The 8th annual Teaching in the 21st Century Conference (T21CON) will be 9-4 p.m. Friday, September 29, in the State Farm Hall of Business. It’s a free professional development opportunity where both aspiring and professional educators can nab new skills from innovative minds in educational technology.

All presenters are either teachers or support instructional technology in P-12 environments, like Rae Hughart ’13, a teacher at Evans Junior High in Bloomington. She’s a go-to voice in the Midwest, having hosted 11 sessions since 2014, including two at T21CON. She says her alma mater’s event tops most others.

“T21CON attendees, both teacher candidates and veteran educators, are open-minded and they want to hear new ideas and have good questions,” she said. “They’re excited, and that’s not always my experience at other education conferences.”

Last year, Hughart connected attendees with tech tools and strategies to facilitate outward communication with parents and other community members about the Common Core State Standards.

“During the session, we practiced using tools to craft messages, and we used apps to practice the Common Core State Standards,” she said.

Hughart’s updated the topic for 2017 is titled “#TeachFurther: 3C’s of Unit Design.” She says educators will learn to easily blend the rigor of CCSS and contemporary Standard Based Grading ideals.

Hughart’s three C’s of unit design stand for common core, creativity, and community. #TeachFurther is her personal teaching philosophy, grounded in preparing college and career-ready students. She uses educational technology to create an environment where students can move around, be inspired, and immerse themselves into new worlds.

“My goal with this presentation is to support educators in learning how to create dynamic, interactive, and innovative lesson plans through common core, creativity, and community,” she said.

Hughart’s presentation style purposefully emulates her teaching style, proving that the best presenters on education are teachers.

“You can always keep middle school students awake when we are sitting up, laughing, singing and moving around. When you’re presenting at a conference, and I’ve been to boring conferences, you have to do the same thing,” she said. “The content is different, but you’ve got to engage with the audience using the same energy as you do when teaching 12-year-olds.”

When asked why teacher candidates and veteran educators should attend T21CON, Hughart has a laundry list: networking, interacting with teachers from different grade levels, gaining fresh perspectives and new ideas, and finding time to step outside one’s classroom.

“My experience is typical—I very rarely leave my room unless it’s for meeting. But it’s so powerful to see what other teachers are doing. So any opportunity for a teacher to take a breath to see what other people are doing, whether it is reinforcing their work, finding a solution to a problem they’re having, or enhancing what they’re doing, coming to T21Con is a great decision overall,” she said.

Hughart is also a fan of conferences like T21CON because they give teachers an opportunity to show a true depiction of the profession, often misconstrued in the media.

“Education and how it’s being talked about in the public eye, no one wants to be a teacher. But if you talk to a teacher, they’ll tell you that they love their job,” Hughart said. “That disconnect needs to be bridged. I really appreciate being able to stand in front of education majors and tell them that despite the fact that they’ll be underpaid and underappreciated, I love my job and I have a lot of fun doing it.”

Hear more from Hughart and interact with her by following her on Twitter through the moniker @TeachFurther.