They're back. Sort of.
I went to my first in-person teaching conference last week. Yep, I got on an airplane, cab to hotel, two overnights, prepped a PowerPoint for a talk. All for a one-day conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. I used to do this 6 or 7 times each year, so it was just like old times. Except, it wasn’t, exactly.
It was great to see old friends, meet new colleagues, and hear their ideas in the sharing mode we all practiced pre-Covid. But the people who came to the conference were all speakers at the conference. About 25 of us. And then another 30 attended online, via Zoom. I could only see those attendees who were in the room, and one of the conference organizers monitored the chat, and brought questions from the online attendees into the discussion.
It worked fine. It was fine. But it was also kind of sad, to be honest. All those people online - it would have been great to see them too. To catch up with those friends, or meet those new colleagues. And perhaps the discussion would have been a little more robust.
I am struggling to find the words to describe exactly what made it sad. We had a lovely boxed lunch, and the weather was sunny and warm enough to sit outside. I met two new colleagues, and got to visit with one I’ve known a long time. We had a fun and interesting chat over lunch.
Was it the sight of 30 name tags that would never be picked up? Maybe. Was it the sparse in-person attendance? Maybe. Perhaps there is a critical mass for a “good” conference, and we were short of that? Maybe.
I have written a letter to you last March about my predictions for the future of teacher conferences. And I predicted then that we would have a hybrid future there, as well as in teaching. And this was a hybrid conference in every way I described months ago.
Maybe it really was the numbers. In the future, we will have robust in-person conferences, with a remote community connecting in as well. That’s a good thing - it broadens the impact of the conference, allows some who just cannot make it for some reason to still participate. But until the technology supports a better connection between remote and in-person, we will essentially have two conferences going on. As we know, it is a very different experience attending a conference fully remotely. And not just because you miss an in-person serendipitous lunch discussion, although for that reason too.
So I am holding back my conclusion from this singular tentatively back in-person conference. We need more experience with these sorts of conferences than we have yet. We need to think of ways to better connect the in-person group with the online group - and not just through Q&A monitored through the chat box. And a larger number might help - at both ends.
I am all ears for your ideas - what can be done to make these sorts of hybrid conferences more effective, and not sad? Please leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.
Letters of Recommendation
As the annual Christmas celebrations approach, I always think of a poem by Dylan Thomas. My father probably read A Child’s Christmas in Wales to me when I was very young. I do not have a specific memory of it, but as a poetry teacher, it seems likely that he introduced me to this little jewel of a poem about a little boy in Wales at Christmas (likely autobiographical). Here is the author reading the poem in Steinway Hall in 1952. Perhaps it is an acquired taste, but I will say it is a poem - like most poems - that rewards close study and repeated readings (or listenings).
Q of the Week
The Q of the Week this week is a Quote from The Tables Turned, by William Wordsworth: