You Should Start a Teaching Conference
Posted February 5, 2018
By Garth Neufeld
“I LOVE this conference! Thanks for organizing.”
“Thank you for an amazing conference that balanced fun, teaching, and evidence based practice.”
“I love the opportunity to connect with like-minded colleagues!”
The most important thing I ever did for my career was to show up to places where teachers congregated. I was fortunate to have this opportunity locally, through a psychology department that gathered weekly on campus, regionally, through annual conferences, and nationally, through the Advance Placement Reading and the National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology. Though I think everyone can benefit from conversations about teaching, I also think there are people like me who are more naturally drawn to them. Sure, I could read books and articles about teaching, or I could watch videos and attend cyber-workshops. But, there is just something special about showing up and being around like-minded people. It’s energizing and it makes me a better teacher.
Arriving on the first day of class armed with evidence-based pedagogical decisions has given me so much confidence in my practice. Students appreciate hearing the justification for limiting electronics in the classroom, assessing professional development skills along with content, classroom advising, and the high demands of pre-class preparation. There’s a satisfaction in telling students that this class will actually help them in their lives, their education, and their future vocations. I assume that others, like me, find it difficult to keep up (catch up?) with new scholarship on teaching and learning while trying to balance work and life. But, what if there were places full of fun people who talked about this stuff along the Riverwalk in San Antonio? Over fried cheese curds and beer in Green Bay? Overlooking a fireworks competition from the top floor of a hotel in Vancouver? (All things I’ve experienced.)
In 2013 I decided that I might take a shot at starting a regional conference specifically focused on General Psychology. I had seen the data on the estimated number of students who take the course and after a quick survey of the region’s college catalogues I knew that teachers of Psych 100 were at institutions all over the Pacific Northwest. As a community college instructor, I had taught Intro Psych a lot. I had learned that it was a complicated course, offering so much in terms of skills and content. But, there were so many decisions to be made about how to structure it, how to deliver it, and how to meaningfully assess it. Surely I couldn’t be alone in my struggle to teach this course well. Surely others could benefit from conference programming and networking that had already affected the way I was teaching. And so the idea for Teaching Introductory Psychology Northwest was conceived – it would be a community of teachers, passionate about their practice, who work out the complexities, challenges, and opportunities of General Psychology. And, we wouldn’t just aim for college teachers like myself – we’d recruit all teachers, from high schools, technical colleges, and universities. Our diversity would enrich our conference experience.Since I had been to so many conferences, I had already noted what I found to be the most engaging parts of conference programming. Through networking at these events I learned about available grants (one need only look at a conference program or website to see which organizations are supporting it). I took one step at a time. I sent an email. I inquired about this and that. I asked for help. Sometimes I made mistakes. I tried to learn from them.Finally, in April 2015 we launched the 1st Annual Conference on the Teaching of Introductory Psychology, Northwest. People came, they ate up the food and the programming, they wore the t-shirts, and they left really nice comments on the surveys. We had pulled it off.
TIP Northwest (www.tipnorthwest.org) is now in its 4th successful year. Our single-day schedule is always jam-packed with teaching ideas, demos, and tools, and opportunities to network, all focused on the General Psychology course. While most of the programming is reserved for conference attendees to hear from one another, we also include inspiring invited speakers who are leaders in teaching and learning. This year we’re honored and excited to have Aaron S. Richmond as our Keynote.
As I have reflected on the experiences and successes of the past four years it occurred to me that I might have something to share with people who want to build a teaching community of their own in their city or region. So, I made a list - a detailed list that will help you start a teaching conference. And, while I was once making this stuff up as I went, I think I’ve been able to organize the process in a helpful way. Some of these items are quick tasks that simply require sending an email; others take some serious reflection, conversations, collaboration, and/or strategy. But, if you’re up for it, here’s my first and final piece of advice: take one step at a time.
- Pull together a small team, identify strengths and delegate. If you can enlist well-connected folks, cross-institutionally, it will serve you well.
- Start an email list of regional high school, college, and university teachers of psychology.
- Select a conference date. Reserve a convenient location considering accommodations and parking.
- Get a devoted conference email address.
- Run conference finances through your institution or open a no-cost business checking account.
- Figure out how you will take payment and register attendees.
- Contact a local hotel to get a conference rate.
- Identify public and private organizations (e.g. STP, APA, APS, State Board of Education, etc.) that provide grant money for your conference.
- Ask your institution for money.
- Ask publishers for money.
- Ask publishers to bring in a textbook author to speak.
- Determine your conference registration fees.
- Invite excellent keynote speakers to the conference (to talk about teaching – you’d be surprised).
- Put together a tentative conference program that includes talks, breakouts, meals, start and end times.
- Email your conference website link to your email list, with a blurb about the conference and keynote speaker(s) and a link to registration.
- Contact listservs through APA, TOPSS, STP, state college board, and anywhere else you can think of to advertise your conference website.
- Bring in good conference catering. Leave an impression.
- Design a good logo.
- Print high quality conference programs and name tags.
- Give away a unique and/or useful conference favors for attendees.
So, that’s how you might start a regional psych teaching conference. It looks like a lot of work because it is a lot of work. But keep in mind, the payoffs are huge both professionally and personally. Starting a regional conference will open doors, not only for you, but for anyone who attends. In this teaching-of-psychology world, professional growth is mostly about showing up, saying ‘yes’, and taking a first step.
You really should start a teaching conference.
TIP Northwest 2018 is happening on April 20th at Highline College. Submissions for Presentations are due on March 1st. For more information or to register, visit www.tipnorthwest.org.
Garth Neufeld is at Cascadia College in Bothell, WA. He is the founder of Teaching Introductory Psychology Northwest and the co-founder of the PsychSessions: Conversations About Teaching N’ Stuff podcast. Garth is the STP Director of Regional Conference Programming and the co-chair of APA’s General Psychology Initiative. He has served the national teaching of psychology community through the AP psychology exam reading, APA’s Summit on the National Assessment of Psychology, and APA’s Summit on High School Psychology Education.