I’ve been very fortunate to attend the past 20 NCSS conferences in spots all across the United States. Whenever I return back to my home and school, I’m usually posed with a few simple questions (often by myself): Was the trip worth it? What did I get out of the conference? How will it help me improve as a teacher and have more impact on my students?
Ahh … here are answers aplenty. But first, a suggestion. While many teachers approach conferences as a tie to be a sponge and consume ideas, information, and resources, I always suggest attacking a conference by pushing to share, connect, converse, and converse more. I other words – be loud!
CONNECTION – Since becoming somewhat active on Twitter in the last 10 years, the biggest benefit of attending the national conference is making and reinforcing connections with amazing educators across the United States. They come from all regions, all types of schools, all grade levels, and all have one thing in common – a commitment to being awesome social studies educators. The Saturday morning unconference hosted by the gurus of #SSchat is the mother lode of connected educators, as I get to sit side-by-side with the best of the best and glean incredible and practical ideas that I can incorporate in my classes and share with others. The excellent NCSS Tech Community (@TechNCSS) session turned into a time to meet and share as well. If you go to NCSS (or any professional conference) and don’t seek to make connections, you are missing out on a treasure trove of people that can help you become a better educator.
EXHIBIT HALL – Touring the exhibit hall has changed radically over the past 20 years. It used to be dominated by textbook publishers – and they still have a prominent presence. However, I am overwhelmed by the professional development opportunities that are available in the exhibits. From The World War II Memorial Teachers Network to the offerings from Gilder Lehrman to the George Washington residential programs at Mount Vernon to the James Madison Fellows to the TransAtlantic Outreach Program in Germany offerings, the opportunities for social his teachers are almost countless. I wish I could sign up and get accepted for all of them, but I think one next summer will suffice. It’s also beneficial to meander through the exhibit hall and chat with organizations that provide a boatload of lessons and resources, both in print and online. While they are often available through a search or highlighted on social media, it’s nice to have many of them publicized in one place. It’s amazing how much awesome free stuff there is available for social studies teachers now – you just have to look for it. A perfect example is the American Battle Monuments Commission, one of my favorite organizations -and they have great education resources!
PRESENTING – Presenting is always excellent professional development for anyone, and sharing great ideas has been a highlight for me at many NCSS conferences. It’s the best way to meet other teachers and instantly find common interests and skills. I was fortunate to have a nice crowd for Engaging Your Students with a Social Studies BREAKOUT and I feel like they got something out of it. I also made a bunch of new edufriends, including the awesome Shyra Dawson who brought me a Diet Coke the next morning!
SESSIONS – Of course, attending sessions is the reason to hit the conference in the first place, in my mind. Unless there is a over-the-top major-league keynote, I tend to stick to the many presentations that apply to my role and curriculum. While I sometimes session shop and move from place to place, I was able to grab some awesome ideas from multiple sessions. Joe Schmidt’s Questions are the New Answers was an eye opener, got some great ideas from a trio of Fayetteville teachers on their WWI curriculum, saw awesome new excellent VR platforms for teaching social studies. The poster presentations are becoming more valuable every year, as one on one conversations lead to great ideas and more personal connections.
TRAVEL – What social studies teacher doesn’t like to travel? Fortunately for me, as an American studies teacher, every NCSS conference also involves some sort of historical site. I always talk about walking in the footsteps of history, and every NCSS conference offers that opportunity. Whether it’s going to the Alamo, touring Martin Luther King Jr.’s boyhood home, walking the battlefields near Washington DC, visiting the Boston Tea Party museum, or marveling at the Golden Gate Bridge this year, it’s both energizing and important to see different parts of our country. Plus, it really helps me get my steps up (over 76,000 steps while in San Fran!)
PEARLS – What? I’m always looking for pearls – small ideas, techniques, and platforms that i can infuse in my classroom right away. This year’s pearls include having students track my questions and we graph theirs as a class, integrating Recap @RecapThat and Formative @goFormative in the weekly/daily life of my class, new ideas for virtual reality in the classroom, some great thoughts on creative additions to my WWI curriculum, making more creative student videos in class, and using even more digital breakouts (inspired by the master, Tom Mullaney).
REFLECTION – The conference always offers multiple opportunities to reflect on my classroom, my practice, and where I am professionally. I always realize that, while I have some strengths in and out of the classroom, there are many areas that I can improve – growth mindset! Having three days to process everything without worrying about the next day’s classes is a bonus, and the long plane trip is an incredible opportunity to relax and think. I never leave NCSS without having my batteries recharged. The timing is also great, as we enter into the holiday season. The awesome ideas can keep me engaged as a teacher in a very busy season. It’s also a bonus to travel with colleagues like Brian Markwald, Will Piper, and Michael Matera, because our trip turns into a 72 hour department meeting – and it’s one of the reasons we work so well together.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the unwavering professional development support I get from my school, University School of Milwaukee. I am incredibly fortunate.
I look forward to NCSS18 in the beautiful midwest as SS gurus descend on the Windy City after Thanksgiving next year. See you there!