Thanks for the EdCamp

Edcamp

It starts with markers and butcher paper. And curiousity. And willingness to share.

I participated in EdCampSWOK (Southwest Oklahoma, for those who do not recognize SWOK) yesterday. After donuts and visiting with folks we don’t see often enough and meeting a few people we hadn’t met yet, the organizers described what we would be doing. I was pretty familiar with the un-conference style of an EdCamp, having finally attending one in Moore last spring, but this was the first in our area that I am aware of. Many of these educators, both current and future, were new to the concept.

Big butcher paper squares were hung around the walls of the conference room in the CETES building at Cameron University, with markers on the floor beneath. Each sheet represented a room in Nance-Boyer, just next to CETES. The sheets were divided into four time slots with room to scribble in a topic. Our duty as un-conference attendees was to write in either what we were interested in hearing about or what we were capable of sharing about.

It was a rather slow start as folks were unsure about what kinds of things to put in. Twitter was added – a popular topic – as was Google Classroom, ELL strategies, MakerSpaces and both ELA and math standards conversations. My English teacher friend and I made our way to some empty sheets and added things we wanted to talk about: reluctant readers, teaching writing, and then I added blogging. The pages were never completely filled, but there were enough offerings that each time slot had 4-9 sessions going.

Attending the sessions was at first a little awkward in some cases. This is mostly because so many were unsure of the format. There isn’t really a leader; it’s just a conversation. However, once conversation did get started, it generally took off and good ideas were shared and jotted down. I picked up something new from each session I attended.

Another cool thing about EdCamps is that you are never expected to stay in a session if you find it’s not what you need or if, as in my case, you need something from another session at the same time. Twice I needed to divide my time because I couldn’t clone myself. It’s cool. That’s the way it operates.

At the end of the day, we gathered again in CETES. The organizers shared some more words of wisdom and they drew for prizes. Many folks are happy to donate to teacher gatherings such as EdCamps. If teachers cannot be recognized in pay and benefits for the hard work they do, this is one good opportunity for individuals and businesses to show they care. Prizes included books and certificates and gift cards.

But wait. How did those books, certificates and gift cards happen to be donated for giveaways? And, come to think, where did the donuts, water bottles and cookies come from? And how did those rooms at Cameron just happen to be available on Feb 6? And how did people from Duncan, Lawton, Clinton, Cache and scores of other places know to come on the appointed day?

Organizers, that’s how. Volunteers.

EdCamp is such a wonderful concept, and one of the wonders of it is that it’s FREE. I once had a college instructor who told us at the beginning of the semester, “Ain’t nothing free. The best you can do is get someone else to pay.” And that’s the truth.

People who love EdCamps and love their areas and the teachers they work with wanted to bring this un-conference to our southwest Oklahoma, so they got together and made it happen. They’d been to several, knew what was involved, divided tasks and conquered, and we owe them a lot of thanks.

My friend Derrick Miller, my journalism counterpart at the middle school, did a lot of work on it, but the main organizer was Vanessa Perez, who I’d met through Twitter when she worked at Lawton Eisenhower. She now works for Clinton Public Schools. And she’s a fireball. In the introduction, she shared that EdCamps came around when teachers would gather at the bars after REAL professional development (I actually use the term ‘real’ rather loosely, as anyone who’s had to endure professional development that doesn’t fit knows that ‘real’ is relative). As they critiqued their PD of the day, they got around to discussing things they REALLY wanted to discuss. Thus the un-conference was born.

Perez and Miller were two among several, and I didn’t catch all their names, but I added a couple to follow on Twitter or by blog yesterday: Sarah Bruehl and Shanna Mellott. For the ones I didn’t catch names for, I apologize.

These people set up the event on Eventbrite and promoted it through social media and word of mouth. They scheduled and reserved spaces. They contacted people and businesses to sponsor. The created and printed materials for the event and setup with tables, chairs, that butcher paper and markers, downloaded software to ‘read’ the tickets as educators checked in, established a hashtag to use – there is probably no end to the little things done that we, as attendees take for granted. I really appreciate the work they went to to make it a successful event.

And I’m looking forward to our district’s imitation of Edcamp coming up next week. Though I don’t believe they’ve opened it up to people outside our district, for our own professional development day, our leaders have decided to model our PD on EdCamp. It’s true they’ve already penciled in most of the sessions, but we’re going 1:1 with Chromebooks next year and they really want our faculty to focus on the particular learning that they’ll need to make this successful with the students. There are, I understand, a few open slots for us to add session ideas. I’m looking forward to the day, and I think it will be successful as it gives us much more flexibility than we usually have on such days.

Again, kudos to organizers for all that they do!

If you were in charge of a PD day in your district, how would you design it?

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About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

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