How to Thrive During a Convention (#IRA2013 Edition)

I am excited to say that I leave in a few short hours for the International Reading Convention in San Antonio, TX. I have not always been able to say I was excited to attend these events. Don't get me wrong - I have always loved and relished learning from brilliant educators like Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Lucy Calkins, Dorothy Barnhouse, Kelly Gallagher, Steph Harvey and the like (really, my list could just go on for miles). And when I began presenting, I immediately loved that too - the honor of being able to share your ideas, the fun of speaking with fellow educators, the often shoddy technology and the forgiving spirit.

But conferences - and really most large gatherings of people I may not know so well - have traditionally made me feel more like this:


than this:


It has always been so. I tended towards the awkward, I preferred the one-on-one conversation, I avoided the small talk. And while that may still be where I lean naturally, I have learned how to embrace the sprawling, noisy, exciting crowd that is the modern education conference.

Because I know there must be some kindred spirits out there this weekend - some fellow introverts - I offer you this short but useful list of ways to embrace the crowd:

1. Use the buddy system. I used to avoid clinging to the one person I knew because I thought I was being annoying. But as time has gone on, I've realized that knowing people is the point. As my co-author and good friend, Chris, can attest, I now embrace the curious little sister inside, asking "Where are you going?" "What are you doing?" "Can I come?" My pride has taken a backseat to my desire for a full and fulfilling weekend. Plus, it prevents the scenario of me alone in the food court or in my hotel room.

2. Use social media. Twitter has transformed my conference experience. Now I can follow #ira2013 and know what sessions are happening, or I can check out what my friends are posting and flock to the crowd. I can even send out a plea for help as I did at NCTE this year! There is a high probability that I'll tweet "Where is everyone? #ira2013" a few times over the next few days.

3. Choose to believe. If I choose to believe that I don't know anyone, or that I won't have anything to say, or that I am being annoying, then I'll never leave my hotel and get to the conference. Instead, I choose to act as if none of those doubts are true and see what happens. Nine times out of ten, by acting as if I'm filled with confidence and grace, it begins to feel that way.

4. Don't be afraid to be alone. I have had some of my best times at conferences just going to sessions on my own and exploring my interests. Just because I don't want to spend the entire weekend by myself doesn't mean I can't enjoy some quality time exploring on my own.

So, if you find yourself at the conference this weekend or any conference, feeling awkward or lost, try these steps out and see if they help. And if you are in a jam? Tweet me, @teachkate, and I'll have you come join me. We will call ourselves The Introverted Educators. (And then we will start a band.)

Oh - and join @iChrislehman and I on Sunday at 11AM! We will be talking Close Reading in Lone Star Ballroom A.  Our session: “Not Just the Books They Read, But Lives They Lead: Rethink Close Reading as More Than Just Analyzing Words and See it as a Student’s Tool For Leading a More Engaged Life

Big Idea: Professional Learning    Tiny Detail: Tips on Navigating Professional Conferences

-Kate (the introvert) & Maggie (the extrovert)