I'm just returning home from CMEA 2020, full of good food and good memories (but running low on sleep)! I think this is the most I have ever enjoyed the conference. Why? Mostly, it comes down to purpose - I knew why I was there, I knew what I wanted to get out of it, and that helped guide me toward a great conference experience!
Here's the thing about being in my position - most of the sessions are designed for current music teachers. I struggled a little bit last year trying to figure out what to go to - should I go to the things I am interested in (which mostly align to my strengths)? Or places where I need to learn and grow? It's awesome if a session has "strategies that can be implemented in your class on Monday," but without a class of my own, what was I supposed to do with these tips?
This year, I made it simple. I wanted to go where the teachers in my district were going. My purpose in being at the conference was not to take in a ton of great learning for myself (although that is always a benefit), but to allow me to better support my teachers. Obviously if they were presenting or performing, I was in that room, but beyond that, if one wanted to go learn how to start a mariachi group, I wanted to be right there beside her, hearing the same things so I could be a thought partner as she starts out! Knowing we just implemented full-day kindergarten in my district, which doubled the number of minutes of music, I wanted to be in the kindergarten session to get ideas for how to engage our youngest learners for an extended amount of time. And if a teacher wanted to talk for a bit in the lobby, outside of a session, that is where I wanted to be.
It ended up being a great balance! I still went to a couple of sessions that I just wanted to experience personally, but they were ones that didn't conflict with anything that I felt really compelled to be at with the teachers in my district. And, after going to sessions with teachers, we were able to have some great instructional conversations because we had a common base to start with!
All in all, this clarity of purpose helped me evaluate and prioritize my schedule and not feel guilty about choosing one thing over another. It made me wonder - should I be thinking about this for any (large) conference I attend? How much better would my professional learning be if I invested a little bit of thought ahead of time about what I wanted to get out of it?
It was great to see people from all walks of my musical life. It was great to learn a lot. But, most of all, it was great to build relationships, appreciate the talent in our district, and see how excited everyone was about offering the best possible instruction to their students! I may be tired, but a little bit of purpose goes a long way in making this an extremely successful conference!