Today I have the pleasure of participating in the NAEA (National Art Educators Association) conference in New York City.

I will be here learning and thinking and collaborating until Sunday and I’m so excited for this adventure!  I have brought two of my fantastic Arts Integration Teacher Liaisons with me and we have joined with several of our arts teachers from our district to learn as much as possible from our colleagues in the Arts field.  We have a jam packed schedule today and tomorrow taking in as many session as we can, and then we are headed out to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to apply some of what we are learning.

Sometimes, I find that educators can get overwhelmed at conferences, and they are not as valuable a learning and networking experience as they could be.  This is unfortunate, because conferences are a wonderful opportunity to advocate and educate, while at the same time truly taking some “me” time for you and your craft of study.  In my new book “A Vocal Arts Advocate”, I go into great detail about how you should approach conferences.  I even go into step-by-step detail of how to prepare, present, and reflect upon the conferences you attend.  I thought it would be helpful if I shared some of the key concepts from that section here today!

In our case, we are attending a National conference, which means a TON of sessions.

There are 4 days worth of sessions and each day consists of approximately 64 pages of sessions.  Talk about overwhelming!  So to prepare, I screened through all 64 pages and  highlighted just 4 sessions that my AI lead teachers and I should attend, based on what was interesting or applicable to our area of study for each time block.  This way, each of us and go to one and there is a backup in case one of our sessions doesn’t pan out.  This brought the “session packet” for us down to about 13 pages – much more manageable.

I then took this schedule and added in time for us to hit the exhibit floor, take some breaks, grab some meals and network.  All of these are important and vital to getting the most out of a conference.  You need the breaks to recharge, meals and networking allow you to make connections beyond your team, school or district which may come in handy in the future, and the exhibit floor is incredible.  Ah….the exhibit floor….

A couple of words about the wonderfully dreadful exhibit floor. You NEED to go. You need to browse through to find specific items that would be beneficial to your program and enhance your growth as a professional.  However, you can’t spend all day there.  Yes, the people are nice and they have some really cool stuff.  But.  You can’t camp out in the exhibit hall for the conference.  You have things to do and people to see, and you have invaluable opportunities to learn!  So get out of there!  Schedule an hour each day into your schedule or break it into 15-30 minute chunks when you can stop by the exhibit hall.  But that’s IT.

The other key ingredient to a successful conference experience is in saving some time for reflections.

These could be your own reflections, or those you gather when out for dinner with new professional friends.  The point is that you need some time away from the conference as well.  Your brain needs the break to sort, categorize and synthesize all of the new information it’s processing.  So be sure to give yourself a breather.  In our case, I am taking our lead teachers out to breakfast on Saturday morning and then we are headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the rest of the day.  Our days on Thursday and Friday are packed and we will all have a ton of information to absorb.

What good is learning about art techniques, resources, and information if we have nowhere to practice using it?  So we’re taking advantage of the fact that NYC has one of the most fantastic art museums in the world and we’re putting our new knowledge into practice before we head back into our classrooms.

I’ll be sharing pictures and more reflections from our conference experience.  Until then, take my new book A Vocal Advocate out for a spin to find more useful tips like these for making the most of your networking opportunities!