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How to Avoid Conference Overload

It's officially summer edconference season. From iPadpalooza to ISTE to BLC, many educators on "summer vacation" are spending their summer days in air-conditioned sessions building out their edutoolkit. If you're like me, you arrive excited, caffeinated and ready to learn new tricks and tips... and leave with sore feet, a full brain and an overwhelming laundry list of things to try. Hopefully, your departure is fueled with inspiration, but most conference-goers I chat with cite "overwhelmed" as their primary emotion.

So how to avoid this feeling? How do you go to an event chock-full of other excited educators brimming with ideas and leave with a manageable task list? Here are some tips I use to help me leave fulfilled yet focused:

1. Go with a goal in mind.

I try to attend events with a current nagging problem of practice or goal in mind. That way when I look at the amazing schedule of sessions, I can be a bit smarter about where to go... and moreover, I listen with a specific challenge in mind. I find this helps me stay focused and allows me to leave feeling more accomplished.  

2. Keep a 3-dance card

Too often I go to sessions and leave with an ever-growing list of things to try but no time to try them. (side note: try a PLAYDATE if you're looking for more playtime). So now I go with a 3 card - that is, a note with three slots. As I hear about new and exciting things, I write them on my dance card to try when I get home. When I get to a fourth "cool new thing" I need to decide to bump an already penciled in tool or strategy or forgo it. While this was difficult at first, it was so liberating to leave with three big ideas to try out when I got home instead of dozens. And you know what? Whereas I never tried out the dozens upon returning home, I've consistently dug into my 3-dance card list because it is so much more manageable.

3. Recruit allies and use collaborative tools

Do you ever feel the Sophie's Choice of deciding where to go when looking at a particularly rich session schedule? I do. So recruit some friends and split up - but not before setting up collaborative Google Docs. If each of you attend a session and take extensive notes on shared docs - complete with photos and links - you can virtually attend each other's sessions. Even more - you can jump into one another's docs during a slow part of your session and feed them questions to ask their presenters at the end. If you went with tip #1 and created individual goals or problems of practice pre-conference, the notetaker can keep this in mind when jotting down pertinent facts from their session. So boom - multiple sessions attended at once. #timetravel

4. Schedule time with yourself to debrief individually.

It's important that you not only take time to attend these professional learning events, but also debrief with yourself afterwards. Schedule a coffee or tea date for yourself about a week after the event to review your notes, try out tools or make next steps. Too often we return from these professional learning sojourns only to get sucked into the quick-paced cadence of the real world and lose sight of much of the learning and inspiration we gained while away.

5. Pay it forward.

And perhaps most importantly, don't forget to #payitforward. It's a treat to take a few days away to learn and grow professionally and not all our colleagues get to enjoy this. So schedule time to share - be it formally during a school PD or unofficially over drinks with friends. Hey, I've even started doing #edtechNeggs with colleagues because breakfast is the only meal we can all manage. However you do it, be sure to share.


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