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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

An Edcamp at the U.S. Department of Education?

By Peter DeWitt — March 14, 2014 3 min read
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Edcamps are more than just an idea or theory; they’re an international movement.” Kristen Swanson

We have all heard about, and experienced, our fair share of nightmare professional development sessions. Lately, the sessions seem to be more about compliance than real learning opportunities. During some professional development sessions, which don’t always seem professional, and don’t always help anyone develop, I’ve often wondered if we have just run out of fresh new ideas.

That is where Edcamps enter into our educational picture, and shake up our long held beliefs about professional development. They are a fairly new framework for providing professional development, and there are many benefits...starting with the presenters...and price.

First and foremost, the presenters are not usually known for national keynote speaking engagements, which brings in a raw and grass roots appeal to edcamps. Let’s face it, some national presenters haven’t taught us any more than our best teachers already have. At an edcamp, the presenters are the participants themselves, who show up to learn, and become inspired to guide a discussion around a topic.

Most people know that there is very seldom one expert in the room. The expertise around any area are the collective thoughts and dialogue of those individuals who attend the event...which is free. In education, we do not typically come across events that are both filled with great learning opportunities AND free at the same time.

You may be skeptical of edcamps, but you shouldn’t be. They are much more engaging, and widely held than you may think. According to Kristen Swanson, Senior Educational Research Leader at BrightBytes, and co-founder of the Edcamp Movement,

Edcamps are more than just an idea or theory; they're an international movement. The model has been replicated in 41 states and dozens of countries worldwide. Over 25,000 educators have participated in a regional Edcamp event, and many more have participated in an Edcamp-style event at their school."

Considering how grassroots edcamps are, it’s going to be interesting to what happens, when the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) holds their edcamp in June.

Edcamp USDOE

I have to admit that I’m intrigued that the U.S. Department of Education is holding an edcamp. It’s great that the USDOE is embracing this innovative way of offering professional development to educators. With the right mix of people, participants and presenters can learn a lot from one another. It will also help highlight the innovative practices that are going on in schools around the country.

What’s interesting, is a department that is accused of enforcing compliance measures on schools is using a method of professional development that promotes creativity. Are we trying to find common ground? Not to put too much pressure on the event, but will educators, politicians and policymakers walk out with a better understanding of one another?

If anyone can get all parties to come together for a better understanding, Kristen Swanson gets my vote. In her blog, Kristen wrote, “The purpose of Edcamp USDOE is to bring together educators and policy makers in open, transparent, authentic conversation. The day will explore a variety of themes, and topics will be generated on the day of the event.”

Swanson told me that she’s “hoping that participants will take away empathetic understandings of the challenges facing education today. By bringing together all the leading voices in education, we can create a better future for our kids.”

In the End

I love edcamps, because they remind me of the old days when we were allowed, and encouraged, to hold inservices that focused on sharing best practices, and not on new compliance measures where we couldn’t talk or we would be considered to rebellious. I mean, edcamps end with “Smackdowns” which are a quick review of the ideas shared at the edcamp.

Clearly, this edcamp will be a very popular one to attend, so there is a lottery system for those who would like to be considered. By nature of edcamps, they are grassroots efforts to provide the best professional learning opportunities to those who attend. I have my name in the lottery, and it will be interesting, if I’m chosen to go, to see what one is like at the U.S. Department of Education. After all, edcamps focus on some of the most innovative practices happening in rural, urban and suburban schools, and the USDOE should be the perfect place to highlight those.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.