Leading for Language

This article appears in the January/February 2017 edition of Principal magazine.  All rights reserved.

English Learners: A Principal’s Handbook

Kelly Reider and Christopher Wooleyhand

Kelly Reider is coordinator for English language acquisition at Anne Arundel County Public Schools. Christopher Wooleyhand is principal of Richard Henry Lee Elementary in Glen Burnie, Maryland.

How are schools currently meeting the needs of English language learners? Let’s take a look at the numbers. From 2003 to 2011, 600,000 new English learners entered schools across the country, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The gap on the NAEP reading assessment between fourth-grade English learners and their peers is 36 points, also according to NCES. Plus, in a 2013 study, the California Dropout Research Project found that English learners are twice as likely to drop out of school than those with English proficiency. Given these concerning statistics, many educators across the country are anxious to find comprehensive ways to support English learners. These five suggestions are a starting point for schools looking to make a difference in the lives of students who are just beginning to master the English language.

Focus on developing academic language. No student is a native speaker of academic language, the vocabulary and grammar we use in school to talk about academic content. For more and more students—not just English learners—there is an increasing gap between the language that students use socially and the language of school. Even though students may be highly intelligent and capable, they may still struggle in a school setting if they have not yet mastered certain terms and concepts. Schools need to assist students with understanding the differences between “formal and informal language and how to express themselves and their ideas in expected ways,” according to The Great Schools Partnership. Principals can:

  • Work with staff to identify the academic language requirements of their curriculum and provide not only content objectives but also academic language objectives in their lesson planning.

Encourage teachers to focus on all three levels of WIDAs (World-class Instructional Design and Assessment) features of academic language: vocabulary usage, language forms and conventions, and linguistic complexity. Teachers can provide sentence frames to teach students the target language and to scaffold their use of academic language.

  • Provide opportunities for interactive speaking activities that support student-to-student practice with structure and vocabulary, since oral language development is the precursor to literacy.
  • Make academic language development a schoolwide focus. Encourage authentic and meaningful opportunities that simulate real-life learning via project based learning, communication for a purpose, and the immediate application of academic language skills. Teachers can and should model academic language daily.

Offer comprehensive professional development. “Drive-by” professional development—those one-time sessions of sharing tips and strategies—are not effective for building a lasting culture of language development. Ongoing, job-embedded programs and planning builds staff buy-in and gives teachers the time and space to improve their efforts. Principals can:

  • Encourage teachers to participate in PD about English learners that combines face-to-face sessions, coaching, modeling (live and video), team planning, and professional learning communities, as well as online formats for book studies or discussion between sessions.
  • Give teachers the freedom to choose from a variety of resources and strategies according to their personal background and skills as opposed to a “one-size-fits-all” approach
  • Provide professional development on English language development for both content teachers and English teachers. English language learners spend most of their day in mainstream classrooms.
  • Use teacher planning time to jump-start collaboration by having teams work together on classroom plans and projects.

Provide structures for ongoing collaboration and job-embedded professional development. Your English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) teacher is not just a valuable resource for students, but also a language development expert with much to share. Make it clear that you support the role of language experts. Principals can:

  • Showcase the knowledge of the ESOL teacher at staff meetings by having him or her be part of a grade-level teams and by having them take a collaborative planning role.
  • Provide opportunities for co-teaching and co-planning as a professional development tool. Content and language teachers can share their knowledge through planning and delivery.

Foster a culture that values relationships, equity, and diversity. Schools should see diversity as an asset and home language skills as an enrichment. Encourage your staff to be self-aware of the way their own background, relationships, and assumptions may interfere with relationships and learning in a diverse classroom. Principals can:

  • Use videos and/or book studies to generate conversations with your school community. Some options are: The Distance Between Us, by Reyna Grande; La Bestia, a film about a child’s journey from Central America to the United States; and Kids Like Me: Voices of the Immigrant Experience by Judith Blohm.
  • Conduct bus tours of your school neighborhoods to allow teachers the opportunity to identify available resources (churches, recreation centers, clinics, library, athletic fields). This may prompt valuable discussions on the impact of the community on student attendance and achievement.

