The term I am starting to use for sessions that don't lead to actual change is "edutainment." They are usually affirming. They might even feel inspiring. In the end, in the interest of pleasing the audience, presenters are not prone to pushing very hard or demanding too much in regard to actual participation. Sadly, this type of event really is a cultural norm in the education world. All manner of us attend conferences with this same model and most of us fully accept the low level of accountability around the work, despite the significant cost in public money. Attendees will need to pay a conference fee of several hundred dollars, often stay in a hotel, and if they are a school based employee, get coverage that costs hundreds of dollars a day. A good chunk of this money will go to the conference keynote, often a professional presenter, and their fee will be in the five figure range. In fact, if they are in demand enough to work regularly, their annual earnings will be 3-5 times (or more) than the superintendent of your school district, the person who is actually accountable to your Board of Education for moving student learning forward. I know a few part-time presenters who are leading their own organization in an effective manner, but their responsibilities in their real work prevent them from engaging in a consistent presentation schedule and gaining full keynote status. I recognize that the professional presenters do work hard to stay relevant, but some have never actually worked in the field, or have long since left the learning environment and in doing so have fully converted from practitioner to educational celebrity. Professional presenting can be a rather lucrative micro-industry, but in the austere environment of education, this type of low-yield spending is pretty tough to defend.
If learning and leadership are both about change, the event needs to be more than preaching to the converted and get beyond mere edutainment. So, I ask you to consider these questions:
- Did the opening presentation act as an anticipatory set for a legitimate planning session?
- Did it push you to think differently and consider much broader perspectives?
- Did you get the tools you need to do something you couldn't do before?
- Did the facilitator lead you and your learning team through a planning process that will move your class, school, or district forward in a genuine manner?