Have you always wanted to present at a conference? Find out how!

I recently returned from presenting at the National Council of Teachers of English Conference in Washington, D.C. It was an inspirational experience, and I realized how fortunate I was to be able to participate. I met interesting people, learned a great deal, culled ideas for future lessons, and even got to take home some pretty fabulous swag.

I’m partial to East Coast conferences – they’re easy to get to from Boston, and they don’t require missing too many days out of the classroom. I’m fortunate that my school covers travel, hotel, and registration fees. Most importantly, I’ve discovered that attending conferences informs my practice and helps make me a sharing professional.

For the NCTE Conference, my topic was “Film & Writing: Rigorous Curriculum that Reaches Reluctant Learners.” I wanted to share my experiences with using film in the ELA classroom, especially highlighting ways to create challenging writing assignments that help make students truly college ready. I had been teaching my Film course for about five years, and it had taught me a great deal that I wanted to share with my colleagues.

My former mentee, Evalynn, taught a Film course this past summer for English Language Learners. I thought the two of us could team up and present innovative ideas and sample lessons to the NCTE audience. Although she has only been teaching for three years, Evalynn has proven herself to be a powerful teacher – one who connects with her students and motivates them on to success. I knew she’d be the perfect partner for the presentation I had in mind. And indeed, Evalynn’s participation in the session added so much, and, as a novice teacher, the entire experience was exciting and stimulating for her.

Presenting at a conference can seem overwhelming and daunting, but I feel the experience should be on every teacher’s bucket list. I believe strongly that all teachers have something to share. Topics can focus on curriculum, instruction, assessment, professional culture, advocacy, or parent and family engagement, to name a few. And it’s really not that hard to guarantee yourself a spot in the program if you follow a few simple directions:

1. Find the right conference. If you’re a subject-specific expert, check out conferences like the NCTE one I discussed – these conferences exist for Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Foreign Language, Art, and Music. If your focus is advocacy, instruction, or Advanced Placement, the College Board National, Regional, and AP Forums might be for you.

2. Read the “Call for Proposals” carefully. Tailor your presentation to fit the needs of the conference. Conferences are often “theme-based.” Make sure you articulate how your presentation will address the theme. The Call for Proposals usually lists exactly what type of session the conference is seeking; make sure your proposal meets the criteria.

3. Include innovative ideas. Proposals that are interactive, that include ways to use technology in the classroom, or that address major educational issues are likely to be selected. Reach for a wide-audience – proposals that are too narrow may not be chosen or you may end up presenting to an empty room.

4. Bring along students (if the conference is local). Some of my most successful presentations have included the voices of students. I’ve brought students from my high school to present on issues ranging from “The Plight of the Undocumented Students,” to “Transforming the Educational Experience of Young Men of Color.” Student voices are powerful, and they are not heard enough.

Good luck! I’ll be presenting with one of my former students on the topic “Motivating the Reluctant Learner” at this year’s New England College Board Regional Forum, February 3rd and 4th. Stop by and say hello!

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