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Conference Learning Should Be Participatory

I don't enjoy sitting and getting... Not unless we are talking about food service, especially dessert.

Learning should never be "a sit and get" experience - nothing that passive.

I preach against it vehemently and yet when I go to conferences for professional learning, that's how it's done.

Ironically, sometimes we get talked at about how we shouldn't be talking at kids.

If we want things to change, we need to model them differently.

So when one leads a session about how to put kids in the front of their learning, he/she absolutely can't throw a Prezi or slide show up to participants and stand at the front of the room to give a presentation. The presenter must mix and mingle and get the participants involved.

And fortunately, that's what I had an opportunity to do.

My sessions started out with me anonymously mixed in with the folks in the

room. Beginning with talking to participants, and modeling how we get to know our learners. I ask questioned. I listened. I used what I learned to propel learning for the whole forward.

Although a presentation was pseudo-planned, I knew that if I would successfully administer this session, I needed to show participants the power of including students/learners in what was happening and adjusting based on who was in the room.

So we started.

Pictures were shown and I asked participants to think about what they saw and how it could be a launching point for learning in a space. They mixed with people they didn't know and talked about what they saw. It was evident that collaboration was a huge part of the classroom.

After a short share out, participants were able to ask questions. How often do you walk into a session where a presenter says, tell me what you want to learn and I'll adjust to what you need so you walk away satisfied? And that's just what I did.

Fielding questions gave me an opportunity to integrate everyone's needs and help them solve problems or consider issues that they are working with rather than stick to my plan. Being flexible is what every teacher needs to be to suit the learning potential of the space.

Ironically, the first session was more involved than the second. I hoped in earnest that the second would benefit from the first, but that's not how it happened. We take what we learn and then we try to move forward, always looking to improve.

When we teach the same class more than once, it's an opportunity to continue to grow for kids and for ourselves, but it is essential to read the room. Knowing our learners is more than half of the battle and though we can learn from earlier iterations of our work, we must consider the folks before us and the time of day in which they were learning.

Looking back on my experience, my second session was the last of the day, the participants seemed tired and I couldn't get them as engaged as I had hoped they would be. I could only hope that they got what they needed despite not really appearing to take it all in. The two sessions although on the same content were completely different and that was because the room was different. I did my best to give folks what they needed.

Different learners require different things throughout the day and depending on how much it takes before the overload happens, some can better engage before supersaturation. Often we expect our students to take in more than is possible inside of a school day and this is so for adults as well.

As we continue to move forward with education reform, we need to model the changes we expect to see in classrooms in the learning we get. It's so important for leaders and learners to see how it's done.

How can you better engage audiences or yourself in the learning that happens to better prepare for students? Please share

This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in July of 2016.

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