Have you ever been to an Edcamp? I had my first experience when we attended Edcamp Cape Cod in August of this year. Collaborating, connecting and planning were themes that made up an exciting and motivating day. Everyone’s openness to share their ideas and what they have learned in their classroom truly inspired me. It also reminded me of the amazing work teachers and principals do every day to better their schools, their lessons and their students’ learning. I could sense everyone’s enthusiasm to listen to and learn from others. And as teachers and principals don’t always get the time to communicate sufficiently with each other, this was a great opportunity for them to do so. A bright and fun-filled atmosphere captured us as we began our day.
What is an Edcamp?
The philosophy behind the Edcamp is that it is an ‘unconference’. In other words, it’s not supposed to be a place where people ‘teach’ the
attendees, sell their products, give keynote speeches or any of the common activities that engender the traditional educational conference. Rather, it is a place where teachers come to connect and communicate with each other. Conferences certainly have an important place in the world of education, however the Edcamp is an opportunity solely for teachers and administrators to share their classroom and school experiences.
Anyone can arrive and put up an idea to talk about on the board, which then gets input into the official seminar timetable for the day (see right). You are then set to be the ‘moderator’ of the session. It’s fair game and your topic can be anything, as long as it’s related to teaching, learning and education in general. It can be something you know a lot about already and want to share with others, or something you want to find out more about from others attending the session. So we checked out the board and picked a few seminars to attend. Things that people were talking about included Design Thinking, Gamified Learning, World Languages and Connecting Learners Globally. There was even a session that students ran! So it was an all-inclusive event. For planning events you can find cheap table runners for sale at CV Linens, you will find the best tablecloths selections for your event.
I wanted to experience what it’s like to be a ‘moderator’ of a seminar, to see what conversations I could get going about things I am interested in. So I took the opportunity to moderate a seminar on teacher Professional Development (PD). Although not a guru in this area myself, I am a highschool teacher and have a strong interest in how teachers are supported in their PD. And, as it was my first time moderating a seminar at an Edcamp, I was quite nervous. However, all of the Edcamp volunteers were so encouraging, reminding me that it’s not just about me telling the room what I know, but also about asking the room what they know so I can learn from them. That word ‘sharing’ again came to mind, a critical component of the Edcamp philosophy. So I plucked up the courage and entered on the board ‘Teacher PD. How should we do it?’.
I sat in room 118 at my allotted time and waited in hopes that some people would be interested enough in attending. I was pleased to see that a large number had the same interest in PD as me. PHEW. I began by talking a bit about my own PD experience (I am from Ireland so have quite different experiences to those sitting in this room). I generally felt that, as a teacher, I was constantly being exposed to new tools and methodologies, but never got the time to really implement and test them. It was like a wheel that kept spinning and never really took me anywhere in particular. So I shared these thoughts with the room, which garnered some nods and smiles from those who clearly had experienced the same scenario. I then put it to the floor to speak about their general PD experiences. Although at first I felt a little out of my depth, everyone in the room joined in and offered up some amazing and creative ideas on how they conduct PD in their school. I was so humbled to listen to teachers, principals and other experts in the area of PD speak. What an amazing learning experience for me. And hopefully for others in the room too.
Professional Development in schools
So what were some of these gems of knowledge that were shared? I’ll briefly describe some ideas on how one could conduct PD in schools in attempts to inspire you to try some in your school:
- A ghost walk – This principal and deputy principal created a scenario where their teachers were invited to each other’s classrooms to see what others in the building were doing in their spaces. What a great way to learn from others and also to champion your staff and their hard work.
- Lunchtime Cross Curricular planning – This principal covered lunchtime duty in order to give her staff time to meet with teachers of other subjects and try to connect their lessons. A noble and wise endeavor, demonstrating respect for your staff’s precious time and also cultivating a culture of collaboration among teachers of different subject interests.
- Edcamp within the school – This principal had actually run an Edcamp within her school where teachers would volunteer to share their experiences. This meant that teachers could actually choose which seminar to attend, rather than having the management team choose for you. If we are trying to give our learners more choice in their learning, surely teachers should have the same opportunities to have ownership over theirs.
- Flipped learning for teachers – One teacher described how teachers in their school had been asked to develop some flipped lessons on new methodologies or ideas that they had tried out in their classes. It meant that teachers could check these out at a time that suited them, and that they had the videos saved to revise at a later time.
- Peer observation – This is certainly not a new idea, however it is still relevant. Some feel uncomfortable with having others see them teach. Although I have always been happy to have fellow teachers observe me teaching, others may not feel the same. This is completely understandable as you feel as if you are being judged. However, this teacher argued that if a culture is developed where teachers become more accustomed to this concept, everyone will be more willing. It just takes time and patience from all involved.
- Tuesday tech club – I asked the group how they found teachers were adapting to using new technologies in their classrooms and how they developed these skills. One teacher described how she had started a ‘Tuesday Tech Club’ for teachers to attend as they wished. This meant that teachers who really wanted to get together and find out about more tech tools could just come along to this session on a Tuesday. She said that it was a very popular session and that even she learned a lot about new tech from other teachers.
Edcamps for life!
So as you can see, from one 50 minute session, I learned about a wide variety of different approaches to PD. I left the seminar feeling energized and encouraged to continue learning. It was hard to put myself forward as a first-time moderator, but once I did it, I was so glad to engage with these professionals and learn from them. Now I feel I have more to share with others. I would highly recommend attending an Edcamp event near you (or far away like me!). I can’t emphasize enough how much I learned. You don’t even have to moderate. The important thing is to try to contribute in some way during the seminars. People want to learn from you! The more Edcamps you attend, the more you have to share each time.
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