Making the Most of Model Schools Conference 2019: Tips From an Avid Attendee

For the past three years I have been an avid, albeit nearly rabid, fan and attendee of the Model Schools Conference (MSC). Every year I attend, I learn a multitude of new lessons that can be immediately applied to my classroom—lessons that that challenge my current pedagogies into growth.

Like most other districts, ours has goals of raising the bar for achievement. We want to empower everyone—teachers and kids—to have higher expectations in the form of a rigorous and relevant education. MSC is the perfect route for this endeavor. If you have never been to an MSC, get ready! If you have, you already know! Either way, I wanted to share some tips that I have learned over the years to help you get the most out of your upcoming MSC experience.

My first MSC caught me off guard due to the size of the conference. I was not expecting to be surrounded by 5,000 other educators! But I learned that being caught off guard has its benefits—it builds curiosity and a desire to understand more. For example, Temple Grandin—who has autism and is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University—was giving a keynote and talking about her childhood. She would veer off and start talking about her livestock work, which led her to talking about experiences during her teenage years. The entire time she was speaking, her stories were intricately tied together—a braided timeline, if you will.

Educators at a keynote session during the 2018 Model Schools Conference in Orlando, Florida.

At first, I wondered what this had to do with education; regardless, I was hooked. When she was done, I realized that she was there not to teach me about the humane slaughtering of cows—although I did learn a lot about that industry—but rather to show us all a beautifully woven mind. Immediately, I thought about my students with IEPs who are on the spectrum, and I wondered about their struggles. I thought about how beautiful their minds are to do this waltz to get from Point A to Point B, and I started exploring how this can translate in my teaching world.

However, being caught off guard in other ways can challenge learning and our ability to take in new information, and then process and synthesize it. Below are some of my “aha” moments and tips for newbies attending MSC to help you make the most of this amazing learning experience.

The Mobile App 

How did we survive before apps? Whatever task we need to accomplish, we can find in the twitch of a nose—or the downloading of an app; Wi-Fi permitting, of course! Some apps are downloaded and quickly forgotten, but others  are invaluable. The latter is the case with the MSC app. 

Make sure to download the app before the conference. In this app, you can view all of the available sessions, create a schedule, connect with other attendees, view a map of the conference, and much more. The map was a welcome option for me, as I am chronically lost. Trying to find a session amidst 5,000 new friends in convention center hallways that all look the same can be overwhelming. The map alleviates that frustration. Plan your routes ahead of time, and it is smooth sailing. Even before the conference, I could make sure that I didn't set myself up for being late by choosing two sessions that were located too far apart. 

Another tip: With so many great sessions and topics to choose from, having a back-up option ensures that you don’t waste a time slot if you can’t make it from one end of the conference to the other. I also love that the app stays active after the conference. I have gone back to get handouts and downloads, contact information, links to presenters’ books, and more.

Divide and Conquer

If you are fortunate enough to travel in a group, be sure to have a plan. Meet before the conference and create your schedules together. This accomplishes a few things:

  • It will get your team excited about the conference.
  • You will have a chance to set a goal or a focus prior to the event, which can result in more fruitful discussions post-conference.
  • You can make sure your team is hitting as many different sessions as possible to return to your district with the most beneficial knowledge to help create the greatest impact.

Another idea to consider is setting up a time to meet in the evenings to share and process what was learned—new innovations, practical strategies that are easily implemented, content knowledge, and so on. Consider setting up a shared slide presentation that each member of the team can add to throughout the conference so you’ll have a starting point for delivering great PD when you get back to your district.

Educators engage in conversation at MSC 2018.
Make Connections!

The advice to engage in a network of like-minded educators was brought up more than a few times at MSC, and you should do just that! I tried to arrive 5–10 minutes early for every session I attended—not only because I was raised to believe that early is on time and on time is late, but because I had ulterior motives. I wanted to start growing my network! I wanted to be able to collaborate with educators who are as passionate as I am. We exchanged emails and social media information, with two great results:

  • I have been able to reach out to my network and ask about implementation modifications made, ways to grow rigor, and other details.
  • My social media feeds have dramatically changed to serve as a tool for growth in my practice. My new educator friends and I share articles, lessons, and many topics that keep my feed education focused.

This has been life-changing for me—and I mean that literally! I have had the chance to connect with quite a few ICLE Senior Fellows who are eager to help mentor, and it has exponentially catapulted my growth! 

Take in the Tech Talks

Tech Talks are really cool breakout groups that occur during longer breaks between more formal sessions. At first, I didn’t know how much I was going to love these! I discovered Tech Talks when I sat down on a little couch in the lobby to rest. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by other people, and another session started! This particular Tech Talk focused on alternative seating (hence, the cute little couch!). During my 12 years in education, I had always used the standard desks—I think a lot of us stick with whatever seems easy and familiar. But as this principal spoke, he told us about how effective alternative seating has been at his site. He explained to us how he went about setting up classrooms with help from other teachers and a couple of hardware store donations.

I was really moved by the videos he showed us, and I’m proud to say that I took this back to my school and immediately started working on it. I went to garage sales, asked for donations, and stopped at more than a few curbs to claim disowned furniture. Growing my hodgepodge collection, I had added a table with shortened legs where the kids can sit “criss-cross applesauce” with an area rug underneath, and I included three padded benches, a recliner, bar stools, and a couple of padded dinner table chairs. (There are still standard tables and chairs, too, for the traditional student.) The impact was huge—so many kids told me that they loved my room and the way it made them feel! Although I have since left the classroom, I left my alternative seating for future kids—and a teacher who was excited to try something new! 

This is the best part about MSC: Even when you think you are on a break relaxing, you might learn something that can impact your teaching from that point forward. I am so excited to return to MSC 2019 in Washington, D.C., in June, and I hope that I might have the opportunity to meet some of you there!

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Join Kelly Boeing and more than 5,000 educators in 100+ sessions at the 27th Annual Model Schools Conference in Washington, D.C., from June 23–26, 2019, where you can learn what steps to take to act for impact in your school or district.

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