How many of you have been excited to attend a conference only to be let down because it wasn’t as great as you wanted it to be? Or you were in a crowd of 1,000 people and couldn’t ask a question that you really wanted an answer to? Conferences are great professional development tools, but they have limitations.
National and state conferences bring together educators from diverse backgrounds for one, two or three days of sessions. Some of the biggest names in education present at them, and they are often as fun as attending a rock concert for the daily presentations and the night events. Unfortunately, attendance is down at many of them because schools just can’t afford to pay the high price of attendance, and teachers do not always have the money to pay out of their own pockets.
Schools are experiencing many changes these days, and they have to find ways to meet the needs of their teachers and students. Sending teachers out to a conference for a day and hiring substitutes to fill in is not an option for many schools because of the added expense. In addition, teachers and principals really don’t want to leave their classrooms or schools for a day to attend a conference that might not be worth their time.
Times are changing
Educational organizations such as ASCD and a variety of others offer webinars in addition to the conferences they have at national and local levels. Publishers such as Corwin Press, whom I write for, offer them in lieu of other events because they understand that educators can attend webinars without leaving their office, classroom or home.
Webinars are done through the Internet. Just like a mainstream conference, organizations offer a link for educators to register for their chosen webinar, and with the ease of a button they can participate when the webinar takes place. In many webinar platforms, educators can make comments, ask questions or have private conversations with the webinar host or another webinar conference attendee.
Webinars are changing the way educators approach professional development. They are quick, informative and inexpensive. Actually, inexpensive is an understatement because they are typically free. In these times of budget cuts, educators are looking for ways to improve their practice without attending conferences. Considering that time is an issue for many, webinars help save time and offer great professional development opportunities.
Controversial topics of discussion
There are numerous benefits to attending webinars. In addition to time and money saved, webinars offer an additional benefit, and that is one of privacy to be able to attend conferences that others might find controversial.
Although I write about a variety of topics for my Finding Common Ground blog at Education Week, there is one topic that is more controversial than most and that is when I focus on LGBT issues. I wrote a book for Corwin Press called Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students, not because I wanted to spark controversy but because I read research by the Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) that stated close to 90% of LGBT students get bullied in one way or another in the public school system. Some people have strong opinions for safeguarding LGBT students while others would rather not talk about it. The truth is it’s not always a topic that people want to walk into a conference room to discuss.
Webinars have changed the way we can discuss topics that some people find controversial, such as gender, race, poverty and sexual orientation, because educators can participate from the comfort of their own home or school. As much as people might not want others to know their social justice side, they do want to be civically active, and webinars allow them to get information without necessarily disclosing who they are. It sounds strange that educators would like to remain anonymous when discussing topics that others find controversial, but at least they are taking the first step by participating at all, which leads to another benefit.
Educators do not have to participate in the live webinar because they are typically taped and archived by the organization so that anyone can click on the link and watch it at their leisure. In a regular conference format, if you miss the speaker, you can’t get a replay when you want. In these days of 24/7 access, webinars are a no-brainer when it comes to professional development. They may not replace the one-on-one contact that a conference can offer, but they do make it easy to continue down the path of being a lifelong learner.
In the end
As we go down the road of doing more with less, we still need to make sure that we are developing professionally. Educators look for a variety of ways to connect with their students and other educators in their personal learning networks (PLN). Webinars allow educators to get current information whenever they want it.
In addition, webinars bring together educators from around the world. Although educators might speak different languages, they have one common goal, which is to educate students. Through that goal, they can meet international educators and build a PLN to see that we all have similar problems and find great solutions.
It’s important that educators find ways to educate themselves in the same way that our students do. Students use the Internet, not as a tool, but as a way of life. They get instant access to information without the hassle of waiting for it, and educators must do the same. Our students do not have the patience to wait for us any longer. Join a webinar and start engaging with educators from around the world because ultimately your students will benefit from it.
Webinars usually last an hour or less and are offered by organizations such as ASCD, NAESP, NASSP and Education Week. Webinars focus on every aspect of education and are usually free. All you have to do is register so the organization can keep track of numbers. Participate in at least one webinar during August, which is Connected Educator Month.
Finally, if you’re giving a webinar, remember to be engaging because they can seem very one-sided. Provide the opportunity for participants to ask questions and make comments, and ask where they are participating from. Use the emoticons and polls and ask yes or no or multiple choice questions.
Peter DeWitt (@PeterMDeWitt) is an elementary principal in Averill Park, N.Y. He blogs at Finding Common Ground for Education Week and is the author of “Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students,” published by Corwin. He can be found at PeterMDewitt.com.