Way back in the day, I didn’t give attending a professional school counselor conference any consideration at all. I was a recent grad, had no extra money, and didn’t have time. Fast forward a few years and I had a toddler and twin babies that I couldn’t leave, still no money, and definitely no time.
What I realized just a shortly after that was these were just excuses I was giving myself. My career was important to me, my students meant so much, so why didn’t I want to invest into something that I spent so much time every day doing? Maybe I could learn to do something better or more efficiently than what I was currently doing, and maybe that would save my sanity just a bit. I now see attending conferences as a must do. It’s part of my self care. I know so many of us see self care as things not related to work, but work self care is equally important. Work self care is doing those things that help us professionally, reignite our passion, spark our enthusiasm and reconnect us with like minded individuals who are going through what we are going through on any given day.
Attending a conference does all that. So, what do you need to feel more empowered and fulfilled in your position this year. . .and I’m talking about those things that YOU CAN CONTROL, not those things like admin support, or teacher buy in that you have no control over. Would learning about MTSS and program alignment help? How about learning how to use Motivational Interviewing techniques? Or maybe, how to create more engaging lesson plans?
It doesn’t matter if you go to your State SCA annual conference (NYSSCA provides a great one that I attend every year) or ASCA’s annual conference or even a virtual conference like the Summer Counselor Conference, just make it a priority to invest in yourself and go.
So as you think about going to a conference, here are a few tips to help you make the most of your experience.
- Plan ahead: Review the conference agenda and program in advance. Identify the sessions, workshops, and keynote speakers that align with your professional goals and interests. Plan your schedule accordingly to ensure you make the most of your time at the conference.
- Set specific goals: Determine what you hope to gain from attending the conference. It could be to acquire new counseling techniques, learn about innovative programs, gain insights into specific student populations, or enhance your leadership skills. Setting specific goals will help you focus your attention and make intentional choices about which sessions and activities to prioritize.
- Engage actively: Actively engage in the conference sessions, workshops, and activities. Take notes, ask questions, participate in discussions, and share your own experiences. Actively engaging with the material and presenters will enhance your learning experience and allow for deeper understanding and application of the knowledge gained.
- Network with peers: Take advantage of networking opportunities to connect with other school counselors and professionals in the field. Engage in conversations, exchange contact information, and build relationships. Networking can provide you with valuable insights, support, and potential collaborations beyond the conference.
- Visit exhibitor booths: Explore the exhibit area where various organizations, publishers, and counseling resources are showcased. Take time to visit different booths, interact with representatives, and explore new tools, resources, and materials that may benefit your counseling practice.
- Reflect and debrief: After attending each session or workshop, take a few minutes to reflect on what you learned. Consider how the new knowledge or skills can be applied in your specific school setting. Reflecting and debriefing during the conference will help you consolidate your learning and make it more actionable once you return to your school.
- Follow up after the conference: Once the conference is over, follow up on any connections made during the event. Reach out to new contacts, share resources, or discuss potential collaborations. Additionally, review your conference notes and materials, and create an action plan to implement the new ideas, strategies, or techniques you learned.
- Share with colleagues: When you return to your school, share your conference experience with your colleagues and administration. By sharing your knowledge and insights, you contribute to the professional growth of your school community.
Remember, the real value of attending a school counseling conference extends beyond the duration of the event. It is what you do with the knowledge and connections you gain that truly makes a difference in your counseling practice and the students you serve. I promise, you will walk away glad you attended.