Promote parent involvement. Research shows that one of the most accurate predictors of a student’s achievement in school, regardless of income or social status, is how a child’s family fosters learning in the home and how much they are involved in their child’s education. In their 2011 book, Home-School Relations: Working Successfully with Parents and Families, Glenn Olsen and Mary Lou Fuller found that the dilemma for many schools is how to involve parents in their children’s schooling amid language barriers, immigration status, and work schedules. Principals can:

  • Knock down barriers to English learner parents’ attending school functions by providing interpretation and translation at all parent meetings and events. Arrange child care, provide food, and offer events at different hours of the day to attract parents who work different hours or perhaps several jobs. Offer transportation to school meetings or take the meeting to the community at recreation centers or churches.
  • Create focus groups of parents to hear their concerns or needs. For schools with one large English learner community, schools can provide targeted community sessions, such as a Hispanic Parents Group, which would give ownership to parents to set their own agenda around school issues. Schools can make sure that all parents are connected to the school communications via email and phone access.
  • Encourage English learner parents to volunteer. Consider each parent’s strengths and how each can contribute in his or her own way. Many English learner parents feel uncomfortable in classrooms but are willing to help during lunch or monitor students at recess. Principals should make it clear to parents that it is natural to feel uncomfortable at first, but to stay involved. Provide a contact person that EL parents can go to for questions and concerns.

Closing the achievement gap and lowering the dropout rate must be a priority for school districts across the country. School leaders should recognize that the best strategies for English learner students are also highly effective strategies for all students. Schools that are strategic in their planning will find that the more we address the academic language needs of their English learners, the more successful all students will be. This is the essence of leading for language and the starting point to a rewarding journey.

What is test prep?

This time of the year can be challenging for teachers and school leaders.  For many schools, state testing has either begun or is about to start.  On Thursday, Maryland Elementary School Chat (#mdeschat) discussed the topic of test prep.  The responses from those participating in the chat are worth sharing and may provide some comfort and clarity to those of us preparing students for upcoming state assessments.

What is test prep?

“Test prep can be a wide range of things from interaction with the test format to building intrinsic motivation for success.” –Greg Richards @jazzmeister2013

“Test prep is the good daily teaching/learning that takes place.  It’s intentional and specific to what students need to be successful.” –Walter Reap @WalterReap

“The best test prep is meaningful content created by teachers.” –Ken Willers @21stCenPrinKW

“Test prep is embedded in daily, sound, rigorous instruction.” –Helen Mateosky @HelenMateosky

What are the challenges of preparing students for state assessments?

“For ELL students, background knowledge and vocabulary development provide challenges.” –LaRae Whitely @LaRaeWhitely

“Challenges arise when technology is used to show evidence of learning.  This holds true for many students who lack daily access.” –Helen Mateosky

“Building teacher capacity for instruction in order to exceed the rigor.” –Vanessa Gilbert @vanlynn75

More thoughts on test prep:

“Test prep shouldn’t be singular in focus.  Understanding technology, format, and content is important, but assessment should support instruction.  Instruction shouldn’t be tailored strictly to the test.” –Greg Richards

“Test prep should be about preparing students to think critically and apply skills when interacting with unfamiliar content.” –Walter Reap

“Format is important for our kids’ success, but more important is the daily teaching and learning that should be the core of our work.” –Helen Mateosky

“I would like to see the term “test prep” used less.  Students often think learning stops for test practice.” –Andrea Zamora @AACPS_Zamora

“Test prep = discussing problems with students and talking through how you would solve problems together, not practice testing.” –Randy Aleshevich @raleshevich

These words of wisdom from an awesome PLN remind us that strong instruction is the best test prep that we can provide.  Teachers who know their students, analyze data, and make instructional changes on a daily basis offer their students the best chance at success.

