I have tweeted over the past couple weeks my excitement for the new structure of the NASSP Annual Conference. The leadership of NASSP is well aware of trends in and the value of connected learning and have created a learning experience that will meet the needs of all attendees. The revamped event, appropriately named "Ignite", is a great example of a national organization breaking away from traditional conference constructs to create a relevant and meaningful learning experience for it's membership
Content selection. In past years, NASSP attempted to cover a broad spectrum of issues that principals face during their professional lives. One of their chief metrics of success, in fact, was the diversity and sheer volume of sessions that were available to members. This year, they have decided to rely instead on what NASSP members have reported as the issues that keep principals up at night, such as Common Core implementation, new teacher evaluation models, and dropout prevention and graduation rates. With those topics in mind, they reached out to presenters who they knew could address those issues with authority and facilitate meaningful discussions about them. The result is that attendees will return home with action plans of interconnected ideas, rather than the scattered array of stand-alone ideas and initiatives that typify some conferences.
Use of time. Sessions that last 75–90 minutes have been characteristic of content delivery for many years. So imagine their surprise to discover that a lot of effective learning can take place in shorter blocks of time. While they still rely on full-length sessions to anchor key topics during the conference, attendees will see far fewer of them. Time will be repurposed in the Connected Learning Center, where attendees will engage in short demonstrations of new technology tools, participate in mini-sessions designed to further specific concepts, and engage in discussion with speakers and fellow attendees. NASSP's plan is to limit the barrage of content and instead go deeper. There will still be plenty of content, but they also want to give attendees what they have so little of during their professional day: time to think about what they’re learning. We all know the importance of reflection, but it’s the first thing that gets lost while we navigate the seas of urgency in our schools. While attendees are at Ignite 2013, they will get to reclaim that time and make the most of it.
Participatory learning. Although attendees scrambled from full-length session to full-length session at past conferences, there was not a lot of time to process and discuss. Many of those sessions were so content-rich that even those billed as highly interactive would often run out of time for meaningful interaction. So NASSP has programmed interaction into the conference. The plenary Thought Leader Sessions will have more of a workshop feel, as will the concurrent sessions. In addition,the Connected Learning Center will:
- Encourage interaction between colleagues who are facing similar challenges in their schools.
- Provide dedicated spaces for informal conversations.
- Feature chat sessions combined with some basic social media training.
Speaking of social media and technology, the conference will allow for constant connectivity with free Wi-Fi in all meeting rooms and public spaces, a powerful conference mobile app, and charging stations for devices. NASSP has listened to our suggestions and all these changes reflect how members prefer to learn. The robustness of the professional conversations at past conferences speaks volumes. Every conference gathers a massive untapped reserve of knowledge and experience —the attendees themselves. NASSP's collective task for the few days we are at the conference is to release that knowledge and encourage it to flow freely among all in attendance. The new conference format issues a challenge to all of us. The success of Ignite 2013 relies on your active participation. The old “sit ’n’ git” format wasn’t built for engagement: Ignite 2013 is.
I will be there and look forward to connecting with and learning from some of the many leaders that consistently push my thinking and provide me with the inspiration to do what I do better.