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A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Edcamps: The Lil’ PD That Could...

By Peter DeWitt — September 26, 2014 2 min read
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As some teachers and school leaders complain that they don’t get the professional development they want, others work together with colleagues and create the opportunities to meet that need. They find time to share best practices. Yes, I know that time is so hard to find...but we find it when we want to complain.

Teachers and leaders are frustrated. They go to professional development sessions which are more about compliance to new state mandates or federal guidelines, instead of sessions based in good practices that focus on learning. When they hear the words “Professional Development” they roll their eyes and worry they are at risk of stepping into an “opportunity” where they are going to be told what to do.

It feels paralyzing when that happens. All of the control over what we learn is taken out of our hands and the power is given to the “specialist” at the front of the room. We do need to keep in mind that our students sometimes feel the same when they walk into our classrooms, so we should plan accordingly.

Over the past few years though, as teachers and leaders get bent one way, a small group of educators have decided to bend back in a direction more conducive to their learning. They called it an Edcamp.

The Edcamp Foundation, the organizers of the very first Edcamp explain it best on their website, which says,

Edcamp is a form of unconference designed specifically for teachers and their needs. What makes Edcamp an unconference? Unlike traditional conferences which have schedules set months in advance by the people running the conference, Edcamp has an agenda that's created by the participants at the start of the event. Instead of one person standing in front of the room talking for an hour, people are encouraged to have discussions and hands-on sessions. Sponsors don't have their own special sessions or tables, all of the space and time are reserved for the things the people there want to talk about. People could pay hundreds of dollars to attend another conference, or they could go to Edcamp for free."

Where did this idea came from? It came from the idea that educators wanted to go to conferences to learn valuable tools, but they could not pay the money to attend because those conferences were often expensive. Edcamps also were created because participants would go to some expensive conferences and walk away with very little new knowledge.

The Edcamp Foundation site goes on to say,

Built on principles of connected and participatory learning, Edcamp strives to bring teachers together to talk about the things that matter most to them: their interests, passions, and questions. Teachers who attend Edcamp can choose to lead sessions on those things that matter, with an expectation that the people in the room will work together to build understanding by sharing their own knowledge and questions. Edcamps are: free non-commercial and conducted with a vendor-free presence hosted by any organization interested in furthering the Edcamp mission made up of sessions that are determined on the day of the event events where anyone who attends can be a presenter reliant on the "law of two feet" that encourages participants to find a session that meets their needs."

Sounds Complicated to Start

Sadly, many educators do not know what an Edcamp is, and those who do are too worried about doing it wrong to ever try to organize one. Fortunately, Kristen Swanson and the rest of the Edcamp Foundation wrote The Edcamp Model: Powering Up Professional Learning (Corwin Press Connected Educators Series), which was just published a few weeks ago.

The Edcamp Model is a “How To” for educators and school leaders to create their own edcamp. In the short form book, the Foundation provides chapters on:

  • The Need for Edcamps
  • Does Edcamps Really Work?
  • How to Organize an Edcamp Style Event
  • Tips for Running an Edcamp
  • Final Thoughts

The information is very practical and gets to the heart of why Edcamps are important, as well as why these should be more common across the country. As much as the practical steps are important, I though one of their final thoughts would help inspire teachers and leaders to attend or organize their own Edcamp.

Kristen Swanson wrote,

Running an Edcamp is easy. It can be done with little to no resources, and it does not require a lot of planning. The best Edcamps are those where the attendees truly take control of the day and learning. While the concept might feel uncomfortable or scary at first, seeing that schedule board fill up for the first time is truly magical. You'll be amazed at the diversity of interests and expertise that can be crowd-sourced from the familiar colleagues and new friends."

A group of us (Lisa Meade, Christina Luce, Patti Siano, Tim Dawkins, & Vicki Day) in upstate, NY (Queensbury) are taking the Edcamp Foundation’s advice and we have organized EdcampUNY, which will take place at Queensbury High School for Saturday, October 25th. We are using The Edcamp Model as our resource as we move forward. Sure, there will be mistakes, and it will not look as professional as some state and national conferences, but it’s not supposed to. Working with John Hattie over the past few months has taught me that we need to put more of a focus on learning, and an Edcamp will help us achieve that.

Peter is the series editor for the Corwin Press Connected Educators Series.

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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.