Views on Literacy Instruction from the Field

There are many experts on literacy, but sometimes it’s nice to hear from people who live it and breathe it every day.  Members of my PLN were asked to share their views on what should be seen and heard in a literacy focused classroom.  Here is what they said:

“What do I want to see children doing during the literacy block? Reading and writing! As much as possible, children should be digging into books, discussing them with each other, and writing about those books. The teacher should be the “guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.” In other words, teachers should slip in to offer guidance and support, then slip away to let the kids work.” -Beth Burke, principal, Shipley’s Choice Elementary

“We are focusing on “talk moves” here in PGCPS.  I love the concept of teachers explicitly teaching students through the use of anchor charts and modeling (out loud). They use turn and talk, think/pair/share, collaborative conversation protocols, pair and square talk, and an accountable talk protocol.  Students should be re-voicing, repeating, and reasoning.  All of these can take place throughout the day and across content areas!” -Walter Reap, principal, Edward M. Felegy Elementary

“I want to SEE students working on meaningful activities that correspond to the standards being taught during guided reading.  I want to HEAR students working cooperatively in some of those literacy groups to help create an engaging learning environment.  I want to HEAR students whisper reading and teachers listening to determine how to assist them become better readers.  I want to SEE teachers facilitating discussion through higher-level questioning and engaging students through purposeful talk.” -Jeff Haynie, principal, Solley Elementary

“I love to quote my reading teacher:  guided reading is learning to read, close reading is reading to learn.  It is important that teachers know the difference and the components and strategies for both.” -Donna Usewick, principal, Oakwood Elementary

“I want to SEE & HEAR children reading independently chosen books (after being provided with a lesson on how to pick a book that best fits their needs as a reader and a learner).  I want to see and hear children discussing books – sharing what they love about books and debating around books that they have shared, perhaps during guided reading lessons with the teacher.  I want to see and hear students applying whatever strategy or goal they were given based on a previous conference with the teacher.  Most importantly, children should be enjoying whatever interaction they are having with a text… whether it is reading, a response to what they’ve read, a project based on something they’ve read, or if they are applying a strategy they have learned – it should be engaging, to foster that love of reading and learning.” -Bonita Bradway, teacher, Tyler Heights Elementary

Great words of wisdom from an experienced group!  I would add that everything in a literacy block should be connected in big and small ways.  When students leave their guided reading group, they should be expected to complete independent work that will use the strategies and/or goals they are working on.  The work they complete independently should be collected and examined by the teacher to make instructional decisions at the whole-group and individual level.

In the spirit of visible learning, we must also remember to include our students in goal-setting.  Every student (some with a little teacher support) should be able to speak about what they are working on and trying to get better at.  Great literacy teachers never rest, they wake up in the middle of the night thinking about what they can do to help students make breakthroughs in reading.  Keep a notebook by your bed in case that describes you!

Managing for Success in Your Classroom

Opinions about the best classroom management practices are as varied as the teachers who use them.  Despite that variance, most agree that you have to have some sort of systematic approach to classroom expectations.  Starting the school year with a vague idea of what is acceptable behavior can make for a long and trying year.

Here are a few thoughts adapted from “The Dos and Don’ts of Classroom Management: Your 25 Best Tips” via Edutopia.  What others would you add?

Greet students at the door

When you greet students at the door it tells them that you are ready for them.  It starts their day right by reassuring them that their favorite person is in the building.

More rules doesn’t mean better behavior

Keep it simple.  Too many rules and expectations won’t be much different than none if the students can’t remember them.

Make your expectations clear from the start

Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”  If your expectations aren’t clear, repeat them.  If that doesn’t work, try rewording them.

Keep calm

There will be “those” days.  If you can keep your head on your shoulders and exude calm, your students will reflect it back.  If you don’t feel calm, act like it anyway.

