Why isn’t school like a conference?

Subtitle: 10 ways to make school more engaging…

The theme of the IBAP conference this year is ‘Citizenship, Connectivity, Creativity, Comapassion‘ (Exploring teaching and learning in the 21st century). So far I’m thoroughly enjoying it.  It’s been stimulating to listen to inspiring keynote speakers, to learn from and with other educators and to connect with new people from different places. It’s fun to check out the options with my colleague and choose which sessions to particpate in.

I’m wondering why we don’t try to replicate this model for our students.

We could…

1. Start the day with an inspiring keynote… via TED perhaps.

2. Deliver new ideas in exciting, different ways.

3. Offer a series of workshops for students to choose from throughout the day.

4. Allow students to learn with and from learners at other grade levels

5. Give learners an opportunity to construct meaning in small breakout sessions.

6. Invite willing students to present their own sessions, supported by teachers as required.

7. Encourage students to tweet throughout the day about their learning experiences.

8. Create stalls where students can browse literature relevant  to their learning in between sessions.

9. Provide a healthy buffet lunch to feed the brain and body.

10.  Ask for and listen to their feedback regarding future learning.

These thoughts were jotted down quickly, only half seriously, based loosely on my experience at the conference over the last few days. But with careful consideration,  it could probably be developed into a model of school that would foster student engagement and encourage learners to take control of their own learning. I know it’s never going to happen… certainly not while we have to focus on NAPLAN results and a prescribed national curriculum. We simply ‘don’t have the time’!

But how about planning a one day ‘conference’ on a theme that’s relevant to everyone? Or a grade level ‘conference’ day as a provocation for a new unit of inquiry?  What do you think? Can you help me develop the idea further?

16 thoughts on “Why isn’t school like a conference?

  1. Hi Edna,

    Firstly, I’m glad I’m not the only one who is writing a blog post on a Friday night!

    As usual, great ideas! Adults have developed the conference model as it is the way they prefer to learn so why not use those ideas in the classroom?

    The theme of 2011 for me is, so many ideas, so little time! It’s frustrating and I know it’s going to get worse.

    I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on the conference idea. I think it has real potential.


    PS – I’m looking forward to listening to your Elluminate session soon!


  2. With the exception of the tweeting and food…each one of those is under the power of the teachers. You do not need to create a special day, do it everyday. Every class can operate as it’s own mini-conference.

    So……name one on the list that you are going to do Monday.


  3. The school my son attends (junior high grades 7 -9 ) has planned a Student Conference Day every February on the day before the teachers go to their conference. Just like a teachers’ conference, the students have some input into the type of sessions they are interested in, they receive a “conference booklet” approximately 2 weeks before the day, and they sign up online for the sessions they want to attend. It is all very professionally run and students are excited by the different format for their school day.

    Although it is an interesting experience for the students, I question the learning that takes place and the follow-up that occurs afterwards. Adults attending conferences often feel rejuvenated and excited about the new ideas they have been exposed to, but then once back at work they quickly fall back into the regular routine often leaving the new ideas behind. The same is true for the students … unless we as their teachers deliberately bring those new ideas back to the forefront and engage in some critical and deliberate inquiry about the content.

    I would suggest we need to ask:
    – what is our purpose for holding a student conference day?
    – apart from the break from a regular school day, what do we want students to take away from the experience?
    – how can and should parents and the community be involved within the belief of “it takes a village”?
    – how will we follow up with students on what they have learned?
    – Are there opportunities for inquiry projects or student blogging, podcasts, and videos, based on the sessions? Could this lead to cross-grade level learning initiatives?
    – How will we model and share our learning experiences from conferences that we attend?

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment.


  4. How about a related question?

    Why aren’t conferences more like school?

    Learners collaborating to develop products that are shared with the real world. (This happens in the classrooms where I like to spend my time…)


  5. i think your #3 is huge Edna. wouldn’t even need it to be a conference day. could just be how we do school. per choice.
    more about, who’s together in a room, and why..


  6. I love your idea of #3…

    t would be a fascinating day if every teacher developed a workshop that students chose whether to attend or not.

    PS I listened to your Elluminate session…it was inspirational. Thank you!


  7. Earlier in the year, we did an unconference for teachers: they chose the proposed, created and led sessions on topics that interested them at the time. I’m wondering if we couldn’t do that for students as well? It would be a great way of identifying what it is that students are really interested in as well as empowering them as learners!


  8. A conference day could be a really engaging way to provoke students thinking and would be a great way to kick off a unit of inquiry or even “end” one. I agree with Hyacinth – what follows is vital.
    Another point to consider when answering your question – the speakers/ presenters put a huge effort and amount of time into preparing for conference day – this would be unsustainable as a pedagogy without a huge paradigm shift. But the point about learners inputting and choosing what to learn is one we should heed more often.


    1. @Hailey Great point about the time it takes to prepare! A couple of thoughts about that:

      1. If the conference is at the end of the unit, couldn’t that time be built into the unit as a way for students to synthesize their learning?

      2. Using the unconference model, presenters/facilitators are encouraged to lead sessions in areas in which they are already experts. While there may be some need for preparation, these sessions can be used to empower students to share what they know and self-identify as leaders in different fields.

      A final thought for PYP teachers: could the Year 5 exhibition be re-imagined into a conference model?


  9. This year our team have been using literacy, maths and inquiry rotations more often. It has allowed us to spend more time with small groups while providing a range of shorter and focused learning engagements that seem to suit many of our current cohort.


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