“So, what’s the best resource you have available?” – It’s a question I’ve asked teachers on more than one occasion.
Yes, it’s a trick question that I throw out occasionally to catch out those who might reply “iPads. Raspberry Pi computers. Google. The Internet.” and so on. While these are all extremely useful tools, the golden answer in my head that I look for is “yourself”, more specifically the resourcefulness and initiative that a teacher can make use of. An effective teacher needs very few resources to ensure an impactful learning experience.
Within a typical school week, teachers are presented with an abundance of opportunities to develop their resourcefulness and initiative, ranging from impromptu discussions with colleagues in the staffroom to informal exchanges while on break duty. But… with all of the plate-spinning demands that the daily whirlwind demands upon teachers, it can be tough to look out beyond this daily commotion.
The opportunity to step out of the whirlwind of a school day into the blissful oasis of a luxury hotel replete with leather wingback chairs, incessant coffee (or those fancy silken pillow tea-bags that seem wasteful to throw away) and a delicious lunch to spend an entire day with some teaching colleagues who are perfectly tuned in to your way of thinking can be the perfect retreat to re-ignite that spark that made you think you could change the world by becoming a teacher.
Having attended more than my fair share of conferences of late, I wonder if I’m developing into a bit of a ‘conference connoisseur’. However, it’s not a badge that you’ll see me wearing, since one or two of these ‘conferences’ I’ve attended recently have been nothing more than glorified trade shows masquerading as conferences, which is a terrible shame. I also see clear distinctions between profit making and non-profit making conferences which I believe are worth sharing.
Profit Making: There are always going to be costs associated with organising any conference, but there is scope for profits to be made too. At one end of the spectrum, some organisations boost their income purely by slapping a hefty profit margin on top of the running costs, charging delegates as much as £200-£500 each for a day. If your training budget will stretch to these, as well as the costs of getting you there and releasing you from your timetable commitment – you’re in for an enjoyable, informative day.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are outfits that charge the exhibitors fees to reduce the costs to delegates to as little as free in return for the opportunity to promote their products and services to a targeted audience. If you’ve been to a few of these, you’re probably well practiced at ducking between the exhibitors to grab the free sandwiches on offer.
Along this broad spectrum there are models where there is a delicate balance between profit, cost, value and content. There is a perception that the more you pay to attend one of these conferences – the better the quality; although it’s worth stating that I’ve seen both fantastic presentations at free events and poor ones at paid for events.
Non profit: I’ve also been lucky enough to attend some truly fabulous conferences largely organised by an army of unpaid volunteers. A few I’d strongly recommend (in alphabetical order) are the Computing At School annual conference in Birmingham [link], MozFest [link] and PyConUK [link]. These conferences require some weekend attendance, so providing you don’t have a family commitment, sacrificing your Saturday may not be too much of a problem. Warning: After you’ve attended a few of these, you’ll probably graduate to helping organise them in the future.
Weekend Conferences: It’s a mixed blessing that some of the best events take place on weekends. This can widen access for some teachers, since there are fewer bureaucratic hurdles to jump in order to attend, some blame ‘Rarely Cover’ for this. For those teachers with family commitments (or more frankly: lives that don’t centre around school) it’s far from ideal. Also, there are other hidden costs, and I’m not just talking about the travel expenses. If you spend Saturday getting all excited at ‘TeacherCon’, you’ll still need to spend your precious Sunday marking books.
So, what’s the solution? Well, in an ideal world, teachers should be able to attend conferences in their working day that will:
- genuinely inspire them in a relaxed environment, free of daily distractions
- expose them to a plethora of alternative teaching & learning strategies and useful resources
- facilitate interactions with other teaching colleagues who share common aims and problems
- allow them to discover the approaches that teachers in other schools are using
Oh, and it shouldn’t cost more than £100 or so to attend. Yes, you heard me, less than £100.
Why £100? I’ve discovered that it’s possible to put on a non-profit event in a quality city centre hotel for a cost of about £60 per delegate. If you cut a few corners and employ a team of unpaid volunteers, you could reduce this down to about £30 a delegate and still include a lunch.
Presenter fees: If conference organisers pay presenter fees and expenses, the costs start to creep up considerably. To invite a well known figure like Ken Robinson, Sugata Mitra or Brian Cox to deliver a 20 minute inspirational keynote, you’d definitely need to factor in upwards of an extra £100 per delegate. This is fair enough, if the superstar personalities actually add value to the event and are not only being used as a marketing strategy to attract more delegates. I’ve attended some cracking conference sessions delivered by local practitioners who are superstars in their own classroom.
So, where is this heading? Well, I’m attempting to organise such an event for a cost of just £49 per delegate (plus VAT). I’ll also be trying a few other variations that differ from the norm of a conference to increase the benefits of attending, I’ll explain more in a later post. I’m also going to try to organise it so we don’t pay speakers, that’s going to be tough for a weekday event, but I hope by paying their tickets for them they’ll still think it’s worthwhile for them. If you think you’d like to present, talk to me and we’ll see if we can make it work.
Expect a few more blog posts to follow as I update you on my progress organising this conference. If you agree to keep reading I’ll agree to keep sharing.
The name of this event: Oh yes, it’s called ‘exabytes’ and it takes place at the Midland Hotel in Bradford on Thursday 23rd June. Oh and it’s on the same day as the EU Referendum, so if you’re planning to attend, you’d better apply now for a postal vote. 😉
Do you have any strong feelings about the best/worst conferences that you’ve attended? When do you feel you’ve got the best value from a conference? When did you feel let down by conference organisers? How have conference organisers managed to meet your expectations?