How to Make the Most of Professional Development Conferences


Excitement is building as we approach the upcoming ISNA Education Forum. I’ve already printed my program and highlighted some of the sessions I’d like to attend.

I’m really excited about the opportunity to present on two topics that I’m very passionate about: special education and creativity in the Islamic school classroom. The amazing opportunities for idea-generation and hearing the thoughts of fellow educators really gives me goose bumps and butterflies in my stomach.

I’m also a little nervous as my five year old son will be joining me this year. As a work-from-home mum this is a sort of take-your-kid-to-work opportunity.

With all this, there is some preparation that needs to go into attending a professional development conference like the ISNA Education Forum. The first one I attended was almost ten years ago in 2006 and I was just in awe of all that was available.

To make the most out of your experience at the Forum, or any other professional development conference, here are my top 5 tips:

1. Prepare in Advance

Print out the program before you go. Spend some time highlighting what topics may interest you — even if some of the sessions overlap. You may end up finding one more interesting than the other.

Also do a Google search of the speakers presenting. They may have other papers they’ve presented on or they may be part of an organization or a school with a unique take that might enhance your own work as a Muslim educator.

2. Engage with Presenters

Don’t be shy to ask questions during and after a session. Chase the speaker down in the hallway if you must – just try not to be stalkerish about it. This is a great opportunity to ask the questions that are on your mind and get some amazing answers.

These people are speakers because they have something to share that deserves a larger audience. Pick their brain. And if you’re an introvert like me, sometimes we just need to get over it, even if it’s just for a weekend.

Don’t feel bad if you want to leave a session and check out another one. Sit in the back and try not to cause too much of a scene. This is a chance for you to benefit and if the session isn’t what you thought it would be then check out another one.

But don’t just sit in your hotel room: LEARN, ENGAGE, CONVERSE!

Make sure you complete the feedback form for each session. I can’t emphasize this enough. Take the time if you must after you’ve returned to let the organizers know what sessions you liked and those you didn’t.

Provide praise for the amazing work they did, as well as constructive criticism for areas that could use improvement. Conference organizers actually listen and want to make sure they are meeting the needs of educators like yourself.

3. Do Some Networking

Bring a notebook and some business cards. This is an opportunity for you to make some connections and talk to teachers, administrators, professors, and educators from all over North America – yes, the Canucks do head south of the border for this one.

Don’t just jot down contact info in your latest tech gadget or notebook – yes, I’m old school like that – jot down some additional notes as to why this person interested you. Once you get home you won’t have to wrack your brain as to why you noted down this person’s name and email address in the first place.

Also, don’t skip the meal-times. Especially the ones that are networking based. Through this I learned of a gentleman who consults two public school boards as well as an Islamic school board. I also met a board member of an Islamic school that also has opportunities for homeschooled students. How amazing is that?!

Every year at the Education Forum we host a meet and greet for our students and alumni. It’s great opportunity to connect with the faces that we’ve gotten to know so well online. If you’re interested in joining us, just stop by our booth and we’ll give you the details.

4. Shop (for educational purposes)

Bring some spending money and keep some extra luggage room. When you’re checking out speakers, see if they’ve written any books that might interest you. I’ve got a list of two books I’m looking for and plan to see if they are available at the bazaar.

I’m also going to leave some room for some amazing educational resources that I might find or a fun educational game or toy for my son. Remember you aren’t paying shipping costs and you are probably going to get some discount with a little bit of bargaining. I mean, after all, it is a bazaar!

5. Make a Clear Intention

I put this at the end because I think it’s the most important and I want to part with this. Make a clear intention as to why you’re going and the purpose of this journey that you’re embarking on.

This is our chance as Muslim educators to put into practice the concept of life-long learning. Make dua that Allah bless this journey for you, your students, your school and the greater community.

Let us know if you’re are attending the Forum this year (in the comments or by email). Dr Seema Imam as well as many of the behind-scene members of our team will also be present. We’d all love to see you there so please stop by our booth in the bazaar.

Prayers for a beneficial journey and conference!

Omaira Alam

About Omaira Alam

Omaira Alam is the Program Director of the Islamic Teacher Education Program ( She holds a Masters in Transition Special Education from the George Washington University specializing in at-risk students with emotional and learning disabilities. With over 18 years of experience in teaching and teacher training, she continues her research focusing on Islamic education, special education in Muslim schools, urban Islamic education, discipline with dignity, instructional strategies based on gender and homeschooling. Her blog, Black Board, White Chalk (, explores traditional and contemporary issues in education.
Click here to read more posts by Omaira.

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