One of many things I love about working for the AFT’s Share My Lesson and with our SML team is the willingness of our team to dream, innovate, experiment, listen to member feedback, and think through ways to make our community as user friendly and accessible as possible. Our team frequently throws spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks and what does not, doubling down on what works and being OK if we try an experiment and it fails. We can spend hours discussing minor changes that can make a big difference for our members; and we find joy in the finished product, only to innovate some more.
In fall 2013, when we threw some spaghetti at the wall and it stuck, we decided to go beyond our biweekly webinar offerings and experiment with offering free professional development in the form of a virtual conference over a three-evening event. At that time, we invested in a webinar platform that would allow us to run webinars simultaneously, and we reached out to our partners to help lead the first event. I like to say we were trendsetters for virtual conferences before the pandemic launched everyone into the virtual world.
Our team frequently throws spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks and what does not, doubling down on what works and being OK if we try an experiment and it fails.
When we hosted our first virtual conference in 2014, we had 600 participants join us for the three-night event. None of us fully comprehended the work it would take to run a successful virtual conference. Certainly, at the end of the final evening, most of us hoped the spaghetti would fall and the experiment would be over. However, given the positive feedback and the desire from members for more professional development that they could choose, we gave it another go.
We’ve learned a lot of lessons over the years and continue to try new ideas each year to see what sticks. Since 2014, we've offered more than 400 webinars with over 350,000 registrations. The last two years during the pandemic, we had 140,000 registrations combined.
Reasons Why the Share My Lesson Virtual Conference Is A Top Choice Among Educators
- It's free.
- You can receive professional development credit for your participation at no cost.
- We offer something for everyone and cover a variety of subject areas for grades preK-12 as well as common topics that impact teachers, PSRPs, specialized instructional support personnel, and parents/caregivers.
- Our webinars are relevant to what's happening right now with content you can use the next day.
- We bring top-notch presenters, education leaders, and organizations to the table.
- You can wear your PJs. (We won't tell.)
- Did I mention, it's free?
Every year, we have a webinar lineup that we get excited about. Our staff fights over who gets to moderate various webinars, eager to learn about the content and engage with the speakers. This year's conference lineup is exceptional and has the entire team buzzing with excitement; it was hard for all of us to select our spots. I have 25 webinars on my list to watch on demand since I won’t be able to attend all of them live!
Virtual Conference Keynote Sessions
The State of Public Education 2022
AFT President Randi Weingarten, discusses the state of public education and why we must prioritize helping students not only to recover from the pandemic but also to thrive in college, career, civic participation and life—with the empathy, understanding, critical thinking and other life skills necessary for their success and our country’s future.
What’s the Word? Teaching Literacy the DMC Way!
Darryl McDaniels (aka DMC and aka Run-DMC) discusses his children's book and the literacy work he's doing in a fun-filled webinar with Nickelodeon's Noggin. (Note, as a member of Generation X, I definitely negotiated to moderate the DMC webinar!)
Webinar On Demand: Teachers Unify to End Gun Violence
AFT members, teachers and co-founders of Teachers Unify discuss how to end gun violence.
- Abbey Clements, writer, teacher and survivor of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting
- Sarah Lerner, author, teacher and survivor of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting
- Sari Beth Rosenberg, writer, teacher and activist
Freedom to Teach Honestly
Featuring U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes; CEO of PEN America, Suzanne Nossel; Organizing Director of Red Wine & Blue, Julie Womack; and facilitated by AFT Secretary-Treasurer, Fedrick Ingram, this session is an open discussion on the importance of teaching honest history and affirming students’ identities, and how to teach honestly in such polarized times.
In addition to our keynotes, we are covering topics on diversity, equity and inclusion. These webinars will include creating a welcoming school for all genders, skills to support Black girls, using restorative practices in the classroom, using film for conversations on race and racism, and more.
We know that mental health and social emotional learning remain critical for our students and educators. Our SEL and mental health sessions will include preventing teen suicide, addressing violence against educators in school, using music to teach SEL, prioritizing SEL for English language learners, and more.
In addition, we have webinars on building community, current events, and English language arts and STEM. If you use film or music to teach different concepts in the classroom, you will not be disappointed. We are featuring the Oscar-nominated documentary film Summer of Soul, which will cover the Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969 to teach Black history through music and film. Additionally, the documentary Final Account will provide new tools for teachers to cover the Holocaust. The film, which features more than 250 former members of the Nazi Party and the SS, seeks to understand how ordinary people could support a regime that committed genocide. And for a fun evening, join the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation’s TeachRock featuring LADAMA, an ensemble of women musicians from across the Americas, who will focus on movement, music and community leaving you with a smile and hands-on activities for arts integration. In addition to these offerings, we have nine more webinars that use film or music for teaching different topics.
We've learned a lot over the years about what works and what doesn’t in the virtual world, ensuring that our webinars are engaging and helpful for our SML members. We also have behind-the-scenes blooper reels. For example, a thunderstorm during our first virtual conference ripped through Washington, D.C., cutting power to our building in the middle of webinars. Fortunately, another team was assisting from another location and was able to handle the challenges. Lesson learned: It's actually better to have the virtual team in different locations in case weather impacts one area over another.
We've learned a lot over the years about what works and what doesn’t in the virtual world, ensuring that our webinars are engaging and helpful for our SML members.
And, then there was the time that moments before a major keynote, the entire webinar platform we were using had a nationwide outage. Lesson learned: Ensure your registrations are downloaded from the webinar platform before you go live in case you need to move to a plan B and email all participants immediately. Fortunately, we were able to open a conference phone line, and the show went on.
And of course, we have years of experience saying "You're still on mute" or "Please mute yourself" making us wish we had designed that T-shirt before the pandemic.
Who knows what humor will join us behind the scenes this year. Whatever it might be, we're always ready with a plan B, C, ... Z— and a lot of laughter.
Kelly Carmichael Booz oversees the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) PreK-12 online resources serving 2.1 million educators on the AFT's ShareMyLesson.com, the AFT's E-Learning professional development platform, and the production and dissemination of PreK-12 publication for the AFT's 1.7 millio