Extending the Edcamp Philosophy to School-based PD

I recently attended EdCampBmore at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. This was a wonderfully organized and attended event.  There were educators from Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and even New Hampshire in attendance.  These committed professionals gave up a Saturday to share their expertise with like-minded peers.

If you are unfamiliar with the edcamp philosophy, the following explanation appears on edcampbmore’s website:

“An unconference is an open, participant-driven conference. The content is proposed and provided by the participants, and is often determined on the day of the event. This style of learning is not new. It stems from the model of barcamps, which were originally focused on software, web applications, and open source technology. Unconferences rely heavily on the passions and interests of the participants. Because of this, unconferences have become an extremely popular form of professional development.”

The website also includes this table that explains the differences between traditional conferences and edcamps:

Conference vs Edcamp

Baltimore’s edcamp was organized by Shannon Montague (@montysays), Molly Smith(@historyfriend), Jenna Shaw (@teachbaltshaw), Jen Filosa (@jafilosa), Chris Shriver (@ccshriver), and Margaret Roth (@teachingdaisy).  These amazing ladies pulled together the resources to provide an exceptional professional development experience for those in attendance.

The range of topics covered included:

  • flipping professional development
  • project-based learning
  • school leadership
  • chromebooks
  • student behavior
  • standards-based grading
  • school culture
  • social media community building
  • CCSS
  • early childhood technology
  • blended classrooms
  • engaging students through gaming
  • genius hour
  • STEAM/STEM
  • maker spaces
  • the role of the school counselor
  • student entrepreneurship
  • thinning the classroom walls

I had trouble getting to sleep that evening because it occurred to me that the edcamp philosophy could easily be translated to school-level professional development.  As a firm believer in the collective intelligence of schools, it concerns me that we don’t always tap into the knowledge of the teachers in our buildings.  In fact, one of the most popular forms of PD over the past 30 years has been the use of outside experts to train teachers in the pedagogy du jour.

The edcamp philosophy eschews this approach in favor of professional development that is created by, and shared with, those working in the field.  Our teachers have interests and strengths that can be enhanced when they are given opportunities to discuss their practices.  So much of the time that we give teachers for planning is taken by the functional aspects of teaching.  Very little of it is spent in fostering creativity and improving the profession.

The edcamp approach to professional development could be a great way to inject excitement back into the profession.  How much stronger could our schools become if the teachers in the building were given the chance to share their knowledge with their peers in deep and meaningful ways?  I don’t know the exact answer, but I plan to find out.  Don’t tell my teachers, but we’re about to plan our first school-based edcamp.  Now I’ll never get to sleep!

6 Comments
  1. That is one lucky school! Baltimore’s edcamp was my first experience, and I too thought how can we do this with our staff. You are right about tapping into the expertise of colleagues. They have limited opportunities to learn from each other and often feel that PD is not meeting their needs. Please let us know how your school-based edcamp turns out!

  2. I agree with you! I attended my first edcamp in Sandwich, MA over the summer, and I left thinking the same thing. A day full of relevant and inspiring conversation and learning with people from all over. I think the people planning the PD need to experience a day like that in order to appreciate all that is outline in the chart you included with your post.

  3. I didn’t attend the conference, but from what Chris has said about it and from looking at the chart above, I agree that teachers need more time to have these collaborative discussions in a relaxed atmosphere! I’m looking forward to it in January!

  4. Hi Chris.

    I know exactly how you feel. Did the same thing you did, had the same feelings you had, and the same thoughts and aspirations in reflection that you’re having. I implemented with my staff shortly thereafter, and you can read about it here: http://connectedprincipals.com/archives/47. I would be happy to share with you, or if you’ve already implemented yours I would love to hear about it and learn how to further improve the experience for my staff.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Sam

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