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Make the most out of a conference: activating professional knowledge 😁

Updated: May 24, 2020

I've been planning to write this post for ages but the end of the school year was so busy that I couldn't get round to it 😥 But here I am !! 🎉 🎉

This post is a little bit different than my usual stuff. There'll be no velcro, no tape, no laminating involved 😅 It's all about professional development! And what's the best part of professional development? CONFERENCES!!

I've attended many conferences this last 5 years. I have one that will forever be my favourite: IATEFL Conference. It's an annual event, taking place in a different British city each year. So far I've attended 3 and boy have I learnt a lot! But here's the thing: I only learnt a lot from conference number 2 and conference number 3. I literally have no recollection of my first IATEFL conference and it is not because the parties were so good 😝 It's because, as silly as it may sound, I didn't know how to attend a conference.

So in this post I'd like to share with you what I've changed after conference number one. Now, it is basically what I do every time I attend a conference 😊

Take notes

I know, I know ... for some of you it may seem obvious but it wasn't for me. I though "if something is interesting I will remember it, surely!". Well, on day 3 of the conference I could barely remember what my name was after the amount of information that I was fed.

How you take your notes is up to you. I really dislike handwriting anything so I now when I go to a conference I have my laptop with me (it's tiny and weighs close to nothing).

Don't write down everything the speaker says. I've seen so many people taking notes like there would be a test coming up! What I've learnt is to take notes specifically for yourself. What I mean is, if I hear something interesting but I know I can't use it, I don't make a note of it; if I hear something that I know will work in my classroom, I write it down and make a note of what student/class to use it with.

If an interesting website is mentioned I immediately google it and save it in my tabs to look at later. That's one of the perks of note taking on your computer, by the way.

Very often something that's being said doesn't specifically work for my classroom but it might inspire me and I get a totally unrelated idea of what to do when I go back to work. I write this thought down immediately!

Stop taking photos of slides

Seriously ... just ... don't 😐 I don't know about you, but I have NEVER looked back at the 100 photos I took on that conference ...

I'm not dissing taking photos of slides altogether. Here are the photos it makes sense to take:

  • there's so much information on a slide, there's no chance you'll be able to write it all down (makes you question the quality of the presentation, but that's a different topic 😝)

  • there's an interesting picture or a graph, one that you know you will actually want to use

  • there's contact info of the speaker and you know there's a chance you'll want to email them

  • there's a photo of a book cover and you know you'd like to read that book

  • the slide with all the sources if you want to go deeper into the topic

Maybe I'm being harsh, but I don't see a point in taking a photo of a slide with one word or one sentence written on it. I'll go even further and say that people who take photos of all the slides are kidding themselves, thinking that that's them taking notes. Again, maybe I'm being harsh. Maybe it works for you. It never did for me.

Note taking on a computer pro tip: paste the photos of the slides into your notes document straight after you take it 😉 It's really easy if you've got an iPhone and a MacBook. Simply AirDrop the photo and drag it onto the document. Done!


So day one of the conference is finished. Your head is buzzing with ideas and you've got 7 pages of notes. Reflect on them!! Simply sit down with your notes and read. Delete what you don't think is useful, highlight what's most important, add more detail. This is the moment you remember everything fresh.

If you want to take your reflection one step further: blog about it. You know the rule: you learn best by teaching others. I created blog posts from IATEFL 2018 and IATEFL 2019. Having to think not only about what I've learnt on that day but also how to put it in words so that other people understand me, forced me to organise my thoughts. I also had to go into detail about what I want to use with kids: describing ideas and activities.

Blogging about my experience also created an easy access document for me. I revisit my own blog posts and see if there's something I liked but still haven't done! Brilliant!

Organise your thoughts

I did something new this year after coming back from the conference and I can already see the benefits. Once I got home I took out all my notes and turned on the blog post. I got coloured posted notes and I divided all my ideas onto categories:

to use now

to use in the next school year

my professional development

language coaching

Doing this was like creating a table of contents 😅 I had a posted that said "lexical notebook". When I look at it I know that there's a part about it in my blog post if I want more details of what I wanted to do.

The "to do next year" section is still my favourite because every idea I want to implement is on a separate piece of paper. Once I implement it I get rid of that piece of paper. It just helps me keep organised.


Once you're back from the conference it's a good idea to share what you've learnt with your colleagues. I always go to my headmistress and tell her everything I want to do 😅 She even asked me to organise a school wide training session and share with everyone last year.

Again - having to think about what would be useful for other teachers from my school, made me remember even more of what I've learnt.

Just do it

And for the final step - simply do what you've learnt 😄 Heard about a fun activity? Use it in the first lesson! Heard about an interesting book - order it the next day! Or do what I did: heard about the benefits of being on Twitter? Get on Twitter 😝

So there you have it. That's how I attend conferences. I really do feel that I remember more from them and actually DEVELOP as a teacher during and after them when I use the methods I described above. Hope you'll find them helpful when you attend your next conference 😁

And just to scare you at the end: if you don't do something with new knowledge you only remember 10% of it a week later 😱😱😱😱😱😱

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