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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

Edcamps: The New Professional Development

By Peter DeWitt — September 18, 2012 3 min read
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Conferences are really great venues to get new ideas, share best practices and meet with colleagues from near or far. They are planned a year ahead of time and educators can plan ahead and choose from a menu of great presenters or workshops. Unfortunately, conferences can be very expensive although many of them are worth the money.

• What can schools do to fill the void between great conferences?
• How can schools substitute for the fact that they may not have the money to send teachers or administrators to conferences?
• How can schools be innovative at a time when they are feeling constricted?

Imagine an unconference. No keynote speaker. No proposal deadlines 6 months before a conference takes place. In fact, take it a step further and think of a conference where there is no need to pay a fee. This type of unconference is called an Edcamp and it’s a trending idea in education around the world.

Edcamps can focus on:

• School psychologists/social workers • Library Media Specialists • Teachers • Leadership • Any aspect of education

Money is short, and many of us have always believed that our best resources are within our own schools...or we probably wouldn’t have hired them in the first place. Schools can create their own Edcamp for teachers and administrators within their district. If the district is too large, they can be separated by elementary, middle and high school. The best thing about an Edcamp is that they are open to the flexibility of the person organizing the event.

Organizing an Edcamp
Things have been pretty tough in schools over the past few years and we need some fresh new ideas to bring us together as an educational community. Edcamps are one way that we can do that. It’s important to focus on the positive influences we have with students and participating in an Edcamp is one way where we can expand our thinking and increase our resources.

It typically takes a group of people to organize the event. They come up with a common theme of what they want the Edcamp to focus on and then they invite educators from around the school, district or state to attend and present. Attendees do not all have to present but some Edcamps encourage it.

The following are some important questions to ask when developing an Edcamp in your school district.

Who - Will you only invite staff from your district? Or will you invite staff from local districts as well? It’s possible that a whole school district may not want to venture into an Edcamp but one principal may want to do it for their staff.

• K-12? • Elementary level only • Middle level only • High school level only

What - What is your focus? Will the Edcamp focus on social and emotional learning or will there be a technology focus? The following are some possible areas of focus. One idea can be looked at with a variety of perspectives, so although it seems as though the following would be one presentation, there are many educators who can offer great insight.

• DASA - In New York State there is the Dignity for All Students Act which is a new requirement for schools. • BYOT - Bring your own technology • The Twitter Experience - How to use Twitter and why it's important to join • Distance learning • The Daily 5 - Schools can have a literacy focus for an Edcamp • Flipping Classrooms - How to do it and why it is beneficial • Social and emotional learning

Where - Where will the Edcamp take place? If one school principal wants to hold an Edcamp for their level, they could use their building. However, if a whole district is participating, pick the biggest school and biggest parking lot to accommodate the number of attendees.

When - Edcamps can happen anytime during the year. Perhaps it’s easiest to begin in the summer. However, a district can set aside a Superintendent’s Conference Day or a random Saturday. The only issue with summers and Saturdays is that attendees need to understand it is optional to participate.

Why - This is often the biggest question to answer. Why participate in an Edcamp? The most important reasons why some schools participate is that it offers a time when teachers and administrators can share best practices. It’s a top-down PD day but rather a day where any level in a school system can share an expertise.

• How do we organize times? Have a board with times on them • Provide room numbers so people know where to go • Presentations have to be less than an hour • Teachers have to have their presentation title down to 3 or 4 words. Use the best words to capture the attention of the attendees. • How does this affect our students? • What are the implications for students? • Can teachers have an Edcamp in their own classroom?

In the End
Sometimes educators are too insecure to put in a conference proposal for a state or national conference. Other times there are educators who get rejected from presenting at a conference although they may have really great ideas. Edcamps are about building an educational community and sharing best practices. Camps are known for bring diverse people together for a common good and Edcamps have the same goal in mind.

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For more information about Edcamps visit these important sites:
The Edcamp Foundation

The Value of Edcamps by Dan Callahan

Ecology of Education

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.