I’m very lucky. I get to attend a lot of education conferences: some state and some national, some literacy and some technology. I love them all. The first conference I went to after many, many years was ILA in San Antonio a few years back. I was not at all prepared. But I’ve learned, along the way, what needs to happen before, during and after attending an education conference to make it a success.

Before Attending an Education Conference…

1. Pay attention to travel details. Many cities have more than one airport. Know which one is closest to the site! Also, check to see if the hotel you are staying at provides a shuttle. Many of them do, and that can save you a lot of money. If you are going to do some sightseeing along the way, you may want to rent a car. And if you do have a car, find out the parking cost before you go. Parking can be a large and unexpected cost.


Renting a car while attending a conference in Arizona meant I finally got to see a cactus!

2. Pack for comfort, especially shoes. You may think that you’ll be sitting all day. You won’t. There will be lines for coffee, miles to walk between sessions and huge exhibit halls to roam.

3. Be prepared with extra luggage. Speaking of exhibitors, many will offer freebies. Think and plan for extra luggage space to bring home the goodies.

4. Bring a sweater. Even if it’s 100 degrees, some rooms will be cold.

5. Check the weather. I was once caught in a torrential downpour without an umbrella. We all had to by $20 ponchos just so we could walk from the taxi to the restaurant.

6. Use the Internet to find restaurants ahead of time. Local eateries can be crowded with eager-to-learn teachers. It helps to make reservations.

7. Remember to pack your chargers! I think this one is self-explanatory. 

8. Bring comfortable clothes too. You’ll want something you can throw on when you need to get coffee early before the line forms, fill your ice bucket late at night or run down to registration if you’ve forgotten something.

9. Plan your sessions! Look at the schedule. Allow yourself a few session possibilities at each time slot. It also helps to research your keynote speakers. Sometimes the name may not be familiar, but once you do a quick Google search, you’ll be anxious to learn from him or her. 

10. Pack your laptop or tablet and paper and pens. Depending on the session, you’ll often find one is better to use than another. 

While You’re at an Education Conference…

attending an education conference

Attending a session on Google in the Classroom at ISTE ’17.

11. It’s tempting to sleep in, but don’t! The morning keynote speakers are motivating and inspiring.

12. Participate in the sessions. It’s sometimes difficult to speak up, especially if you are without your support team. But to get the most from a session, it helps to communicate.

13. Take notes. This is a tricky one. Sometimes I’ll write a lot on each session, then go back and highlight or annotate action steps from them. Other times, I’ll only write action steps in my notes.

14. Keep your phone handy. I love a good research quote or statistic, and I’ll try to take pictures of the slides instead of copying them down. 

15. Know the hashtag and Tweet! Sharing knowledge is what we do best, so Tweet those powerful messages and take note of new sessions and speakers you may want to hit up next time.

16. Eat local. But see above—make reservations!

17. Grab a memento. I’ve started collecting Christmas ornaments to mark my travels. If you have a collection of sorts, conferences count!

18. Walk the exhibit hall. Vendors are giving their all at conferences. Listen to what they have to say, grab the freebies and get in some steps.

attending an education conference: the exhibit hall

That’s me talking with educators in the Booksource booth at NCTE ’16!

19. Go outside your comfort zone. Sometimes I’ll choose to attend a session on a topic I know absolutely nothing about, or that doesn’t relate to my passions. I most likely won’t walk away with a ton of information to share, but I’ve had an introduction that I can build on.

20. Get validated. I also like attending sessions on topics that I do know a lot about. It’s always comforting and validating to hear someone else say what you’ve been saying.

After Attending an Education Conference…

21. Take note of next years’ conference dates. Plan ahead!

22. Google those unknown keynote speakers and learn more about them. If they’ve authored a book, you can check that out, too.

23. Grow your Twitter network. Look up the conference hashtag, and connect with more of your fellow educators.

24. Organize or process your notes. Create action items, share with your peers and take note of new concepts you want to research further.

25. Now that you’ve seen a few sessions, write your own proposal for next year’s conference. Look at the conference theme and showcase your passion.

attending an education conference ila

I presented at ILA ’17 recently, talking about how real books can help end fake reading and transform students from reluctant to engaged.

26. Talk! We want our students to talk about their learning, and we should do the same. Talking about the sessions and speakers keeps the new information fresh in our mind and help us make connections to our own teaching.

27. Catch the conference fever. Once you go to one conference, especially a national conference like ILA, ISTE or NCTE, you’ll want to attend more. National conferences can be costly, but keep in mind that there are also many local and state conferences that happen all over the country, all year long.

These days, I attend a LOT of education conferences, often as a speaker, but sometimes just to learn too. Connect with me on Twitter @kelliwest and let’s make plans to meet at one!