Education Opinion

Transforming Professional Learning with Teacher-Led EdCamps

By Justin Reich — May 19, 2012 3 min read
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Today, over 300 educators will be gathering at the University of Pennsylvania for a day of sharing and learning, camaraderie and laughter, and deep reflection about the art of teaching and the future of education. There will be no keynotes, no vendors, and no authoritative or authoritarian leaders telling teachers what they should learn or how they should change. Instead, these educators will come together, develop a schedule on the spot, and they will work together through the day to develop their craft, their community, and their profession. Today, is the third annual EdCampPhilly.

The EdCamp phenomena is one of the most inspiring stories from the education field in the last few years, and it is a story that you’ve probably never heard of. In 2009, a group of teachers in Philly, who were connected by social media but had never met, attended a BarCamp event in Philadelphia. BarCamps are “unconferences,” where people (usually hacker types) get together for a day of learning and sharing with no preset agenda. Instead, participants co-construct an agenda at the beginning of the day—proposing sessions, declaring interests, consolidating groups—and then carry that agenda throughout the day. The Philly teachers instantly realized the format would be a powerful way to connect educators together and let them learn and share from one another. Seven months later, in May 2010, the first EdCampPhilly was held.

In the years since, EdCamp has become an international phenomena, supported by a strong community of networked teachers and fabulous leadership from the newly formed EdCamp Foundation. There have been over 100 EdCamps on three continents, each one following a few core principles: EdCamps are free and non-commercial, organized at the event, inclusive of all participants as presenters, and committed to the “law of two feet,” where every person moves to the space where they have the most to learn. Many teachers who join an EdCamp call it the best professional development that they have ever attended.

What makes EdCamp so special? Teaching is so often a lonely profession. Social networking tools play a powerful role in building teacher learning networks, but educators still yearn for the chance to gather face to face to polish their craft. Teachers are willing to devote a Saturday to meeting teachers in their Twitter network, finding new friends, and spending a day reflecting on their successes and challenges and charting the future of teaching. Its an example of the interest-driven, peer-supported, connected learning that research has shown to be powerful in our networked age. .

Moreover, so much of the professional development in schools today is poorly constructed, sometimes even insulting to educators: mandatory lectures that are pedantic, repetitive, irrelevant and often all three. Teachers find their institutional talent development programs demoralizing. Let that fact sink in for a minute. (Quick shout out to the thoughtful educators and administrators out there who are partnering with teachers in creating high quality school and district PD programs. You go. It’s not all bleak out there, but nationally, it’s not what our educators deserve.)

By contrast, educators find EdCamps refreshing, meaningful, networked, germane, and inspiring. EdCamps represent the very best of our profession: a fraternity of educators deeply committed to students, to learning, and to the future of our local and global communities.

To those of you who can’t make it to EdCampPhilly today, I’d encourage you to join me in following the #EdCampPhilly hashtag to keep an eye on what people are thinking, sharing and learning. And for those of you who haven’t been an EdCamp yet, I strongly encourage you to look at the upcoming calendar. If there is one nearby, sign up! If there isn’t, start one. The EdCamp Foundation will offer plenty of help.

And to my colleagues down at the University of Pennsylvania today, I hope that you have a productive, inspiring, fabulous day. I’m deeply grateful to you for being there; for living out your commitment to your students and to our profession. You are part of the most hopeful movement in education today.

For regular updates, follow me on Twitter at @bjfr and for my papers, presentations and so forth, visit EdTechResearcher.

P.S. If anyone attending an EdCamp ever wants to guest blog their highlights on this space, please get in touch; I’d love to have you.

The opinions expressed in EdTech Researcher 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.