February 9, 2023

How to Host a Community Conference

Part of our series on Family Networking Opportunities

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Have you ever left a professional conference feeling energized and inspired by something you learned or someone you met? Recreate this environment of learning and networking by designing a conference-style learning event for families! 

Plan a Keynote to Encourage Attendance 

Plan a keynote speaker or performance that will gather as many families as possible. Find a topic of universal appeal, like setting up a college savings account, or ask a student group to showcase a project or performance.  

Lower the Pressure with Short Rotating Sessions  

Schedule a rotation of short learning sessions, hosted by staff, students, and family members. After the keynote, invite families to look at the menu of options and choose which sessions they’d like to attend. If families can only stay for half an hour, no problem! Offer sessions every half hour, relieving the stress of having to show up exactly at the start of the event. Based on what you learned while hosting your first event, identify popular sessions to repeat at future events for families who weren’t able to attend the first time.  

Choose Community-Generated Topics and Go Beyond Academics 

Ask staff members to share topics they’re passionate about. For example, if the third-grade math teacher loves visiting local parks, have them host a session on free parks and recreation activities in the community! Parents of students with disabilities could host a session that explains all the acronyms and terminology that parents must navigate when receiving services. Have students present projects at your event, giving parents and caregivers the opportunity to see their kids’ hard work.   

Address Obstacles to Attendance  

Collaborate with the community to lower the burden of attendance by providing food and childcare. Here are a few opportunities for people to contribute to solutions: 

  • A Parent-Teacher Organization could coordinate a potluck or find a local restaurant to provide food for attendees. 

  • Ask a local high school to connect you with student volunteers who can help with childcare in return for community service credit.  

  • Consider hosting a conference virtually or providing a live stream for those who can’t attend in person. Keep the event centered on family networking with virtual breakout rooms or upload a recording to your school’s online forum where people can exchange ideas. 

Let Networking Flow Naturally 

Create space for families to meet each other, catch up, and discuss what they’ve learned. Start by briefly establishing norms (such as no parent-teacher conference talk!) to help keep conversations focused and inclusive. Then let discussions, networking, and community-building flow naturally; this will have a huge impact on families’ sense of belonging after your event. 

Stay inspired by new ideas and learn from our catalogue of success stories, tips, and evidenced-based trainings for school staff from Kohl’s Healthy at Home

- By Alexis Lassus, National Advisor, Whole Child Health and Kohleun Adamson, Manager, Culturally Responsive Communications