If you have ever attended an edcamp you will read this post and understand. If you have never attended an edcamp the following comments may seem a bit over the top but I urge you to add attending an edcamp to your short list of experiences for 2014.
The first edcamp I attended was amazing (edcampKC 2012) and thought maybe it was just one of those magical days when everything clicks and I lucked out. Then I attended my second edcamp (edcampKC in 2013) and I had the same outstanding experience. This week I attended edcampLiberty - in Liberty, Missouri which was hosted by my school district (Liberty Public Schools) - and again had an amazing, uplifting, and "I love being an educator" experience. Three home runs in three at bats - I'm a believer and it has impacted the way in which I look at all my other professional development and the conferences I attend. To be honest, and I have heard this from many other people, it almost spoils traditional PD experiences after you attend an edcamp.
So here is my reflection after attending edcampLiberty this past weekend...
This past November multiple educators from my district attended edcampKC. Kyle Pace (@kylepace) and Laura Gilchrist (@lauragilchrist4) do an amazing job organizing edcampKC and it has to be one of the best edcamps in the country. My fellow Liberty teachers felt the same way I did about the edcamp experience - empowered and energized. Two of of our district's instructional coaches - Tracey Kracht (@lpstechmentors on Twitter) and Sara Wickham (@sara_wickham on Twitter) - had plans to host an edcamp in Liberty roughly 24 hours after attending edcampKC. Their hard work - and the work of many Liberty teachers, staff and administrators - made edcampLiberty a reality on January 11, 2014 at Liberty North High School.
EdcampLiberty had roughly 200 educators from 19 school districts in attendance. Think about that for a second. Nearly 200 teachers decided to give up an entire Saturday to discuss their passion with fellow teachers. The experience of an edcamp is invigorating. It is something you just want to bottle up and drink up on those days when you think twice about why you teach.
Here are a couple of my personal observations...
I love that edcamps are about conversations instead of an expert lecturing a room full of people. Isn't this what we want our classrooms to be like? Edcamp sessions are active, participants share ideas and talk to each other. This rarely happens at traditional conferences that I typically attend.
I love that edcamps discuss topics that are current and fresh. I recently presented at a national conference in which the proposals to present were due nine months in advance of the actual conference. As the board of sessions filled up the morning of edcampLiberty, there were teachers asking about topics they wanted to know more about for their own personal growth. Individuals who didn't wake up that morning with plans to present stepping up and putting their name down to share something they felt important enough to share with peers.
I love that the ownership on the learning is with the individual. You decide what you want to attend. You decide if you want to get up in the middle of a session and drop in on another one that interested you at that time slot. You decide if the best use of your time is visiting with a colleague in the hallway during a session.
I love that sharing is built into the DNA of edcamps. Everyone is creating Google docs to share lists of resources or books discussed in a session. People are tweeting out links, quotes, pictures and resources all day long. I know several people who attended edcampLiberty from their home and at the end of the day thanked everyone who tweeted for helping them learn from a distance. Here is Katie Ann's blog post and Brent Catlett's blog post.
Check out the Twitter stats from edcampLiberty (thanks Brent Catlett) : a total of 722 tweets from 133 contributors with over 1 million impacts and a reach of over 168,000.
I love that more and more administrators are taking part in edcamps. Liberty administrators had a huge presence at edcampLiberty and I had several great discussions with principals about some new ideas and fresh ideas for PD and courses. It was especially powerful for me to see our superintendent - John Jungmann (@JohnJungmann on Twitter) - not only attend edcampLiberty as a participant but also lead a session! Dr. Jugeman led an outstanding session on breaking down the traditional walls of education. It was one of the best edcamp sessions I have ever attended.
I love that edcamps are about learning and not about money. I'm not going to go on a rant here on this topic, it is probably more appropriately discussed at another time, but I think many educators would agree with me on this topic. Large conferences can be expensive to attend, especially if the teacher is the one responsible for finding the funding to attend. More and more of the sessions at the large conferences are presented with a corporate agenda. My edcamp experiences have been more grassroots, what works in my classroom, let's have a discuss about teaching and less "buy this product to raise your test scores".
I love that edcamps are FUN. I am as guilty as anyone else of becoming more and more defensive in the current environment as we feel we must fight off the negative backlash from mass media. I enjoy teaching and have stayed in the classroom for the past 20 years because I find it enjoyable. I have fun teaching my students. Amid the rather heavy discussion topics of standards based grading, increasing student engagement and improving community involvement in education there was also plenty of laughter on Saturday. Educators were laughing and making new friends from neighboring school districts. We had a photo booth set up in which teachers put on feathered boas, goofy hats and walked away with silly photos. At the end of the day there was a fun drawing for door prizes. One session was on "Educational Speed Dating" and another was the traditional edcamp favorite "Rocks or Sucks". We need a little more fun as teachers.
I will return to class on Monday a little energized. I will return a little more excited to try, and possibly fail and retry again, something new in my classroom. I will return with a feeling that I am working with my fellow teachers and district administrators to do something amazing to help our students learn as much as possible. I don't want to get overly dramatic but I saw a lot of people that I work with on a regular basis get really excited about education on Saturday as a result of edcampLiberty. From a variety of conversations I think that we might start to look at some new approaches to PD in our district and try some new ideas on connecting teachers.
If you've attended an edcamp you probably nodded your head in agreement on at least some of the comments above. If you haven't attended an edcamp please take advantage of one when you have the opportunity. Edcamps are happening all over the country and as well as the world on dates throughout the year and many are even filling up with waiting lists. You can check out the master list of edcamps at the edcamp wiki.