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Over the next few days my blog will be a snapshot album of words describing what it is like to attend a premiere education conference, ASCD12. This is an experience that most educators rarely experience over the course of their careers. It is not an inexpensive proposition to send educators to national conferences. For some reason many districts use that as a reason to send the same administrators year after year to these conferences. I think administrators have the idea that their district leaders are best positioned to share all that is gleaned from the conference with the staff. Of course this is a generality and not every district does this. You may want to ask who from your district attends these conferences and how many have they been to over the years.

The cost of these conferences is steep. The organizations running them have to pay a big price for the venues required to accommodate the tens of thousands of educators and vendors who will walk through the doors. In addition to the cost of the conference, districts have to add transportation, lodging, and food for each individual. In the economic atmosphere of today, many districts may have trouble justifying the expense to those who have no understanding of the value of these conferences. Once again much-needed professional development is relegated to the bottom of the ever-changing priority list

A recurring theme of many of my posts has been how isolated the profession of education can be. Teachers always have the ability to share ideas on lessons, methods and pedagogy within their own building, but only if that building sports an open and collaborative culture. This collaboration enables change.  If the building has a closed culture of people who do not collaborate and continue to support the status quo by hunkering down in the bunkers of their comfort zones, then little change will occur. Professional conferences have always opened up educators to change. Educators’ sharing of the latest in lessons and tools has always been the backbone of the conference. The collaboration and excitement pump up the lifeblood of the conference. The camaraderie of the participants as they grow closer through their interests over a few short days is the soul of the conference. Educators come away from conferences with creative juices flowing, collaborative spirit soaring, and their self-esteem rising. They then return to their schools to share, and, try as they might, they can’t duplicate the same feelings for their colleagues. That feeling, short-lived as it is however, cannot be denied.

Of course my position is always that the conferences are greatly enhanced by Social Media. This is a natural occurrence at some conferences. For some reason attendees at some national conferences use more SM than users at other conferences. Tweeting goes on at every session and every hallway. Back channeling presenters is commonplace. Blogs are pumped out during the conference. People who are virtually connected year round, come together face-to-face and are like long-lost friends uniting after years of being apart.  Much of which I have described here is best appreciated by those who have actually experienced it at a conference, but as I have pointed out, it is an experience that most educators will never have.

Tonight as I attended the opening reception at ASCD12, I met a very special educator. We were connected through Twitter but had never met. Julie Ramsay, or @juliedramsay as I know her is one such educator whom has attended more than one conference. She and her husband spent their own money and time to attend the ASCD12 Conference. Julie also attended, again at her own expense, last year’s  ISTE conference  in order to enable her students to present there. They too paid their own way. That is a dedicated educator with a supportive family.

I was in a huge room with about 500 educators noshing on hors’d’oeuvres. I was sitting alone at a table tweeting out to see if anyone in the room was monitoring the Twitter stream. After a half hour, I deduced that this may not be the most Social-Media-savvy group. It was at that point that Julie and her husband found me through my tweets, and we met and shared. Twitter, the very thing that so many condemn as anti-social brought some of us together for face-to-face social interaction. I immediately wondered how to get the 500 other educators to get it.

Several other social media users will be Tweeting and Blogging out moments from the ASCD12 Conference starting tomorrow. By modeling for other educators what it is that we all need to do in order to be connected educators, maybe we can connect more of us. This will increase collaboration and hopefully support change in a culture and system sorely in need of it. Follow the #ASCD12 hashtag through Monday

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