Don’t take it personally when students misbehave

Battles of will are rarely won by either side.  Students need consistent responses and consequences that are free of extreme emotions.  They crave consistency despite behaviors that might suggest otherwise.

Manage transitions

Have a plan in place for any and all transitions.  That doesn’t mean every move has to be choreographed, but be thoughtful and intentional when moving around the classroom and school.

Be transparent

Routines and management shouldn’t be magic tricks that students stand in awe of.  Students should be included in the development of expectations in their classroom.  At the very least, teachers should make an effort to explain and model the reasons for the “why” behind what they expect.

Ask others for help

When all else fails, go find a colleague.  Teaching is too hard as a solo act.  Seek out a veteran or a teacher who has a similar class and ask for advice.  It could be the start of a long professional relationship.

A “Teachers’ Principal”

I had the fortune of hearing Todd Whitaker speak this week.  Two years ago I attended his keynote at NAESP in Baltimore.  His message never gets old.  Having him at our district’s leadership conference this week was a great way to bring closure to the school year and provided motivation in planning for next year.

After listening to his words of wisdom, I am even more committed to being a “teachers’ principal.”  What is a teachers’ principal and why does it matter?  The term “players’ coach” gets used often in sports.  The term generally refers to a coach who has a good relationship with his/her players.  When making decisions about their team, players’ coaches give consideration to how their choices will impact the entire team.

The analogy connects well with teaching and leadership.  Principals who apply Todd Whitaker’s advice to “make decisions based on their best teachers” are subconsciously utilizing a teachers’ principal approach to leadership.  Being a teachers’ principal is not about delegating away responsibility.  A teachers’ principal recognizes that the whole is greater than its parts.  A teachers’ principal gives great thought to each and every initiative they foster.

Teaching is arguably the best and most challenging job there is.  Principals have an immense influence on the success of their teachers and students.  Principals who get to know the strengths and needs of their staff can tailor their professional development efforts to grow each and every teacher.

Below are four pillars for planning your school’s professional development efforts.  They are adapted from the Annenberg Foundation’s 2012 report, Designing with Teachers, Participatory Approaches to Professional Development in Education.  They illustrate how school leaders can operate from a teachers’ principal perspective.

  1. Participation, not indoctrination- everyone should have a role in the professional development efforts in a school.
  2. Exploration, not prescription- PD should be individualized for teachers and specific to their content areas.
  3. Contextualization, not abstraction- PD should be practical, meaningful, and immediately useful in the classroom.
  4. Iteration, not repetition- the choices that schools make related to PD should be examined regularly and adjusted based on their success and specifically their outcomes related to student achievement.

Principals who view themselves as a “teachers’ principal” find that adult learning flourishes in an environment that uses individual strengths to build overall teaching capacity.  Thanks to Todd Whitaker for reinvigorating my commitment to being a better principal, a teachers’ principal.  It’s still June, but I’m looking forward to August already.  Let’s go!

Fostering the Standards for Mathematical Practice

Since the adoption of the Common Core Standards, many states have been working to foster math instruction that incorporates the Standards for Mathematical Practice.  These standards are viewed as the key practices that need to be in place in every math classroom, every day:

1.  Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

2.  Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

3.  Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

4.  Model with mathematics.

5.  Use appropriate tools strategically.

6.  Attend to precision.

7.  Look for and make use of structure.

8.  Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

The challenge for school leaders and teachers is understanding what these practices look and sound like in the classroom.  What do we have to do in order to foster the Standards for Mathematical Practice?  The following suggestions are gleaned from several sources (see links below) and should encourage a conversation around what effective math instruction looks like:

-Students should be talking with and interacting with each other every day.

-Math should be about real life problems, not isolated skills.

-Students need support and practice in learning how to communicate mathematical ideas.

-Manipulatives and technology should be used when they enhance understanding.

-Assessments should reflect the way math is being taught.

