Wednesday, April 20, 2016

EdCamp- Turning Teacher Professional Development Upside Down

It is a common refrain.  You are sitting in a professional development session that the district required you to attend.  The presenter stands in the front of the room droning on about the latest changes to the student information system (SIS) or the resources that came with the newly adopted textbook series.  Maybe there are some text-filled PowerPoint slides glowing on the screen behind her.  You wish you were anywhere but here.

There may be several reasons for the way you feel.  Maybe it is because you piloted the SIS and you already know all of the information being shared.  But you wish there was a way to speak with someone that had been using the system for a few years to ask them how to handle more advanced tasks.  But instead you keep looking forward, pretending to pay attention while slowly becoming more and more frustrated that your time is being wasted.  You want to walk out.  But you can't do that.  The principal is sitting right there.  Of course, he is not paying attention to the speaker either because he, too, has already mastered today's content.

Suddenly, it hits you.  Have you become that teacher?  You know, the one that always complains when a staff meeting or professional development activity is announced.  The one that is still presenting the lessons they created twelve years ago and doing so the exact same way they were presented originally.  The one that the kids dread.

But you know that it isn't true.  You love learning and trying new ways of teaching.  You were up last night until the wee hours of the morning pinning bulletin board ideas on Pinterest.  You participated in two different online chats about formative assessment last week.  You spent hours this past weekend designing a new online activity for your students because they just didn't seem to be as engaged in math as they were the previous week.  So why do you feel this way?

It is probably because you are being forced to sit through a session that will not benefit you.  Maybe it is because you have already mastered the content or possibly it is because it doesn't even apply to your subject area (but is, never the less, required by the administration).  In either case, the problem is choice.  The lack of choice is probably a better description.

With all the talk of differentiation and personalization of learning that garners so much attention in regards to students, many administrators have yet to make the connection that this also applies to teacher professional learning.  Yes, of course, there are some topics that must be mandated for all teachers.  But these should be limited to policy and legal updates.  And even these could also be presented in a blended format to reduce teacher "seat time."

But what if administrators gave teachers voice and choice (two of the core principles of Project-based Learning so commonly promoted for students)?  Too hard to manage?  They wouldn't do it?  I have to disagree and I have some evidence to back me up.

Just over 6 years ago in Philadelphia, a movement started that is sweeping the education world by simply giving teachers voice and choice in their professional development.  EdCamp is an "unconference" movement that is based on teachers choosing the learning that they want to participate in and feel they need.  Almost always held on a Saturday or during the summer break, EdCamps are organized by teams of education leaders.  Everyone is invited and very few things are formally planned.  On the morning of the event, a blank session board is opened up to the participants.  Do you want to share a great strategy that you use for online assessment?  Put it on the board.  At the assigned place and time, you will be able to facilitate a conversation about your strategy, sharing it with others that are interested and hearing how they have done similar things. Don't know much about digital portfolios but want to learn more? Put it on the board.  The participants that show up may have experience with portfolios and will be great resources.

Oh, and if you sit down in a session but quickly realize that it isn't what you wanted or needed, the EdCamp model encourages you to get up and head to a different session.  It is all about what is best for you.

Are you ready to take charge of your learning?  Head over to the EdCamp Foundation website and check the map for an upcoming Edcamp near you.  Or better yet, come join us in Alabama.  There are at least a half a dozen EdCamps each year, including the inaugural EdCamp Lake Eufaula of which I am a member of the planning team.  This event will be held on a Friday in July and provides a great chance for you to attend a valuable professional development activity and then stay the weekend at beautiful LakePoint State Park.

Learn more about how attending an EdCamp can make a difference in your professional practice by viewing the EdCamp video below.

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