Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

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

Maybe It’s Time to Explore an Edcamp!

By Peter DeWitt — November 24, 2013 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

With professional development opportunities like Twitter becoming more popular, we can choose what we want...not what others THINK we want.

Educators have all seen their share of accountability over the past few years. One of the side effects of so much accountability is districtwide professional development that focuses on compliance and the “party line” more than on anything teachers can use in the classroom.

As a school administrator I understand it’s hard to find some common ground between what teachers need to know to move forward in this new era of accountability and Common Core, and what they want to know to be successful and creative in the classroom. And yes, I understand that asking for their input helps...

We can all agree that it’s a strange, and sometimes difficult, time for those of us who call education a career. Unfortunately, some teachers are teetering on looking for new careers, because even their collaborative time has changed from an open discussion to compliance. Teachers are having a hard time deciding what they need to know to meet a mandate, and what they want to know to be a better teacher. And as much as they should be, mandates and better teaching practices do not always lead to the same end.

We all know that the best professional development is the kind we choose for ourselves. Perhaps it’s finally time that more school districts, or regions encompassing several school districts, explore the idea of an Edcamp. After all, traditional educational professional development is not always teacher or student-centered. With professional development opportunities like Twitter becoming more popular, we can choose what we want...not what others THINK we want.

This is where Edcamps enter into the equation. Edcamps, which you can read more about here, are an increasingly popular way for educators to take back control over their own learning. There are successful edcamps going on all over North America. For a start, educators interested in joining or starting an edcamp should look at the Edcamp Foundation website.

Who Creates an Edcamp?

Who creates an Edcamp? First and foremost...you do. Edcamps are created by educators. Teachers, principals, parents, and students (depending on the Edcamp) come together on one day with one common focus, and break up into conference sessions that are typically developed the morning of the Edcamp.

There are typically no keynote speakers. However, the greatest thing about edcamps is that there is not just one way of doing one. Be creative! Have fun! Jump out of that box that accountability has been holding you in. We need to stop looking for someone else to give us permission to have creative professional development sessions.

Most Edcamps end with a smackdown. What’s a smackdown you ask? Beginning with the end in mind...a smackdown happens at the end of an Edcamp because there are usually so many awesome sessions that attendees cannot always get to each session they want. So...at the end of the Edcamp they review the sessions from the day in a very short period of time called the smackdown.

For full disclosure, I am not an edcamp expert. I tried to do an edcamp in my district, but because of poor timing and lack of interest we had to cancel it. You can read more about that here. However, I am getting together with some of my Professional Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter and we are going to try do an edcamp that encompasses our region.

In order to do an edcamp successfully, the organizers need a group of educators who will do the prep work. The most deceiving aspect to an edcamp is that many people believe the whole day comes together, with attendees and speakers, on the day of the edcamp. However, there is a great deal of prep work that goes along with creating an edcamp.

So...because I am entering into this arena with some friends who have never organized one before, I thought I would write about the aspects that we are considering right now as we develop our own edcamp. Considering my first try at creating an edcamp did not go well, I want to make sure the second attempt is much more successful...meaning that it actually happens this time!

Some things to think of (and edcamp experts, please feel free to chime in!):

Timing: Spring, summer, winter or fall? After school or on a weekend? In the next 6 months...or wait a year? People are so busy with their personal lives and going through district led professional development, when can organizers hold an edcamp that will maximize the number of presenters and attendees. Between weddings, weekend events at school, SAT’s, and other activities, picking the time to hold the edcamp is crucial. Yes, individual school districts can hold their own edcamps, but for educators who are in a district that may not even know what an edcamp is, organizers should try to bring together educators from multiple districts.

Focus: Many edcamps focus on social media. Why? Because most attendees are social media savvy. However, it’s up to the organizers to figure out the best focus of the edcamp. It has to be something that will engage attendees and stretch their thinking. Do a survey on Survey Monkey and send it out through Twitter. Post it to Facebook. Ask other educators what they would like to learn about.

Location: Location, location, location. Choosing a place that is centrally located, where everyone will want to travel to (and know where it is!) is important. “If you build it, they will come.” However, organizers need to make sure whatever school district they choose has the technology readily available for presenters to use. AND...even if people are bringing their own technology that is connected to AT&T, Verizon, etc. it’s important to make sure they can get reception so they can get connected.

Promotion: After organizers get all the logistics together, how will they get the word out? Social media is one way to do it! Using Facebook, Twitter and word of mouth is important. The number of people attending isn’t always important. It’s what organizers do with the people who are attending that is important.

In the End

As hard as things may be in education, there are still so many ways we can revitalize what we are doing in our classrooms and schools. Edcamps are an awesome way to bring educators together, and focus on authentic and teacher-centered (and student-centered) professional development that is missing in a lot of districtwide professional development these days.

We have two choices. We can either take what is offered to us, try to make the best out of it (or complain about it after it’s completed), or we can take professional development into our own hands. Edcamps offer the opportunity to share best practices and learn from the experts...perhaps not the ones who wrote books, but the ones who are still in the classroom every day.

If you have advice for my PLN as we go through the process...please post a comment!

Connect with Peter on Twitter.

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.