Practicing What We Preach: Rethinking the Conference Experience

For more than 70 years, educators have gathered at ASCD’s annual conference. Our conference has long served as the education community’s go-to source for meaningful professional learning. For many attendees, it’s also an opportunity to grow, get inspired, and rediscover a passion for learning, teaching, and leading.

At this year’s annual conference in Atlanta, I spoke with a teacher who had been in the classroom for years, and she reminded me of the importance of the community that the conference provides. She also expressed her frustration with the general lack of support for the teaching profession — both locally and nationally — and told me she had vowed to leave teaching at the end of the school year. However, she explained that ASCD’s conference had reinvigorated her. It reminded her why she taught, and she left Atlanta with a new determination to continue her dedication to teaching.

Although such stories shine a light on the importance of our annual conference, I still left Atlanta feeling that something was missing. Pedagogy continues to evolve, methods improve, and educators across the world are improving instruction. Yet, at nearly every conference for educators, including ASCD’s annual conference, instruction and content delivery remains relatively static. After leaving last year’s conference, our team returned with a new recognition that, as educators, we aren’t practicing what we preach.

All Educators Need to Be Professional Learners

This realization set off a new effort at ASCD to reboot our annual conference experience. We know that instruction is most effective when it is personalized, grounded in active learning, and focused on meeting the needs of each educator, and we set out to deliver a new annual conference experience that will do just that.

ASCD Empower17: The Conference for Every Educator, which will be held in Anaheim, Calif., March 25–27, 2017, will kick off the next generation of annual conferences at ASCD. After months of reevaluation and research, we designed ASCD Empower17 so practitioners can take control of a professional learning experience that will maximize investment, inspire through engagement, and encourage collaboration.

In order to transform schools and ensure every student is receiving a high-quality education that is healthy, safe, engaging, supportive,and challenging, we in the education community have an obligation to continually improve professional learning. This is why I’m excited to share how we’re improving our conference experience for ASCD Empower17.

A New Conference Experience

In addition to familiar keynote and presenter-led sessions, ASCD Empower17 will offer extended learning labs, personalized mentor sessions, and dedicated conference time for teams to work individually or with the larger community to solve related problems of practice. On-site EdCamps and expert coaching will help teams harness their best thinking and generate actionable plans to implement at home. Because students are at the core of our work, ASCD Empower17 will also incorporate student voices, local school visits, and attendees who will become the next generation of educators.

We also know that professional learning must have lasting power that is sustained throughout the entire school year, and it needs to be connected to practice and involve content-related learning opportunities. This is why we are creating on-site reflection pool areas to provide individuals and teams the time and space to collaborate, innovate, and develop sustainable and implementable plans of action that solve problems of practice.

At ASCD, we remain committed to responding to the needs of the education community by ensuring the experiences we offer align with current research on effective professional learning and providing educators with meaningful and relevant events and resources. My hope is that at the conclusion of ASCD Empower17, more educators will return to their schools and districts with a renewed dedication to their profession and a new passion to enhance the lives of every student. Join us so that together we can transform professional learning and meet the needs of kids! See you in Anaheim!


Deborah S. Delisle is the Executive Director and CEO of ASCD