“It’s really a bonding experience for staff,” says Andrew Smith, the district’s director of digital innovation. “The networking piece of ISTE is one they probably had never experienced before. Talking to someone across the country or across the world, and learning what they are doing with technology, is really powerful.”
To get the most bang for its buck, the district was very deliberate about choosing who would go. Each of the 36 schools brought a team that included the principal, a teacher and a technology coordinator. School administrators who wanted to bring additional staff could do so if they could find the funding, but there was one stipulation: Additional staff had to be first-time conference attendees.
The idea was to spread the learning far and wide. Each educator who attended was required to present on a topic they learned about at the district’s back-to-school conference. “We have 3,000 employees, and they spread that knowledge out to everyone,” Smith said. “Is it worth it? We would say, yes!”
Another time for sharing is during the long bus ride home. After ISTE 2015, it took 10 hours to drive from Philadelphia back home to Salisbury, and all the educators ride together in two buses. “The bus ride in general is really neat,” Smith said. “They are kind of stuck together so it forces them to collaborate. It’s like a fun field trip for teachers.”
Want to make ISTE 2016 a true catalyst for change in your school or district? Here are a few tips for collaborating with your team to get the most out of the conference.
Know your goal. With a clear goal in mind, you can make sure each member of your team gets exactly what he or she needs out of the conference. Whether your objective is to embark on a major technology initiative, find new tools to support your existing program or simply bring home as much learning as you can, you’ll get more out of the conference if you work as a team toward a common goal.
Play to your strengths. Choose which sessions each person will attend based on his or her knowledge and skill level. Attendees with prior knowledge or interest in a topic will typically get the most out of a session, and they can bring the most useful information back to the group.
Take advantage of collaborative spaces. ISTE 2016 will be peppered with lounges and other informal learning spaces where you can circle up with your team, debrief and plan for the following day. Tap into the creative energy onsite and start brainstorming ideas based on what you’ve learned so far!