-Strategies to promote the practices should include giving students the answer to questions and asking them to decide what the question is; having students make up problems that meet some pre-determined criteria; and posing “What if?” questions about what might happen if a change is made to the quantity or any other aspect of a given problem.

-Students will need consistent strategies for reading problems and determining what the question is asking.

Practice number one might be our biggest challenge.  How do we get students to persevere in math?  Teachers can support perseverance through modeling and teacher talk.  A combination of practice, scaffolding, and encouragement can build a foundation for the resilience our students will need to meet success in math.

Standards for Mathematical Practice

http://www.corestandards.org/Math/Practice/

What Should I Look for in a Math Classroom?

http://www.utdanacenter.org/mathtoolkit/support/look.php

Implementing the Common Core Mathematical Practices

http://www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol8/805-parker.aspx

Tips for successful parent-teacher conferences

November is parent/teacher conference month in many school districts across the United States.  Conferences give teachers the opportunity to have a face-to-face meeting with parents and discuss student progress from the first quarter of the school year.  What should teachers remember as they prepare for conferences?  What should parents expect to learn from their conference?  I asked several principal colleagues to share their sage advice.

What is your best piece of advice for teachers as they prepare for conferences? 

Try to hear your message through the ears and hearts of the parents.  Parents send us their very best and whatever you are saying about their child you are saying about them, too. Be honest, be respectful, be kind. – Pat Keffer @psikeffer

Start with one positive, even if it seems like a stretch.  Listen to their concerns, but keep them on track. – Donna Usewick @dsusewick

Always start with a positive and don’t overwhelm parents with constructive feedback.  Pick a few things the student needs to work on (the big rocks) and focus on those items. Also, try to be specific about what they can do to positively influence the change needed. It is also helpful to provide some information about major curricular shifts within the Maryland College and Career Ready standards. – Jason Otte  @fishingfan24

I encourage teachers to have a written plan for what they want to share and be consistent with all parents – share something positive (a snapshot of their child during the school day), areas of concern, how the parent can provide support at home, and offer an opportunity for questions.  Student work should also be available for the parent to review.  Above all, it is important for the teacher to be positive and engage the parents as partners in their child’s education. – Sue Myers @SueMyers1984

Come prepared—jot down notes before the conference about the child that include positives and opportunities for growth.  While we want to celebrate all students’ successes and special traits, we want to encourage growth in all students.  Providing parents with specific strategies and areas to focus on supports student learning and pulls parents into the magic of learning. – Rachel Amstutz @rachelamstutz

Be prepared.  Make sure you know the student themselves, not just the work they do.  Rehearse what you are going to share about school wide initiatives. -Amanda Salveron @APACSalveron

What should parents expect to learn from their conference with the teacher?

Parents should understand the strengths of their child as well as the areas of need…academically and socially, and specifically how the parents can help and support. This would require an understanding of the expectations that the teacher has for the child and class, again, academically and socially. – Pat Keffer @psikeffer

Parents should have a good overall picture of progress.  Teachers need to make sure that parents know that this is 10 or 15 minute conversation and that constant communication is the key. – Donna Usewick @dsusewick

It would be my hope that parents would walk away feeling positive, with a better understanding of what specifically their child needs to work on, as well as some information about major educational shifts that could impact their child. – Jason Otte @fishingfan24

Parents should expect to learn their child’s current skill level in all academic areas as well as specific strengths and next steps.  Expect to leave with strategies to begin using immediately at home to help move your child to the next level! –Rachel Amstutz @rachelamstutz

Parents should learn about what the teacher is doing to meet the needs of their individual student.  They should also learn how they can be supportive of their student at home. – Amanda Salveron @APACSalveron

Conferences can be a stressful event for parents.  Here are some final tips to help reduce anxiety as parents prepare for their conference:

• Ask your child if there is anything that s/he would like you to discuss with the teacher
• Jot down notes on what you would like to discuss at the conference
• Arrive promptly or a few minutes early
• Begin with positive comments about the teacher or classroom
• Be open-minded to suggestions from the teacher
• Take notes about what is discussed to share with your child
• Express appreciation for the conference
• Keep to the allotted amount of time

 

Thanks to my awesome PLN for providing great advice about parent-teacher conferences!

