So, you’re coming to TESOL! You’re excited and you’re mapping out your entire conference experience on that handy dandy app. And if you’re like me, your plan is to get as much out of the convention as possible. In fact, you’ve got every minute of every day planned out with convention activities. Well, as a recovering overachiever, I’m here to tell you to flip the script.
Sure, this is the best professional conference for English educators in the world, and, yes, there is so much being offered. In fact, your inclination to do it all is natural, and motivated by the best of intentions: It’s for your students; you feel obligated to your employer, who’s (hopefully) paying for your attendance; and you have a healthy dose of FOMO (fear of missing out). However, as in life, so it is at professional conferences: MOST is not necessarily BEST. You, your students, and your employer will be so much better served if you seek quality over quantity this TESOL. So here are five tips for getting the best value out of TESOL 2019 without getting burnt out and bleary-eyed.
1. Pace Yourself
You can’t do it all. And if you try to, you’ll regret it. Remember a decade or so ago when well-intended boards of education, pressured by the demands of high-stakes accountability, took recess away from elementary children? How did that work out? Had those policy makers consulted an educator, a psychologist, or common sense, they would have known that people (children AND adults) learn better when they have mental breaks. There is such a thing as information overload, and the science proves it. So this TESOL, know your own limits. Plan in those breaks. Real breaks. It just means you’ll have to be more selective when choosing your sessions.
2. Introduce Yourself
If you want to feel less guilty about sitting out a session or two per day, then make that freed-up time about networking. Don’t be shy; introduce yourselves to your fellow conventioneers. If you’re an extrovert like me, then human interaction energizes and recharges you. Not only that, but as you meet fellow conventioneers, you might discover someone working on an initiative or project in another part of the country that you’ve dreamed of doing in your professional context. What a resource! That has happened to me at previous TESOLs. You can’t know what knowledge or wisdom your colleagues have if you don’t extend your hand, make eye contact, and say hi.
3. Stretch Yourself
This advice may seem counter to what I have preached so far, given that my previous advice only further limits your already finite number of learning options. But hear me out. I recommend that you take just one session to go wildly outside of your comfort zone and area of expertise. Pick a workshop from a conference strand not directly related to what you do. You’ll be surprised by what you learn and by the insight you will gain from an unfamiliar perspective. And again, you may meet fellow conventioneers with expertise in an area that you don’t have. So plan into your schedule one outside-the-box learning session for yourself.
4. Take Advantage of the Host City
You didn’t come all the way to Atlanta to remain confined to the convention center. During your now-mandatory breaks :-), get out and enjoy what your host city has to offer. You may know the standard attractions—Georgia Aquarium, Center for Civil and Human Rights, World of Coke—But as a local, I can share some of my faves: If you can get here a few days early, find tickets to the Atlanta United (soccer) season opener (March 10). Mercedes Benz Stadium is right next door to the convention center, and the reigning MLS [Major League Soccer] champs have created a game experience that rivals or betters that of any NFL [National Football League] or NBA [National Basketball Association] team. You won’t regret it. Or, visit one of Atlanta’s many local craft breweries. Or take a walk on the Atlanta Beltline. Check my social media feeds for further recommendations as the convention gets closer: Instagram and LinkedIn.
5. Reflect and Implement
Back to getting the most value and impact out of your learning. Take time on the flight home, or each evening in your hotel room, to write your thoughts and reflections. Then, take those reflections and create an implementation plan. Choose one lesson from the conference. (Remember, less is best!) Then, be specific. Define exactly when, where, how, and with whom you will implement that one lesson in your classroom, workplace, or larger community. With a definitive, singular plan in place, you are much more likely to implement what you learned and incorporate your new skills into your regular practice.
Those are my two bits. You may take them as you will, but believe me, I have learned the hard way the value of the less-is-more approach. I am confident you will have your best conference experience if you set your own limits and stick to them, take the time to recharge and enjoy yourself, interact with your colleagues, and focus on the one or two most valuable lessons to take back. See you at the conference!
Greg Wickersham received his EdM in education and policy management from Harvard University and his EdS in leadership for learning from Kennesaw State University. He has been teaching for 21 years and is an educational leader, teacher, and advocate of immigrant and refugee students in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. Greg is currently EL coordinator for the DeKalb County School District.