By Robert Sheldon

There you are again, at yet another national conference or MEA convention, looking over the schedule trying to determine which clinics to attend. Once you have decided which topics and clinicians are most appealing to you, off you go to experience all you can from this year’s words of wisdom! But is that all there is to it? Are you just going to be a passive attendee? In order to get the most from this experience, it might worth considering a few things before you start…

Select the Right Sessions

How do you go about selecting the right sessions to attend? Sometimes there are so many good sessions to attend, and often they’re scheduled at the same time! And of course you may want to attend sessions with your colleagues when possible in order to share the experience, making these decisions even more of a challenge. There are a few thoughts regarding how to select what to attend. First, try thinking of the pain-points that you experience daily or weekly in your classroom, then look for sessions that provide the solutions. Are you plagued by not knowing how to perform simple repairs on the instruments in your class? Do you struggle with knowing how to teach alternate fingerings to your woodwinds, or to teach your string students how to avoid tension in their bow arm? Look for sessions that cover those topics. Another thought is to look for a mixture of session topics you’re familiar with that you could use some brushing up on, and then be sure to attend a couple of sessions that are completely out of your comfort zone in order to broaden your base of knowledge.

Have an Open Mind

Not every presenter will be perceived in the same way by each person in the audience. Some will love the presentation, and others may not. But you owe it to yourself to allow the clinician to reveal the content in their own special way, and keep in mind that there are many solutions to every challenge we face in the classroom and rehearsal room. Consider the information, and add it to your bag of tricks—you never know when something in this session might be just the thing you need for that special circumstance! Staying engaged through eye contact, a smile, or a nod will help the presenter give you the best clinic possible.

Take Lots of Notes

You will likely not remember many of the relevant things you experience at these events. At any moment, something truly meaningful might be said, and you will want to incorporate that into your personal teaching repertoire. Plan on taking some notes to keep those significant moments from being lost to a blur of vague memories. Since conventions can be exhausting, it can be easy to forget something very important!

Ask Questions

Not every clinic presents appropriate times for the clinicians to answer questions. But if the opportunity arises, this is your chance to get expert advice from someone who has been there and done that! If you have your question thought out and prepared ahead of time, you might be amazed at some of the truly helpful advice you might receive.

Become the Student

Remember, you’re at the convention to learn! This is your opportunity to be a sponge for knowledge. Along the lines of keeping an open mind, try not to go into clinics feeling like you already have all of the answers—there’s always room to grow. Be receptive and know that this is an opportunity for you to develop, learn, and improve as a teacher. Be the student you want your own students to be!

Get to Know Your Colleagues

If you arrive a bit early, you can strike up conversations with the other attendees. You never know who you might meet! We are all in this journey together, so get to know the people around you. It never hurts to have more friends.

Use What You’ve Learned—ASAP

At your earliest opportunity, try out some of the things you have learned in these clinics. Find what works for you, and make it your own. It might be a concept, a technique or just a turn of phrase, but it could make a positive and significant impact in your teaching.

Just Go

Yes, it is fun to sit with friends and colleagues, and instead of going to sessions use that time to catch up, visit, and commiserate over your recent challenges and disappointments. Or, regale your buddies with tales of your recent moments of awesomeness—these are not bad things to do! But perhaps the most valuable part of attending clinics is to just show up to the clinic sessions. Just go! Take your friends with you. Conferences and conventions go to great lengths to make these events valuable for educators, so don’t miss out! Support yourself and your organization’s efforts to produce these events, and take full advantage of the opportunity to professionally develop!

Sheldon_RobertRobert Sheldon is one of the most performed composers of wind band music today. He is also the lead author of Sound Innovations for Concert Band. A recipient of numerous awards from the American School Band Director’s Association, Phi Beta Mu and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, his compositions embody a level of expression that resonates with ensembles and audiences alike. His music is performed around the world and appears on many international concert and contest lists. Mr. Sheldon regularly accepts commissions for new works, and produces numerous publications for concert band each year. Learn more at