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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

Organizing an Edcamp? You May Want to Read This...

By Peter DeWitt — February 04, 2014 6 min read
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  • Compliance - The act or process of doing what you have been asked or ordered to do: the act or process of complying.
  • Creativity - The ability to make new things or think of new ideas.

What have your professional development sessions looked like lately? With so many mandates to get used to, and accountability to work out, most professional development sessions have been about compliance. The sessions provided by most school leaders seem to loosely focus on data, which may or not involve the “good” data that can be used to drive instruction that will maximize student learning.

The situation has become dire that organizations like ASCD recently took their February edition of Educational Leadership to focus on Building School Morale. Many of the authors in the leadership journal offered some great suggestions on how to make school a happier place. If you don’t receive Educational Leadership they offer some of the articles on-line for free by clicking here.

Last year, I tried to take on “low morale” during a time when our district was implementing the Common Core, dealing with severe budget cuts, and negotiating our way through increased accountability and test scores that fell from the sky...AKA the New York State Education Department. After all, some of my teachers and students told me that not all superheroes wear capes (although I do keep one in my office closet for our Readers Theatres), so I wanted to battle low morale.

Not known for my timing, I assembled a group...which means I took anyone who showed interest, and created an edcamp committee. We were bound and determined to have an edcamp on a Saturday morning in February for those educators and leaders who wanted to shovel themselves out of their driveways and brave the cold Northeast weather. Unfortunately, the idea flopped. After a few months of e-mails, catchy Wordles, and a webpage that people ignored, we decided to cancel the edcamp that no one seemed interested in. You can read more about it here.

It worked out for the best because we ended up with a Nor’easter which would have cancelled it, but I felt a bit defeated any way.

An Idea Resurfaces

Fast forward a year, and the idea of an edcamp began to resurface. To be perfectly honest, I was envious, even a bit green eyed with jealousy of EdcampNJ, Educon, EdcampPhilly, and some posts from the Edcamp Foundation. I had edcamp envy. Like a spoiled child in a toy store, I wanted what everyone else was getting.

And then it happened...naturally.

One Saturday morning while participating in #Satchat I mentioned (or someone did) that we should do an edcamp in Upstate N.Y. where we all live. To quote Al Roker, there isn’t anything like that in “This neck of the woods.” Immediately, five of us, some of whom have never met in person, said they wanted to help organize one. We Tweeted out some possible times to do a Google Hangout (GHO) and BAM...we had an edcamp committee. In our naivety, while talking in November, we decided we would do it in the spring of 2014. That idea lasted all of about 10 minutes. We were moving too fast...too soon.

  • We had to ask ourselves some important questions.
  • When would we have it?
  • Where would we have it?
  • How would we organize the event?
  • What would we name it?

One of the minor issues was that only one person on our committee had ever attended an edcamp. Yes, we were all crazed about an idea that only one of us had every attended. To this day, only one of us have still attended an edcamp. However, that is where a positive attitude, good guiding team, and the power of Twitter enter into the edcamp picture.

A guiding team is highly important to any new initiative. In this day and age of social networking, that guiding team can include people you have never met in person, but have spoken to virtually though Twitter.

Our guiding team, besides myself, consists of:

  • Vicki Day - Elementary principal in Governour, N.Y. I think of Albany as upstate, which makes Vicki laugh a bit.
  • Lisa Meade - Middle school principal in Corinth, N.Y.
  • Patti Siano - Middle school teacher in Corinth, N.Y.
  • Christina Luce - Elementary school teacher in Syracuse, N.Y.
  • Tim Dawkins - High school assistant principal in Queensbury, N.Y.

We decided to call it EdcampUNY...for Edcamp Upstate New York. And the location will be Queensbury High School in Queensbury, NY just south of Lake George...which is key to this developing story.

Once every three weeks we get together in a GHO and work out the details for our edcamp. By using a Google Doc we share our agenda items. The GHO last about one hour. To be perfectly honest, it is so fun to talk with these educators that the hour flies by, and we have all become like close knit friends who cannot wait to meet each other in person.

Edcamp Agenda MUST Items

After talking with my friends Tom Whitby who is a Twitter and connected educator rock star, and Kristen Swanson from the Edcamp Foundation who is a wealth of information, we quickly realized we needed sponsors, to firm up a date, and to have a location.

The greatest part about an edcamp is also one of the biggest issues. It’s free to attendees, which means edcamps do not bring in money. Considering none of us are independently weathly...yet, we don’t have disposable funds to spend on creating an edcamp. Sponsors...really good sponsors are key to the process.

Using our connections, and strongly believing that the EdcampUNY (website!) was the best idea since sliced bread, we started reaching out to sponsors. These sponsors aren’t paying for presenters, or for the location, but they may supply food, promotion for the event, swag, or a brand new car! Sorry, had a Price is Right moment.

To be honest, we are still developing ways for sponsors to help us. Food will be one of the most important, but so is getting the word out about the event. We reached out to the following organizations who all want to partner with us:

  • SAANYS - School Administrators Association of New York State
  • CASDA - Capital Area School Development Association
  • NYSMSA - N.Y. State Middle Schools Association
  • Corwin Press - Educational resources and prizes
  • Touchcast - Free app on iPads and Personal Computers that can be used for flipping classrooms and leadership.
  • Kodable - a free app.
  • Edcamp Foundation - Basically, the first place you should go to if you’re interested in organizing an edcamp.
  • Queensbury Union Free School District - If you don’t have a location, you can’t have an edcamp, so it’s great that Superintendent Doug Huntley, and district technology director Matt Hladun have been so supportive of the idea. Matt will be key in choosing rooms and checking bandwidth.

We chose Saturday, October 25th 2014 as our EdcampUNY date, and then realized it was the day before SAANYS has their annual conference in Lake George. After communicating through e-mail, Karen Bronson and Michelle Hebert from SAANYS loved that our conference was the day before SAANYS. They are promoting it as the unconference before the conference, which goes to show that when we all focus on the benefits of the situation we can work through any potential issues.

In the End

As we go through the process of organizing an edcamp, we are finding issues we never considered, and support we never knew was out there. Edcamps are a way for educators to get together and learn from one another. They can include teachers, leaders, staff, parents and students. However, no edcamp can be created without a guiding team.

I hope to write about our experiences organizing an edcamp, and would love to hear from the educators who have attended one....or even better, the educators who have organized one. In the future we will be discussing promoting the event, handing out tickets, and finding ways to organize the speakers and attendees.

In a few short months, I may not have edcamp envy anymore...

Connect with Peter on Twitter.

For more about Edcamps:

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.