 

The Supportive Role of Pupil Personnel Workers

One of my favorite educators, Debbie Wooleyhand, is guest hosting #mdeschat this Thursday.  I interviewed her from the other end of our couch to find out more about the role of pupil personnel workers.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a wife and mother of two children, one in college @LukeWooleyhand and one a senior in high school (not into social media).  I have worked in the same school system for 32 years and graduated high school from that same school system.  I started as a kindergarten teacher and worked in various positions leading me to the position of coordinator of pupil personnel.  The one constant throughout my career has been my passion to support families to ensure student success, especially our youngest learners.

As coordinator for pupil personnel services in a large school district, what is your mission and vision related to supporting schools?

The vision of the department of pupil personnel is to promote safety, equity, and academic achievement by building bridges between the home, the school and the community.

Our mission is to motivate, prepare and empower all students to become successful, contributing citizens.

What are the key skills pupil personnel workers need today?

Pupil personnel workers (PPW) serve a unique role. They are social workers and truant officers.Given the challenges many families face, PPWs must be able to collaborate with school leaders, agencies, institutions and parents because student needs must be met by the home, school and community.  Key abilities of PPWs include effective interpersonal communication skills, as well as knowledge of federal, state, and local policies and procedures.  PPWs must conscientiously fulfill professional commitments made to students, parents, school staff, and other colleagues and exhibit values that support the achievement of all students.

How do pupil personnel workers address students and families with attendance concerns?

PPWs serve as members of a school-based team that discusses various student issues including attendance.  While schools take a proactive approach to attendance concerns, the PPW becomes involved when the school has exhausted options.  PPWs typically conference with the student and parent to identify causes of excessive absences.  We can refer cases to the State’s Attorney’s Office and/or the Department of Juvenile Services.  We work with school staff to identify the root causes of excessive absences and put a plan in place to encourage daily attendance.  Ultimately, the PPW can file criminal charges against parents for failure to send their child(ren) to school.

What are some of the responsibilities that fall under your office?

The Office of Pupil Personnel processes special enrollments involving custody issues such as kinship or hardship, which is when a child is living with someone other than a parent or legal guardian.  We also address attendance concerns, handle residency investigations, enroll students experiencing homelessness, facilitate section 504 services, and process out-of-area transfer requests.

How do you see the role of pupil personnel worker changing in the future?

Currently, PPWs are assigned to specific schools. Given the increasing complexity of student enrollment and mobility of families, we are moving toward a team approach in which PPWs are assigned to a group of schools instead of specific schools.  For example, a cluster of schools made up of a high school, 2 middle schools and 6-8 elementary schools would be able to access a team of PPWs to assist with residency, custody, attendance and homeless enrollment. By working as a team, schools will have access to a group of individuals with a set of skills and knowledge of the families.  This should greatly increase their ability to step in and provide assistance.

Thanks, Debbie, your vision for pupil personnel services should mean great things for our schools!

Five Thoughts on Student Engagement

Teachers naturally want their students to be engaged in the instruction they provide.  They want their students to be personally absorbed in the learning process.  The “how” of engagement can be challenging, even for experienced teachers.  Planning for active student engagement requires meticulous preparation and thought.  Most of all, it requires that teachers truly know each and every one of their students.

Teachers who know the strengths and needs of their students use that knowledge to raise the potential of their success.  They put their students in learning situations where the rewards are high and the risks of failure are low.  They don’t try to manipulate the end result, but they narrow the number of potential outcomes.

