Joys and Tips of Conference-Going

This past February I spent five days in Indianapolis attending three conferences in tandem. As someone who typically gets restless after one day of conference sessions, five days is a lot! As it turns out, the experience was terrific. With university budgets being tight and time being precious, making smart choices in conference-going is important. Below are some reflections that I hope you find helpful.

Choose conferences wisely, and double – or triple – up if possible.   

I got lucky and hit the conference trifecta for this recent trip. The American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE) annual meeting was preceded by the Teacher Education Council of State Colleges and Universities (TECSCU) winter meeting, and the Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation (AAQEP) Quality Assurance Symposium. The location was a non-stop flight from Newark in the same time zone. Traveling further isn’t a deal breaker, but when it’s not for a vacation in Hawaii, I’m just as happy to have a shorter, easier travel experience.

Having these three conferences together made for a productive – and dare I say enjoyable – several days that were substantively different enough to keep me engaged. Also, each served a unique purpose. My institution recently became an affiliate member of AAQEP and our accreditation proposal was due in a few weeks, so this leg of the journey was a must. Switching from a focus on one accreditor’s standards and requirements to another is not a small undertaking. Our director of accreditation and I came home to NJ educated and energized for the work ahead.

Next came TECSCU. Being new to this organization and its executive board, again the timing for attendance was right. As I treasure working at a public institution whose mission is to serve the populations of its surrounding communities, I looked forward to meeting and learning from others at similarly focused institutions. This brief, half-day meeting did not disappoint. I left with a new group of supportive and knowledgeable colleagues with whom to share ideas as we confront the challenges of teacher shortages, state requirements, and issues related to enrollment and retention of teacher candidates.

Finally, it was time for the AACTE conference, which was kicked off with an opening session panel session featuring Gloria Ladson-Billings, James D. Anderson, and Lin Wu, moderated by Leslie T. Fenwick. If every other moment of the five days had been a waste of time (which they weren’t), it would have been worth it just to be in the room to hear the powerful, inspiring insights of these extraordinary individuals. The icing on the cake was sitting next to a colleague equally committed to expanding and diversifying the teacher workforce, and near our two Holmes Scholars, doctoral students from diverse backgrounds who are embarking on a new professional journey.

The rest of the AACTE conference, while admittedly less profound, was nonetheless valuable. The importance here was choosing sessions wisely. For me, this meant going heavy on sessions that covered topics related grow-your-own, residency, and apprenticeship programs, which helped move my thinking forward in this area.

Make the most of down time.

The first day of the trip was the birthday of a WP colleague with whom I was traveling. That evening, three of us celebrated at a local eatery and even won a trivia contest. I’m pretty sure a group we beat was from an EPP in New York City; what’s better than a little state rivalry, especially when NJ comes out on top?

The next night, our NJACTE president, Stacey Leftwich, hosted the members who were in attendance at the conference, and a good time was had by all. We let loose together in a way that isn’t possible over Zoom, when we are all absorbed in our everyday work lives. It was great to spend time with smart and fun women from sister EPP’s. One of them is my counterpart at an institution that is typically viewed as a competitor to mine. She invited me to lunch the next day. Competitor-shmeditor! We are working toward similar aims, and doing so together is way better, especially when there are more than enough prospective teacher candidates in the state of NJ to go around.

Next time you have the opportunity to go to a conference – or three – go for it, and enjoy!

Amy Ginsberg, PhD, William Paterson University
NJACTE Executive Committee