get a book autographed for my principal as a thank you). However, the sessions that challenged me with technology trends, pushed my thinking about advocacy, and informed my practice as a collaborative co-teacher were the ones that I made sure to attend.
Visiting vendor/exhibit halls may seem like a waste–but if you make a point to visit the booths of companies selling products you’re in the market to buy, you are doing research. While you’re there, pick up posters or giveaways that you can share with your colleagues when you get home. But be careful to not spend the day there if there are sessions you should be attending instead.
Networking is also a huge part of attending a conference. Ask speakers or session seatmates for their business cards or contact information if they share something that you might need to follow-up on once you’re home. It’s a huge compliment to a speaker to have someone ask for that information after a session, and a great way to build your network.
Don’t forget to use social media options such as Twitter to capture ideas that resonate with you and show those back home that you’re engaged in active learning.
When you return, prepare a quick thank you note (know your administrator’s preferred communication style and use that!) to your principal with three quick highlights that demonstrate what you learned. Propose at least one idea that you can re-deliver to your staff in a short session during a faculty meeting or staff development day. Then make sure to blow those teachers away with what you show them. Anytime you demonstrate something you learned to students or in front of your colleagues, be sure to mention where you learned it–seems simple, but being purposeful about how you’re paying forward that investment is how you’ll prove it’s worth it to send you back!
So whether you’re looking to attend the AASL Conference in the fall, ALA in the summer, or state or local conferences, value yourself and your knowledge and the impact that you have as a collaborative member of your faculty. Be an example of a good return on investment!
Author: Jennifer Laboon
Jennifer LaBoon is the Coordinator of Library Technology in Fort Worth ISD. She serves on the AASL Blog Committee, on the Executive Board of the Texas Library Association, volunteers with a local children’s musical theater group, and is an avid TCU fan.