Life After #Edcamp: What Comes Next?

Tuesday, March 8, 20162:56 PM

This week the first every #EdcampOHS came and went. And it was awesome. Like most great conferences, it was a celebration of the great things we are doing in education and filled with inspiration and enthusiasm. But this was a new experience for my school--the first day of professional learning with full teacher choice and sessions that appeal to all educators, no matter their job title or subject area. I wrote about our planning leading up to the event in last week’s post, Making Professional Development Matter With the #Edcamp Model.

This time I’m going to follow up by reflecting on the day and what made it great. My hope is to share and hopefully inspire, and to encourage more schools to consider the #edcamp model. There’s no PD day better than sessions designed by and for educators to meet the needs of the your particular population.

Most importantly, though, I’m left with questions. What’s next? After a successful half-day of #edcamp PD, how do we capitalize on the momentum, learning, and progress? I have more questions than answers but hope you can help me by sharing your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter.

5 Keys to the Successful District #Edcamp

We worked hard, planned well, and adapted the model to meet my school’s needs. But in hindsight, here are some of the most important reasons why our day was successful.

1. Thoughtful Session Planning

Instead of the blank board edcamp approach, we asked our staff for input in designing the schedule. It was great to invite ideas and contributions from everyone and this allowed us to plan for high-interest sessions that would have the most meaning. Then, we worked to match the session ideas with facilitators.

The most important idea here is that we took the topics and found facilitators who were excited by them. We looked for the passions, successes, and challenges in our building and found the right people to facilitate discussions about them. Sometimes tech was involved in the conversation but it was only used to enhance conversations about curriculum, pedagogy, and supporting students and educators, which was our hope all along.

Having a plan in place also eased everyone’s nerves--organizers and administrators alike--since we could make to feature sessions aligned both to district initiatives and staff needs.

2. Celebrated Our Awesome

#EdcampOHS recognized teacher-leaders and celebrated the great things going on in our school and community. Instead of asking facilitators to plan or learn something new, we asked them to facilitate conversations that highlighted what they already did. The art teachers who do a lot of community outreach led a session about bringing the community into the classroom while a co-teaching pair led a discussion about co-teaching challenges and strategies.

Both of these sessions, and the 18 others, were focused on practical ideas, positivity, and impacting students. We didn’t need consultants; the expert was the room, and we were able to celebrate so many best practices, successes, and achievements in what we already do.

3. A Team Effort

From the start, we wanted to build #EdcampOHS as a collaborative effort, not just from the coaches or English teachers, but from our school community. In the end, there were 24 facilitators from every department, including classroom teachers, guidance counselors, and more. We encouraged input from the entire faculty and administration, and built an organizing team with diverse talents and interests.

This helped in brainstorming sessions that appealed to everyone and in finding sponsors, but also in building enthusiasm and awareness for the event. The Edcamp model was new but we tried to seed it well so that everyone knew to expect a different kind of professional day. All in all, this helped build community and morale, which was essential in changing culture.

4. Positivity & Enthusiasm

Speaking of morale, a focus on positivity was essential. We wanted to make sure to use sessions to address problems and challenges, but to have positive and constructive discussions. Instead of spending time complaining, we hoped to see educators find solutions to make change and impact professional practices and most of all, our students.

From the start of the day, the positivity was evident. Whether it was breakfast, t-shirts, stickers, prizes, or just good old learning, people were smiling and sharing. And honestly, this was a welcome surprise. Seeing the support of building and district administration, many of whom participated in sessions, really helped, too.

Our educators were excited about the learning and time for meaningful conversation, which unfortunately is lacking in a lot of PD. Hearing a dozen educators share in the demo slam and a handful ask why we didn’t do it more made the day even more important. #EdcampOHS brought some positivity into our world, and was a great step in changing the culture of collaboration and PD.

5. Embraced #Edcamp Culture: Food, Sponsors, and Social Media

The edtech conference culture is a special one. The idea that a conference could be filled with food, prizes, raffles, and even more food is a surprising one for many educators. For some, this model seems like the norm but without the edcamp culture and connected learning, many still think about the sit and get, sage on the sage PD models.

We went all in with this conference culture shift, embracing social media to tell our story; feeding our staff with breakfast, coffee, and snacks; and giving away almost 20 t-shirts, loads of stickers and pens, and a handful of fantastic prizes.

Educators shared on a Today’s Meet chat room, which was embedded with the schedule on our web site, and were also encouraged to give Twitter a try. Over a dozen new-to-Twitter educators became connected, and many more Tweeted throughout the day, sharing pictures, video, and learning.

What’s Next?

I love everything I wrote above. The day made me happy as an organizer, educator, and coach. It was a success, and I saw an enthusiasm and positivity for professional learning that I hadn’t seen in years. what?

How do we take advantage of this momentum, enthusiasm, and these discussions moving forward? What are the lessons we learned that can improve our PD? How do we balance the careful planning of the district calendar with the newly revealed passion for the unconference? How do we continue to move forward?

I have so many questions but only a few answers. I think I need some time to really reflect, but I wonder about how to use this day to build for the future. I’m not sure if that could mean a fall Edcamp next year, more smaller unconference opportunities, or just more teacher-led PD. I know that I want it to mean more choice, more application, and more fun, but I need to time to consider the how.

For now, here is what I know and what I’ll plan:

  • Data: We need to survey the participants about the day to learn for next time. The data might help us make more change the culture of professional development. Informal conversations or smaller focus groups might be most effective in our form-exhausted culture, but a Google form would reach a wider audience. As long as it’s clear and simple, the form will get more data.
  • Follow Up: Most weeks, we run all day Tech Tuesday drop-in PD, usually focusing on a specific tool or strategy. This week, we ran an #EdcampOHS follow up, asking people to bring their questions, ideas or inspirations related to technology post-edcamp. Let’s see how it goes. 
  • Building #PLN: The number of educators on Twitter in this building easily tripled last week, and this deserves recognition. We need some PD and informal collaboration with the teachers taking this step. I want to follow up with them and recommend uses, chats and more, as they’re ready. This is a huge step that we need to capitalize on to connect and grow. 
  • Small Wins: We need more choice and teacher voice in professional learning, but #EdcampOHS was a huge endeavor--and a huge accomplishment. Now we need to set up future successes by learning from what worked and adapting it regularly. Not every event needs to be Edcamp-level, but we need to keep moving forward. 

This is What PD Should Be

In my opening remarks, I told my colleagues that the Edcamp model is what professional development should be. I quoted the Edcamp Foundation, describing it as “Organic, participant-driven professional learning experiences created by educators, for educators.”

I hope this is the start of a shift in culture and learning, recognizing that all of us are smarter than one of us and that we all have something worth sharing. #EdcampOHS was a success, but I can’t help wonder about what comes next to make this the norm for professional learning within schools, rather than the exception.

Share your experiences with Edcamps and the unconference model in school districts. How have your or would you like to make it work for you? Share in the comments below or on Twitter!

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