Valentine’s Day looms near but I am not thinking about romantic proposals. I am preoccupied by academic engagements in the form of workshop proposals for upcoming conferences that open their calls for papers like a garden of fascinating flowers to attract teacher/researcher bees. Yesterday’s SALTISE newsletter announced the call for proposals for its 2018 conference to be held at McGill University in Montreal at the end of May. Are you thinking of proposing a workshop? Why do people present at conferences?
If we look at our collective agreements, we often have a stated professional responsibility to participate in professional development, research and the dissemination of findings, but that doesn’t mean that all teachers are flooding conference inboxes with workshop proposals. Professional responsibility is a good reason to consider participating, but if that isn’t enough to make you take the leap, here are three other reasons.
- Professional Growth: Preparing a workshop provides an individualised opportunity to encourage your professional growth. I like to choose a pedagogical issue to explore throughout the academic year, some aspect of learning I would like to improve on in my teaching practice, and then I read about and experiment with the chosen topic using tools like Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATS). The result of this exploration becomes a workshop where I share what I have learned at conferences at the end of the school year. Yes, it adds extra work, but aren’t we all trying to get better at what we do, for our sake and for our students’ sake? If my teaching is more efficient then that provides payoffs for me and my students. Presenting a workshop helps me get a better grasp of the pedagogical topic I am exploring. We ask students to present projects because we know researching, experimenting with, and showcasing a topic is a great way for them to work with ideas, and the same is true for teachers who present conference workshops.
- Collaborating: I have been writing workshop proposals and presenting at pedagogical conferences for ten years, usually at least one per year, and some years I have presented at several different conferences. I have presented on my own, with one or two partners, and even virtually (on my own in the virtual world while everyone attending was present in a room someplace, on site with my partner at a distance, at a distance with my partner on site, and even with everyone online in conferences where everyone is attending virtually!). With all of that experience I have come to the realization that, at least for me, it is not only more fun to collaborate with a partner when preparing and presenting a workshop, it is also more stimulating and rewarding. The synergy that occurs when you are working together with a colleague helps you think of things together that you would never have come up with on your own. Your partner can help you get unstuck when you reach an impasse, and you can provide constructive feedback to each other as you go through the process. Whether I am working with someone from my college or with someone from a different institution, the collaborative aspects have contributed greatly to the experience. Furthermore, including more that one presenter can make for a more dynamic presentation!
- Networking: When I use the term networking I am thinking about what happens at the conference. Obviously you can network at a conference even if you are not presenting a workshop, but in my experience we have a tendency to stay in our comfort zone by hanging out with the people we already know. Even if we are surrounded by people from fifty other colleges, we choose to sit beside, or go for lunch with: our friends. Presenting a workshop is a good way to open up new links to professionals from other institutions who are interested in the same kinds of teaching and learning issues as you. If they sign up for your workshop you already have something in common: an interest in the topic you are presenting. And by giving them a chance to hear what you are doing in your classroom you can open up a conversation that can lead to new ideas, information and contacts. You can learn a great deal from people who are not at the same institution as you by seeing how different schools, or programs, or teachers, address the same problems.
If the reasons given above don’t have you convinced, you might like to know that some conferences give you a deal on registration fees when you present, for example the AQPC gives a 50% reduction off conference fees for up to two presenters per workshop!
Putting together a workshop proposal takes thought and time, and if it gets accepted you will need to dedicate many hours to preparing something that goes by in about an hour. Obviously I think it is worth it because I keep going back for more. My Virtual Team Teaching partner from Vanier College and I just got word this week that our workshop proposal has been accepted for a conference in Krakow, Poland! Our institutions, Vanier College and Cegep de Sept-Iles, have agreed to finance our trip in April. So here we go again, off to collaborate on our workshop!
(Watch for my next post where I will look at how one goes about deciding on a topic and putting together an engaging session!)