Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The More We Get Together

Helpful hints for having a great convention experience

It was a bitterly cold January day in Cleveland, Ohio. My toes were numb and even my warmest winter coat seemed like nothing against the strong wind that swept down from Canada and brought tiny snowflakes to our lakefront location. I was walking with a merry group of future music teachers on the way to my first professional convention. I had received a long list of advice, commentary, and warnings from my academic advisor and the older students in the program, but nothing could prepare me for the moment we burst into the lobby of the convention center and joined an already long line of participants cheerily waiting to receive their name badges. This looked nothing like what I had expected. The mood was relaxed, if a little chaotic, and every person there seemed friendlier and happier than anyone has a right to be on a cold and dreary Thursday at 8:00 in the morning.

Conventions are exciting professional experiences in an educator’s life because they provide much-needed time to collaborate with colleagues and learn new techniques. Teachers leave feeling inspired and motivated to get back to their own students and teach more effectively and joyfully than ever. A convention is a therapy session, a beautiful concert experience, and the excited moment when you discover a new idea or a resource that will revolutionize your teaching process. The key is to find the time to experience all of these important parts.

As you prepare for a convention, whether it’s your first one or your twenty-seventh, look at the schedule ahead of time. Events will overlap, but some sessions repeat and you can usually find a time to attend everything you want to do. I would suggest marking your schedule according to priority so you can adjust quickly if you run into an old friend or discover a great session or concert you hadn’t planned to attend.
Plan some variety into your schedule, too. It’s tempting to choose one thing—whether it’s concerts, sessions, or the exhibit hall—and spend all of your time there. We all need the inspiration that comes from hearing skilled performances, and we also all have things to learn from the experts who will present their ideas. In addition, I would suggest planning to spend time in the exhibit hall. The schedule here is looser, but there are often opportunities to speak with your favorite session presenter and you don’t want to miss that. There are also vendors that provide all the services and products you can imagine needing in your music program—from fundraising to teaching resources to that T-shirt with a cat playing the recorder—and this is a great time to talk to experts in each area so that you can make informed decisions about precisely which piano key tie is for you. Or perhaps more importantly, which two-part choir piece will work best for the specific demands of your new choral ensemble.

This brings me to the most practical (and surprisingly overlooked) piece of advice I can provide: wear comfortable shoes. You will be walking quite a bit—and you’re probably used to that, as a music educator—but don’t forget that it will happen just as much here as it does in your regular school day. It’s also a great idea to dress in layers. Different rooms can have drastically different temperatures and as educators we know that it’s much easier to learn when you’re comfortable. Do everything you can to be prepared ahead of time so you can focus on being a great music educator during your time at the convention.
Finally, the best part: the other people. This is the perfect opportunity to share ideas, frustrations, and achievements. You are surrounded by experts in your field who will support you in the specific challenges of your job. These are people who share your commitment to teaching and talking with them can be both informative and fun! Seek out new people with whom to share ideas, and don’t miss out on the delightful social experience that conventions provide.

At the end of a successful convention, you will feel refreshed, inspired, and thrilled to go back to your classroom and try out all your new ideas. Do you have other tips or ideas for making conventions great? Please share them in the comments section!

If you want more information about conventions, visit the pages below for details about the wide world of music education conventions.

American Orff-Schulwerk Association (AOSA)

November 13-16, 2013, Denver
If you attend this one, stop by the Heritage Music Press booth in the exhibit hall!

American Choral Directors Association (ACDA)
Cincinnati, OH: February 26-March 1, 2014
Baltimore, MD: February 5-8, 2014
Des Moines, IA: March 20-22, 2014
Seattle, WA: March 13-16, 2014
Jacksonville, FL: March 5-8, 2014
Little Rock, AR: March 19-22, 2014
Santa Barbara, CA: February 20-22, 2014

The Midwest Clinic (An International Band and Orchestra Conference)
67th Annual Conference: December 18-21, 2013, Chicago

National Association for Music Education (NAfME)
2014 Music Research & Teacher Education National Conference: April 10-12, 2014, St. Louis

For information on your state’s music education conference, follow this link:


Erika Popp
Erika Popp is an Editorial Administrator at The Lorenz Corporation, where she works with composers and editors to publish new music and classroom tools. She earned her Bachelor of Music Education degree at Wittenberg University in 2006 and has seven years of classroom experience in North Carolina and Ohio. Her general music classrooms have included large auditoriums, closet-sized classrooms, normal rooms, and even travelling carts – whatever the size, she hopes they are always filled with learning.

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