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 A New Formula for Summer Conference Success


The New York Association of Agriculture Educators has figured out how to boost attendance, increase participation and enliven the content presented at its annual summer conference. In 2006, the group modeled the event after “Survivor,” and the 2007 gathering had a “CSI” flair.


Participants and members of the planning committee shared these eight insights:


1. Make it a family affair. NYAAE enabled participants to bring along children ages 3 through 16 to take part in their own themed, supervised activities at the conference. This relieved teachers of the burden of arranging childcare. Spouses were invited, too. One teacher noted on the evaluation form that children formed friendships to last a lifetime at the same time their parents did.


2. Embrace change. “Change is good!” said William Stowell, of South Jefferson High School in Adams, N.Y. “Changing our conference format for the past couple years was a breath of fresh air—a professional improvement conference that not only provides valuable workshop but also provides the motivation to learn.”


John Busekist, NYAAE president-elect and agriculture educator at Cattaraugus-Little Valley High School in Cattaraugus, N.Y., couldn’t agree more. “I recall, not fondly, the conferences that were largely paper handouts or an hour-long PowerPoint. I know that our teachers much more enjoy the current style,” he said.


3. Team up. The NYAAE planning committee was eager to find a way to expose teachers to more career development events, but also create a fun competition. To that end, participants were asked to attend and compete in all CDEs as a team.


After getting to know her teammates, Tara Berescik, an agriculture instructor for Tri-Valley High School in Grahamsville, N.Y., said, “I feel like I have more people to ask questions of, a better group of backers (both secondary and post-secondary) for my students and a more solid foundation to current events in agriculture.”


4. Get into the spirit. With a catchy, compelling theme—like “Survivor” or “CSI”—you can infuse energy and creativity into all aspects of your conference.


For the “CSI” program, for example, NYAAE launched the event with a bang. With lights and sirens blazing, the local sheriff arrived at the first night’s dinner and declared that a “crime” had been committed (that is, that a nearby bell had been “stolen”). With the crime scene taped off, teachers set about working in teams to collect clues and identify the perpetrator. In one exercise, teams attended a workshop on global positioning systems, then headed into the woods with GPS devices to scout out clues related to the crime. In this way, teachers learned—and then immediately applied—each new concept or skill.


5. Make it meaningful.

“If you are planning a conference or just going to a conference, make sure it’s what you want,” advised Jon Clayson, NYAAE officer and agriculture educator at Pioneer Central School in Yorkshire, N.Y. “Make sure that it is something that you will enjoy and be able to bring back to your classes. Ask yourself, ‘Is this something that the attendees will enjoy? Will it keep your interest? Can the attendee take something back to their classrooms?’”


6. Play to win. Throughout the 2006 and 2007 conferences, teams earned points as they participated in activities. Then, each member of the winning team took home a desirable prize, such as a digital camera or iPod. Both times, the competitive spirit took hold, and participants gave their best effort.


7. Let the teachers teach. NYAAE realizes that educators learn best when instructed by their peers.


“In an average year, over half of the workshop sessions are led by practicing teachers,” Busekist said. “Even our post-secondary teachers have become involved, either as presenters or participants.”


8. Call in reinforcements. Most times, event organizers themselves are not able to participate in games or activities because they already know the answers or results. By having the Oswegatchie Education Center design the components, help with scoring and track point totals, every NYAAE officer and staff person was able to engage in the conference.

For more information on the teachers in this article, please click on the links below:

John Busekist