Jeanette Westfall, current member of the St. Louis Annual Conference host committee, shares her tips for successful networking for learning. This post is part of a series on conference learning. 

By Jeanette Westfall

As I open the door to the large conference room, I look around the long, narrow room. Round tables are lined up neatly in three rows, two rows on one side of the room and one row on the other with an aisle in the middle. I hesitate, feeling much like I am boarding a very large airplane. I move down the center aisle looking for a table with no one sitting at it, where I can sit with my back to the wall. I settle in and wait anxiously for the presenter to arrive. Slowly the room fills, and much like in an airplane, everyone in the room avoids eye contact in order to preserve the hope for more personal space. First, two other attendees join me at the table, laughing and joking between themselves. Another asks to join, and then another. The awkward silence begins.

That was years ago at my first Learning Forward Conference. I had travelled alone, and I was attending as a newly positioned leader in my district. I didn’t come with a team, and I didn’t come with an abundance of confidence. I did, however, luck into having selected a “first-class seat” at that table in my very first conference presentation. Before the presentation began, the last participant who had seated himself at our table introduced himself all around. George Couros, then a high school principal from Canada, introduced himself to everyone at our table. He shared his story, and he encouraged each of us to share ours. He made our tiny table a team for that session by his introductions, sharing, and listening. He offered to me, from that moment forward, the model of what networking and collaborating at a conference really should be – educators coming together where we are all learners.

As we prepare to come together at the 50th Anniversary of Learning Forward at the conference in St. Louis, Missouri, I encourage all of you to take a first-class seat on our next professional learning flight. The opportunity to meet educational professionals from across the country will offer you some of the most powerful currency in education in this era. I have strong educational partners from coast to coast who help me understand and problem-solve through some of the toughest decisions we are faced with in my district. I met many of them through my conference and Learning Forward Academy experiences, and I rely on them regularly.

Tom Vander Ark, author of Better Together, shares that networks are the future of learning because the challenges of our work have now outpaced the solutions. He recently visited my district, another benefit of that powerful networking experience.

So, as you board your flight or hop in your car to meet us in St. Louis at the conference, I encourage each of you to come prepared for an exciting and fulfilling experience to network and grow your personal educational currency by following these five tips for networking success:

  1. Sit at a table or row next to others.
  2. Reach out and confidently introduce yourself.
  3. Share your story and ask your neighbors for theirs.
  4. Bring and share your business cards.
  5. Bring your teammates.

With these tips in hand, you will enjoy a rich and memorable conference. And if you find yourself with a minute to spare, stop in and say hi to us at the Volunteer Check-in area. This year, as a part of the Conference Host Committee, we get to spend the entire conference networking with attendees. I would be happy to make your acquaintance!

Jeanette Westfall, current member of the #LearnFwd19 host committee, shares her tips for successful #networking for learning. Click To Tweet

Jeanette Westfall currently works for Liberty Public Schools (MO) as the executive director of curriculum, instruction, and staff development. She has served as an elementary classroom teacher, high school Language Arts/gifted & talented English/humanities teacher, instructional coach, and high school principal.  Jeanette serves on the Learning Forward Missouri Affiliate Board, is a recent graduate from the Learning Forward Academy, and is serving on the host committee for Learning Forward’s 2019 Conference.


conference banner

Learning Forward is the only professional association devoted exclusively to those who work in educator professional development. We help our members plan, implement, and measure high-quality professional learning so they can achieve success with their systems, schools, and students.