This is the time of year when many professional organizations hold their annual conferences. Why is this important? Well…for me this was my way into the Outdoor Education field. I found that it was a great way to gain a sense of what professionals are talking about, what the current trends are, and more importantly, this is where you make connections that grow into future opportunities.
Here are a few things that are on the horizon. Some of them I have attended, some I am attending this year and some I know due to word of mouth.
What: T.E.A.M. Conference (Teachers of Experiential and Adventure Methodology)
Where: Northeastern Illinois University
When: February 3-4:
I have attended this conference every year since its inception (except the very first one…so 22 years). It is great conference and the place that really gave me my start in experiential education. There is a real family feel with some of the industry giants in attendance including Laurie Frank, Chris Cavert and Karl Rohnke. Even if you are not a teacher, you will find a lot of useful tools here. In addition, it is relatively inexpensive.
What: A.C.C.T. International Conference (Association for Challenge Course Technology)
Where: Boston, MA
When: February 9-12
This is an organization that was originally developed to represent companies and individuals that build and inspect challenge courses. The organization still has that as a focus, but has turned their conference into something bigger; a focus on best practices in the adventure and experiential education world. There is something for everyone at this conference, from workshops on technical climbing, zip line, challenge course gear and gear research for all you gear wonks, as well as facilitation workshops taught by the top practitioners in the world. It is a more expensive conference then TEAM but well worth it.
What: N.C.C.P.S. (National Challenge Course Practitioners Symposium)
Where: Boulder, CO
When: February 23-25
This is often called the “un conference” in that it is an open concept symposium with no set workshops. It is an idea orchestrated by Tom Leahy, a noted practitioner in the field. It works like this: people show up and offer to teach on different subjects related to challenge courses and facilitation and if other attendees sign up to attend, you run a workshop. Several Manito-wish staff attends every year and say that it is amazing. It has great energy, lots of good people and loads of information.
What: A.E.E. International Conference (The Association for Experiential Education)
Where: Madison, WI
When: November 2012
AEE is the organization responsible for building this industry into the respected profession it has become. Their regional conferences are usually relatively inexpensive and are full of great workshops on everything from wilderness therapy to teaching games. They are also, due to their local focus, great opportunities to network in your region.
There are obviously more professional organizations and conferences, depending on your interest. The key is to do the research, make a choice…and go!
Mark Zanoni is the Leadership Program Director at Camp Manito-wish YMCA