What the heck is edcamp?!?! Until recently, I didn’t know either. I hadn’t even heard the word until a month or two ago. This past Saturday, I was among hundreds of educators that drove into Madison, WI to share ideas, make connections, and celebrate learning. It was truly a memorable day. I left my house with a friend at about 5:30 that morning and made the trek to Madison from north central Illinois. My honest first thought was, “Why the heck did I get up at 5:00 on a Saturday morning?” but after a couple of wrong turns (a guarantee if you go anywhere with me, even if you have GPS) we arrived at Sun Prairie High School for our first edcamp.
The first thing that hit me about edcamp was the energy of the room. It sounds hard to believe at 8:00 on a cold Saturday morning in February, but I would compare the atmosphere and feeling to a rock concert. People were buzzing with anticipation like they were awaiting their favorite band to take the stage. I quickly found people who I knew from twitter and introduced myself. We started the day with coffee and great conversation. It felt like getting together with old friends although this was the first time we had met in person.
Before long, we filtered into the auditorium and edcamp began. Although no sessions were planned ahead of time, a long line of people came down to the microphone and started to propose sessions they would like to lead. Some were people who probably presented on a regular basis, others were just people who wanted to start a conversation on a certain topic. Sessions were placed into available rooms and set time slots and a google doc was shared with all the participants to see the schedule. Check out our session schedule here. As new ideas came up during the day, the schedule was updated and all of us continued to seek out the conversations and learning that interested us the most. We were encouraged to “vote with our feet” and bounce from session to session if needed to have the best experience learning possible. There were so many great session ideas it was hard to choose. As a hopeless education nerd, I was like a kid in a candy store. My first session was chosen mostly on my ability to find one of the rooms in the huge high school we were in (my lack of direction sense again) and although there were four 1 hour sessions scheduled, I participated in 7 or 8. The day flew by and was filled with good conversations, good ideas, and making new friends.
So, is edcamp worth being crazy enough to give up a Saturday and forge into the unknown? YES!!!!! What did I learn or take away? Although edcamp generally has a heavy technology focus, and I came away with some cool tech tips and tricks, my biggest takeaways weren’t related to technology at all. Here are my biggest 3:
1.There are a lot of awesome educators out there willing to do whatever it takes for students to be successful
One of the most discouraging things to me as an educator that I reflected on in an earlier post has been my experience that many educators are not truly passionate about learning. As I sat in the auditorium at Sun Prarie looking out at all the smiling, excited faces, I realized that tide is turning. It is easy to become complacent in our careers, but being around great and passionate educators raises the bar and inspires me to continue to move forward learning and growing myself. I definitely felt some extra spring in my step leaving edcamp!
2.We all have something valuable to share
I sat in sessions with educators I look up to and would easily have spent hundreds of dollars to see at a professional conference, but had the opportunity to collaborate with them and ask questions of them at a free edcamp. Additionally, through the power of twitter, I can continue that conversation long after edcamp is over. What stuck out to me the most though was that after one of the sessions, someone excitedly approached me and said they would love to hear more about what our school is doing. The concept that I could help a student somewhere in Wisconsin, Iowa, or beyond with an idea I shared with their teacher or principal is so cool! I believe that to be a great educator, your influence should extend beyond your classroom and it is exciting to think that the same idea could apply to extending influence even beyond the walls of your school or state! Maybe I’ll even be brave enough to propose a session at an edcamp down the road.
3.We need to change how we think of professional development
The conference was wonderfully organized, smoothly run, and filled with great opportunities for learning and collaboration, but I knew that I was ultimately responsible for my own learning. I bounced from session to session finding the conversations that suited me the best, determined to make the most out of the day. As edcamp concluded, I wondered how I can apply this idea back at my school. As I reflect, I realize that me sitting somewhere with a group of administrators trying to plan 100% of professional development that meets 70-80 people’s diverse individual needs is just plain silly. Some principals I met are already putting on “edcamp” style inservices for the teachers in their building. I still have some more thinking to do on how it could work in our school. Jay Posick describes how he is making it work in his post here.
Have you attended an Edcamp? What did you take away? Are you curious about Edcamp? Take the plunge! You won’t be sorry you did!
P.S. Thank you Jess, Tom, Naomi, Pernille, Emily, Phil, Kaye, and all others who made this day possible! From Joey your neighbor to the south.
For more resources on edcamps or to look for one in your area, look here!