At Education Conferences, Swap Vendor Badge for Attendee Spot


I was wandering though a typical education conference setting: hallways stretched as long as football fields; hundreds of educators with badges, ribbons, and buttons affixed to their shirts streamed by; people filtered in and out of honeycombed rooms for various sessions. Finally I discovered my spot, the room where an Innovation Ecosystems panel was set to take place, led by ed-tech guru Barbara “Bobbi” Kurshan, the executive director of academic innovation at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education who also oversees the Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition. Much to my surprise, this panel (on which I was sitting) turned out to be the beginning of a really good experience at the Teaching & Learning 2015 conference.

Candy and Raffles

The last few times I attended a conference, I went as a vendor. That pretty much translated into giving people free candy and key chains while I tried to squeeze in 15 seconds of attention for a pitch. It almost felt like I was hawking pizza rolls at the Sam’s Club alongside 200 other people hawking assorted frozen foods. In a nutshell, conferences gave me a bad vibe because I was so squarely on the other side of the attendees. As an ed-tech startup trying to establish my company,¬†EdConnective, it makes sense to be where educators convene and that’s where conferences come into play. However, it can be difficult to engage in a thoughtful conversation with a school leader and potential customer when labeled as a vendor.

Discarding the Scarlet Letter

In direct contrast to my last three conference forays, my time at the Teaching & Learning conference on March 14th in Washington was actually very fulfilling. First of all, instead of paying upwards of the outrageous $2,000 that it often costs to be a vendor, my expenses were covered because I was speaking on a panel. The financial burden aside, I liked that this go-around was lower stakes. Secondly, and most importantly, I was able to meet and talk with educators and organizational leaders as their peer. Without the scarlet letter of the vendor badge, I felt that people were more open to authentic conversation and sharing about the challenges and opportunities that they see within their schools and organizations.

Finally, Worthwhile Conversations

Being at Teaching & Learning 2015 allowed me to sit in sessions from organizations like the Center For Teaching Quality. Their representatives were incredibly open to chatting after the workshop, an opportunity that I often have to fight for on the vendor exhibition hall. Moreover, while wandering around the convention center admiring a random piece of art, I ran into someone from the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. That meeting sparked an impromptu and genuine conversation that extended into lunch. During our conversation, I was excited to learn about their 50 million dollar initiative with Apple to produce more minorities in the technology industry and we even identified some potential opportunities for collaboration.

A New Outlook

All in all, attending an education conference as a participant turned out to be something wholly different than what I was used to. Instead of shirking away from education conferences in the future, I plan to revisit them but with a new approach and outlook.

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Learn more about Will Morris and his teacher-coaching venture on Twitter @edconnective.

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