It’s been almost a year of not having any large gatherings or in-person events – and I miss it! Being part of a local affiliate board, I get the opportunity to help plan and host annual events for our local membership. Our annual event, Palooza, is typically our biggest money maker. As a non-profit, we use the funds generated from ticket sales to fund some of the programs we hold most dear – programs like our scholarships, mini grants, and monthly get togethers where we can offer prizes to our affiliate members – sometimes just for showing up!

COVID prevented us from having our great gathering this year – and we rolled with it. We quickly pivoted how we were going to approach Palooza and got prepared to host another virtual event. Luckily, we had some practice; earlier this year in October, we hosted our first Edcamp OCLA in conjunction with the OCCUE affiliate. It was a two-day EdTech extravaganza where we offered traditional sessions on the first day and then the Edcamp “unconference” experience on the second day. That event was a huge success and we looked at how we could use that momentum to fuel Palooza.

CUELA & OCCUE joined forced back in October 2020 for our first Edcamp OCLA – a completely virtual event! (Photo credit: Susie Gomez)

Because of our connections within the local affiliates, we were able to quickly reach out to presenters – many of whom had joined us at Edcamp OCLA – and asked if they’d like to join us once more for Palooza in February. We also put out a call for proposals on social media which brought in a few more presenters to give us a well-rounded, diverse group of educators and knowledge.

Teamwork makes the dream work! The CUELA Board came together to pull off a completely virtual Palooza!

Planning a virtual event is relatively easy compared to what we were doing for an in-person event like previous Paloozas. We didn’t have to worry about venues, the cost of hosting it somewhere, clean-up, or food/catering – the big ticket items on our event budget. Because everything was digital our out of pocket costs were small. We had some expenses (stickers and the shipping costs for prize items and sticker swag) but it was minimal.

CUELA welcomed educators Leticia Citizen and Nate Ridgway as this year’s keynotes. This was both Leticia’s and Nate’s first time keynoting! (Photo credit: Sue Thotz)

An event’s success – whether virtual or in-person – always comes down to how people work together, how the event runs, and feedback. It takes an extraordinary group of individuals for events like this to happen – even if it doesn’t seem like it from the outside.

If it was easy – easy to navigate to the sessions, easy to find help, easy to engage – it was because there were people on the back-end that ensured it was running smoothly, often times beginning weeks before the actual event.

Feedback is also very telling of whether our hard work paid off. This year’s event – according to the feedback we received – was a success. Attendees appreciated the variety of sessions, shared their learning, and wanted more!

As we prepare for this year’s Virtual Spring CUE ’21, remember some of these things as you are attending sessions, engaging with speakers and fellow attendees, and growing as a professional. It took an extraordinary team of individuals to make it look like it goes off without a hitch. Have fun, engage, and share your learning!

About Kristin Oropeza
Kristin is a full-time special education teacher, contract consultant, and educational content writer. She is a Google Certified Teacher (Level 1 and 2), Google Certified Trainer, and MIE Expert for 2020-2021.