Here are five thoughts on how teachers can increase student engagement:

1. Have them teach each other.

See how high the level of focus goes when students are told that they will be teaching a new concept to their classmates.  It’s not about the fear factor, but students certainly become more engaged in classrooms that include opportunities for them to teach each other.  Of course, it has to be genuine, not contrived.  While this approach may take more time, it leads to greater retention of the material and deeper understanding of the concepts.

2Assign authentic tasks with meaningful final projects.

Students are quickly motivated when their learning is related to topics they are passionate about.  In turn, passionate teachers can easily motivate their students by selecting lessons that focus on real-life problems and issues.  The final projects associated with problem-based learning should be meaningful.  The simplest question teachers should ask before determining the focus of an investigation is, “Who will we share what we’ve learned with and how will we do it?”

3. Promote working together.

While it may be hard to know what careers we are preparing students for, we can assume that collaboration will be a key skill for their success.  Students need training in how to work with others.  It is not a natural talent.  Consistent structures and practices lead to collaboration that flows and seems natural.  Teachers can begin with highly controlled practices and, as students assume more independence, they can exercise a gradual release of responsibility.

4. Incorporate technology.

The modern teacher has many choices when it comes to using technology as a teaching tool.  Teachers must become comfortable with learning about technology alongside their students.  Blogging, file sharing, digital media, digital citizenship, PBL, Genius Hour, maker movement, curation and many more terms have made their way into the current educational lexicon.  Start investigating the newest technology.  If you don’t, you can bet your students will.

5Get students moving.

Students should be sitting as little as possible during the school day.  If your students aren’t moving every fifteen minutes, they probably aren’t learning as much as you want them to.  Brain-based research has clearly linked the role of movement in learning.  Where does the blood pool when you’re sitting for long stretches of time?  You can bet it’s not in the brain.  Movement breaks and physical activity re-awaken the brain’s synapses and make students available for new learning.  So, get moving!

Top Five Reasons to Attend an Edcamp

Edcamp Baltimore will be held at Johns Hopkins University-Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy on Saturday, September 27th.  Edcamps are cropping up all over the United States as viable alternatives to traditional education conferences.

What is an edcamp?  While you can find many answers with a quick internet search, you have to attend one to truly understand their value.  Here are my top five reasons for attending an edcamp.  Are there any that you would add?

1.     For Educators, By Educators

Edcamps are conferences developed by educators for educators.  Have you ever attended a conference and found that the content was lacking?  Edcamps reduce the chances of that happening.  Edcamp attendees tend to have common interests around the best teaching and learning practices.  You’ll get tips that you can use immediately back at your school.

2.     Agenda Created by the Attendees

The agenda for an edcamp is created on the spot.  There are no pre-planned programs and usually no keynote speakers.  Edcamp sessions are proposed by those who attend.  You can propose a session on a topic that you would like to learn more about and see if anyone in attendance has expertise in that area.  You can also propose a session on a topic that you would like to lead.

3.     They’re Free, But You Can Buy Lunch and Cool t-shirts

Nothing beats free!  You can spend an entire day with little or no cost to your bank account.  Most edcamps offer lunch, if you need it, and who doesn’t want a cool edcamp t-shirt to show off to their colleagues!

4.     You’ll Grow Your Personal Learning Network

As strong as our colleagues may be, educators can only benefit from connecting with those outside their usual travels.  Edcamps can be springboards for professional growth.  Through social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) we can find the creative teaching ideas that flow from a highly motivated group of learners.  Many edcamp participants backchannel their learning by tweeting out ideas and resources using the edcamp’s hashtag (#edcampbmore).  If you can’t attend an edcamp, find a hashtag to follow!

5.     The Model Easily Translates to School-based PD

The edcamp model is quickly becoming a professional development alternative that can be used at the school level.  Many schools are running their own versions of edcamps to promote the value of learning from each other.  Teachers enjoy and benefit professionally when they learn from their peers.  Our schools are full of teachers who want to contribute to the success of their schools.  Edcamps give them that opportunity.