I love attending teacher conferences: meeting new people, learning new ideas and strategies, browsing the latest student resources, experimenting with new technology for the classroom. Pre-pandemic, finding a good conference was a ritual I’d perform every school year – Googling endlessly for an event that was just the right location, theme and cost for my professional learning funding for that year. Like many teachers, I love travel – so spending hours comparing accommodations, conference speakers, and transportation fees brings me a very high level of excitement and joy.
Last year I went to my first conference since the pandemic had started, and it fortunately was a virtual one – I was recovering from a bout of COVID-19 as I watched the speakers present through my screen. While I learned a lot about culturally responsive assessment, I found it a little too easy to tune out of the conversation and start researching random topics, or respond to work emails that popped up. All of this is to say that virtual conferences just aren’t the same – while they can be good learning experiences, there are a lot of pieces missing that make conferences a fully immersive professional learning experience.
Attending Reading for the Love of It
What is Reading for the Love of It? This conference is organized by the East York-Scarborough Reading Association, a group of Ontario educators who are passionate about literacy. The event and organization is entirely volunteer run, and the conference has run for 44 years. You can read all about their organization and past conferences at their website.
When an opportunity came up to attend this year’s annual Reading for the Love of It conference in downtown Toronto, I promptly signed up with several of my colleagues. Simply planning to attend was already a different experience from getting a virtual link. We excitedly chose which sessions to attend, organized a lunch meetup, and coordinated meeting points.
Arriving at the venue, a big smile spread across my face: the beautiful lobby of the Sheraton hotel was flooded with teachers carrying conference programs and swag bags, friendly volunteers appeared at every turn to guide us in the right direction. A large exhibitor section filled with booksellers and vendors provided endless browsing possibilities where I could finally thumb through student resources I had been eyeing online for months, like a decodable reader set for older students and a full trove of hi-lo fictional novels.
What was truly wonderful was running into colleagues and ETFO members, some of which I had never met in person. It struck me how easy it was to have interactions that other wise took days of planning: scheduling a zoom meeting, or planning a visit. I remembered how exchanging valuable tidbits of information about projects and sharing resources and insights could happen in the span of second – this is the real value of being at conferences like these.
The Value of Choosing Your Professional Learning Pathways
Experiencing an in person conference again also reminded me of the value of choosing our own professional learning pathways. Just as the students we teach benefit from determining their own inquiries, as educators we may also be more engaged in our learning when we can choose our own way to grow professionally.
Understanding how to access funding is critical to fostering our own growth. There are hundreds of conferences and learning opportunities happening all over Canada, and many new teachers may not be aware that some ETFO locals offer professional development funding to assist with costs. For example, at my local, we can access up to $300 for conferences and $400 for professional learning courses. I will be always grateful for the mentor that showed me this funding was available, since I have used it at every opportunity.
If you are unfamiliar with how to organize and fund your professional learning, contact your local to find out what options are available!