One of the Best Conferences I Never got to “Attend”

I finished off last week, and a pretty exhausting string of engagements, with one of the best organized and idea-rich conferences that I have been a part of — better than any I can remember.  What’s more, it was a local school district conference.  I’m seeing more and more of these events, conference-style professional development days that bring the big ideas to the teachers, rather than sending them all to the big state or national events.

Pano of the Opening Session
Panorama of the primary site for the opening session

Of course, the 2009 Educational Technology Conference should be good.  It is the eleventh put on by The School District of Palm Beach County.  The event was organized by the ed tech staff and it ran smoothly with the help of more than a hundred volunteers.  There were nearly 2,500 attendees (large by the standards of just about any state conference) and the keynote was broadcast into overflow venues.

Tent Studio
Tent Studio the night before

The district’s Television station, T.E.N. (The Education Network), had a tent-covered studio set up in the courtyard of the school, where they interviewed presenters and attendees about using technology in their jobs.  The interviews where piped into various locations in the school, where attendees were resting and re-organizing their agendas.

They worked me hard at this conference, presenting during each of the three concurrent slots.  I started with the opening keynote, in front of one of the most responsive audiences I’ve presented to in a very long time (Something about Southerners — they know when to laugh at a southern speaker 😉.  That was followed by a session on casual ongoing professional development (PLN) — two hours to administrators and an hour in the afternoon to teachers.  I was very happy to do this, but it meant that I missed the more than 100 local teacher and vendor presenters and a lineup of features speakers that would be the envy of almost any state conference.  They included Dr. Mark Benno from Dallas, Steve Dembo from Chicago, Karl Fisch, who barely got out of Denver before the snow storm, Kate Kemker from the Florida Department of Education, and Dean Shareski from Saskatchewan.

Featured presenters
Left to right: Steve Dembo, Kate Kemker, David Warlick, Karl Fisch, Mark Benno, & Dean Shareski.

Another interesting feature of the conference was the competition that is held each your with the students, to design the cover art for the conference.  The winner, who also designed the conference posters, was recognized at the conference.

Conference Posters
The winning poster & conference program design

I think that it is worth noting that she, and the school chorus, who opened the opening session with an inspirational singing and signing of the Star Spangled Banner,  were both recognized for skills that most of the teachers in the audience could not match.  This doesn’t mean that all teachers should be able to do digital graphic arts or harmonize along with the American Sign Language.  Certainly not. 

However, I do believe that it is important, because it is another demonstration of how we need to come to respect the learner — not just demand respect as the teacher, but pay back with respect for the learner and the places they’ll take what we teach.

I can’t close without commenting on the conference program, which was very effectively organized, illustrated, and offering just enough content to supplement the conference.  This is worth noting because often conference programs are seemingly organized with little or know consideration of how the attendees will be using it to support the best possible event experience.

The School District of Palm Beach County was a wonderful way to end a long and exhausting tour and begin an extended rest at home.  Thanks!

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Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.