Now that pandemic-related regulations on in-person gatherings are easing up in the United States, it’s time to start thinking about professional development opportunities for the coming year.
If you’re a health and physical education professional — or future professional — attending a convention can help you gain much-needed knowledge, as well as practical ideas to use in your classroom. It’s also a great way to develop your professional network.
Many first-time attendees may not know how to make the most of their convention experience, so here are some suggestions from “Making the Most Out of Convention Attendance: Tips and Tricks,” an article we co-authored with Collin Brooks and Kevin Patton for the March 2021 issue of JOPERD.
These tips are specifically based on attendance at the SHAPE America National Convention & Expo but can be applied to many convention situations.
Before the Convention
- Find and apply for funding. If you are a practicing teacher, apply for funding early in the school year to support your attendance at the convention. If you do not have access to funding, try connecting with other professionals to share costs with them such as hotel or mileage. If you are a pre-service teacher, find out if your university has a physical education club that might help cover costs or see if there are grants available through your department to support professional development.
- Schedule travel dates. Schedule your travel and decide your travel dates ahead of time. You might also consider planning extra days before or after the convention so you can explore the city holding the event.
- Register early. Take advantage of the early bird registration because the registration fee is often less expensive.
- Book your accommodations. Ask colleagues to share a hotel room — not only is it less expensive to share accommodations, but it is also more fun! During the registration process check to see if you can take advantage of special convention rates on hotels.
- Check out the convention program. Many organizations are no longer printing hard copies of the convention schedule, so go to the website and download the convention application (app) or online schedule. Choose the sessions that best contribute to your professional development needs.
- Arrange networking opportunities. Take a look at the convention program to see who is presenting and if there are any specific professionals you would like to network with, and then email them to see if you can schedule a meet-up during the convention. Similarly, if you have former colleagues or professors who you know will be attending the convention, contact them ahead of time to schedule a time to connect.
During the Convention
- Ground transportation. If you fly to the convention, you may be able to get a hotel shuttle, taxi, public transportation or ridesharing service to get to your accommodations. If you drive to the convention, then make sure you check out available parking before travel.
- Acquaint yourself with the area. Once you arrive in the convention city, familiarize yourself with the area — this might mean finding nearby grocery stores, the convention center, and any other needed amenities. Ask the hotel concierge for recommendations on where to eat and nearby attractions.
- Get to the convention center early. On the first day of the convention, show up early to check in and pick up your name badge and conference swag. Then explore the convention center to find the exhibit hall and where your selected sessions will take place. You can also take this time to find the restrooms, snack bars, and areas to relax between sessions. Sometimes you can check in the day before the convention starts.
- Attend as many sessions as you can. Go to as many sessions as possible! Consider attending the keynote speaker sessions because these individuals are usually well known for their expertise and they might even include celebrity appearances. Also, if a session is not a good fit for you, it is usually acceptable to quietly stand up and leave to find a session that better fits your needs.
- Check out the exhibit hall. Exhibit halls are generally full of vendors advertising the latest programs, products and services for health and physical education teachers. Many exhibitors also have raffles or free giveaways — so get there early so you don’t miss out.
- Be an active learner. Participate in discussions and ask questions during the sessions. Most presenters are willing to stay after the session, so this can be a good opportunity to ask more detailed or context-specific questions. Don’t be shy to ask presenters for their business cards to inquire about further resources and give them yours as a good networking tool.
- Document your learning. Take notes, capture photos, or record videos during each session. Make sure that the presenter has permitted recordings or check the convention policy. At the end of each day, take a few minutes to review notes, handouts, photos and videos, and write down ideas that can be applied to your teaching.
- Make new friends and connect with old friends. Talk with the people sitting near you in sessions and exchange contact information with new people you meet. Also, attend social events, such as university alumni socials and conference-wide events. Don’t forget to connect with old (and new) friends for a meal or coffee.
- Engage through social media. Use the convention hashtag in all of your social media posts and share your learning or appreciation through photos and/or short videos. Follow the new people you meet, tag other professionals in your posts, share posts throughout, and find out about social gatherings throughout the convention.
- Other things to remember. These small things will also contribute to your convention experience: Wear comfortable shoes and bring clothing that is appropriate for different contexts (e.g., activity sessions, lecture presentations, and social events); get a good night’s sleep; drink a lot of water; bring snacks to keep you fueled throughout the day; explore the city; and be safe, especially if walking at night.
After the Convention
- Connect with the people you met. When you return home, send thank-you emails to the people you met and ask them questions or request resources they shared. This will help you maintain the connections you made at the convention.
- Organize and share resources. Organize your notes, handouts, photos, and videos and then make plans to share your learning with your colleagues who could not attend. This could be through an official presentation, a staff meeting, or an informal chat.
- Put new ideas into practice immediately. Try out new ideas in your lessons, be flexible and modify activities and practices based on your context and the needs of your students.
- Reflect. Take some time to reflect on your overall experience at the convention. You could also start planning for next year and you might consider submitting a proposal to present at the convention; these proposals are typically due several months in advance.
- Be an advocate. Encourage colleagues within the school or district to attend conventions and make sure to document the changes you’ve made to your practice as a result of attending the convention as a record to support convention attendance for professional development.
Making the most out of your convention attendance requires some planning before, during, and after the actual convention. Considering these tips and tricks will help you have the most successful convention experience possible!
- SHAPE America National Convention & Expo
- Making the Most Out of Convention Attendance: Tips and Tricks (March 2021 Issue of JOPERD)
Xiaoping (Ping) Fan is a Ph.D. candidate in sport pedagogy at the University of Northern Colorado. Ping is currently working on her dissertation — “Physical Education in Colorado: Status and Stakeholders’ Perceptions.” Her research interests are teacher socialization, quality physical education, teacher education, and teacher professional development. Ping can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jaimie McMullen is an associate professor of Physical Education and Physical Activity Leadership in the School of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Northern Colorado. She is interested in ways to make schools more physically active places to be, as well as considering participant voice in the research process.