Last weekend I was lucky enough to go to the ASCD conference in Atlanta. Five educators from our school attended, and we spent each day soaking up ideas and knowledge from other educators, then sharing what we learned among our team. It was the perfect weekend (albeit a bit exhausting), and on the last day, we had the chance to delve deeper into the Edcamp model.
The last session that I chose to go to was called “Using the Edcamp Unconference Model for Your School’s Professional Development,” and was presented by Dan Callahan and Mike Ritzius, the founders of the Edcamp movement. I was tired, both mentally and physically, and really just wanted to go home at this point (i.e., the way most of our teachers feel by Friday afternoon, when we hold our weekly professional development). But since our school will be hosting the first Edcamp in the Dominican Republic in one short month, I was not going to miss this one. So off I went.
And I’m so glad I did.
Dan and Mike taught their session through a simulation of Edcamp, divided into two half-hour sessions. I’d never been to an Edcamp and was amazed at the simplicity of it. On a blank schedule some of the attendees wrote up questions and ideas they’d like to discuss and we met in groups to discuss them. There was no presenter, no sage on the stage, just a group of educators sharing experiences and ideas. For those of you who have been to an Edcamp, you know how motivating and invigorating they are. But I was a newbie and, for me, this was a revelation. I forgot that I was tired as took part in stimulating conversations with educators from around the world. Inspired, I discussed the session with our instructional coaches that evening, and we decided to hold a small Edcamp with our 50 teachers during our Friday professional development.
On Monday, I was enthused and convinced that our teachers would love it, but by Thursday, I had cold feet. What if it didn’t work? What if they didn’t connect? What if they used their time to talk about their weekend plans? I’ve been working hard to give up control — after all, if I want teachers to be less controlling in their classrooms, I have to model that, right? But giving up control often makes anxiety rear its ugly head. Luckily, I work with a positive group of coaches who jumped in to reassure me: It’ll be okay. Trust the process. And anyway, what’s the worst that could happen? We learn through taking risks, so go for it.
This is how it went: we invited our teachers from elementary and secondary school to join us. On the wall, we had papers set up for six rooms and two sessions. We explained how Edcamp works, and asked teachers to come up and write down their ideas or questions for the sessions. At first, nobody moved. But with a little prompting, the first few teachers took the markers we offered and began to write. Then the others joined, and before we knew it, there was an animated conversation going on about the sessions and who wanted to go where. Then we sent them off to the rooms to talk for half an hour.
There was no need for fear — it was amazing!
Conversations were animated, everyone was engaged, and so much sharing and learning went on. Teachers made themselves comfy: some sat in cozy corners, others formed circles for discussion, and one group turned on a teaching video and sat on the floor to watch. Remember, this was a Friday afternoon — our teachers were tired and ready for the weekend — but for the first time ever, we had to stop teachers and tell them it was time to go.
We asked for feedback and it was overwhelmingly positive:
- “I LOVED it. I loved sharing my fears and experiences with elementary teachers.” (From a secondary school teacher)
- “Extremely rare opportunity to share perspectives, achievements, and challenges.”
- “So ‘Community!’ Very congruent with our philosophy! It gives us the opportunity to work on the aspects that really interest and ‘passionate’ us.”
- “It was great having more than one person speaking. It made it less boring and kept you attentive.”
- “One of the best workshops ever!!”
- “The format was very casual and flowed so easily! Everyone was so engaged. I look forward to the actual thing.”
- “What a great activity – very relaxing and helpful. It was really eye-opening to see teachers from different grade levels sharing the same concerns.”
- “I loved the experience. It’s very powerful and you can learn so much. Excellent tool to learn and share what you know.”
- “Good discussions. Lots of possible solutions. Every room needs to be documented to keep track of the good ideas flying around.”
- “Suggestion: we should do Edcamp more often in the school.” (This was reiterated by several teachers.)
So, it looks like we’ll be doing more Edcamp professional development in the future. Next time, we’ll probably work around a theme and let teachers know in advance, so they can think a little more about what they’d like to discuss. We’re trying to make our weekly professional development as meaningful as possible for our teachers and let them be in control of what they’d like to learn. This is definitely a step in the right direction.