Hidden Benefits of Off-Site PD

With February quickly approaching it marks the time of year for our annual pilgrimage to the Pennsylvania Education Technology Expo & Conference (PETE&C) in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Over the years the conference has grown in both attendance and topics and has now expanded to two hotels and conference centers.

I’m always surprised to learn that some districts prevent teachers from attending, while others (like ours) maliciously keep a spreadsheet of teacher attendance to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to attend and that no one misses the opportunity to learn.

The prep work takes time – from getting substitutes and School Board approval to organizing travel arrangements but the benefits of having a team attend a conference are very powerful. Teachers need and want professional development to grow their skills, deepen their understanding of content knowledge, and develop new classroom strategies. Student needs seem to change as quickly as technology, large conferences such as PETE&C allow teachers to discuss best practices and classroom techniques with other teachers from different districts with different experiences and expertise. I’ve written about the value and importance of professional development at Garnet Valley and the work our LEAP Committee and administration has done to personalized professional learning for our teachers. Conferences like PETE&C provide a nice supplement to professional learning for districts and if done correctly, create teacher leaders who become turn around trainers for newly learned material. Aside from the main focus of the conference, there are a few hidden benefits of off-site learning as well:

Grow your professional network

The opportunity to exchange ideas, share resources, and participate in discussions with professionals from other parts of the State is invaluable. There will be many teachers anxious to share twitter handles, lesson plans, activities, and classroom sites. There will be heavy-hitters there as well. Last year’s Keynote, George Couros (@gcouros) gave an amazing talk on the purposeful use of technology and the value of teachers as innovators. Seeing George in person was much more engaging than watching any TED Talk and now our entire faculty and staff will get that same opportunity in August when George visits Garnet Valley on our opening day.

Team Building

For some teachers, especially new hires, interaction with other teachers can be infrequent and minimal. The busy life of a classroom teacher does not lend itself to having the freedom of socialization during the work day. Preparing activities, answering emails, and returning phone calls, unfortunately, takes precedent to getting to know your colleagues on a personal level. Conferences and off-site professional development opportunities allow teachers to forgo the daily grind and focus on building personal relationships, unwinding, and having a memorable group experience.

Seeing the latest trends in education

Some teachers avoid the Expo center because they don’t have a budget or responsibility to purchase classroom equipment. This is a BIG mistake, as knowing the latest trends in education and seeing what “possibilities” exist are valuable pieces of information for classroom teachers and often promote innovation in the classroom. Teachers should take pictures and get brochures and business cards to bring back to district decision makers. The input from all stakeholders on equipment, software, and “new trends,” allows districts to plan, organize, and budget for years to come.

This year’s conference looks to be a busy one for Garnet Valley. Not only are we taking 15+ teachers and administrators, we are also facilitating a number of different sessions and participating in many discussion groups. We look forward to seeing old colleagues and are excited at the opportunity to make new ones.