EdCamp is the best thing to happen to professional learning since the spoken word. Period. Yesterday, March 21, 2015, this was evident at Grafton High School in Grafton, MA. EdCamp Grafton opened their doors at 8:00 am Saturday morning and by 8:30, our commons area was bustling with conversation. Educators from all over the New England area came together on a Saturday morning to attend a conference with no schedule, no keynote speaker, no session descriptions, and no vendor tables filled with schwag. By the time attendees gathered in the Grafton high auditorium, we had checked in over 200 educators. Oh, and on this second day of Spring, it had snowed lightly all through the evening and into the morning. Just in case you needed anymore evidence for the powerful impact of the EdCamp movement.
We kicked off the event with an introduction and welcome by Cyndy Engvall. She shared her appreciation and thanks for everyone sitting in front of her as well as her appreciation for all the EdCamp Grafton organizers. After she handed me the microphone, I asked how many in attendance were first time EdCampers. Nearly every hand in the audience went up. I briefly explained the EdCamp format and how we were going to build the schedule. I also explained that if you find yourself in a session that isn’t working for you, or you find yourself unable to choose between sessions that it is ok to move between sessions. I close my time with the mic by thanking all of those in attendance on behalf of their students.
And this we only the first few hours. I walked away from EdCamp Grafton with several great ideas, quotes, and a variety of stories that I hope to articulate in this piece.
One of the highlights of the day for me, and for many in attendance were the student support throughout the day. Grafton High School had roughly 25 students on hand for the day who also spent numerous hours before the event helping prepare and setup. Students served as ambassadors for Grafton Public Schools and not only welcomed all who attended, but provided tech support throughout the day, presented in a session, and hosted a social media booth that helped educators navigate towards their first Tweet.
We also took our schedule building to a new design unlike past EdCamps. Taking a cue from EdCamp Maine, we decided to scrap the post it notes and go completely digital. We also changed the way we built the schedule and described sessions. We also had a “Help Wanted” board where attendees could
physically post ideas to a wall that they did not want to present, but wanted to see addressed as a session. To build the schedule we had five EdCamp Organizers posted at high top tables around the auditorium with editing access to our Google sheet schedule. Attendees who wanted to present moved around to these tables and relayed their session ideas. As this was happening, all participants could see the schedule being built on the big screen in front of the auditorium. Additionally, we only built the first two time slots in the morning schedule and then would repeat this process in the afternoon. Once the sessions were created and all the time slots filled, we asked session leaders to briefly describe their session. This helped further articulate what the session would cover and help attendees select the best session for their learning.
Initially, I was both skeptical and nostalgic about making these changes to the traditional EdCamp schedule building, but I have since resigned those feelings after seeing how it impacted the day. Additionally, Alice Barr, an EdCamp Maine organizer and one of the coolest people I know, shed some light on the impetus behind these changes that helped me see the good reasoning behind it. Ultimately, the EdCamp board can be intimidating to some and those who have never experienced an EdCamp. Allowing participants to not only talk to an organizer and not feel they are being publicly displayed helped more new EdCampers jump in and lead a session. Similarly, this new way of building the EdCamp schedule helped attendees bounce an idea off of an EdCamp veteran and feel more comfortable in their decision to lead a session.
I tried to attend as many sessions as possible throughout the day. This was evidenced by the numbers on my pedometer at the end of the day that said I had walked roughly 4 miles during EdCamp Grafton. What I witnessed was a variety of formats: conversations, demonstrations, debates, etc. Additionally, I noticed several themes throughout the day, but the one theme that stood out more than others was “innovation and design in our classrooms”. And, I’m not talking about technology at all. Rather, I’m referring to old educational policies and standards that are in dire need change.
There was a conversation based around the book, Teach like a Pirate. Educators gathered in this session and talked about ways to reinvigorate their passion for teaching and discussed ways to engage students actively in their learning. There was a session on shredding the gradebook that discussed ways to destigmatize grades and shift student drive from pursuit of a letter or number, to owning their learning and being proud of the outcomes. There was a student panel of Grafton High School students that shared how being a student in 1:1 iPad high school is more about engaging in a culture of empathy and kindness for each other rather than any app or device. There was a session about student apathy and disconnectedness from learning. Educators shared strategies for re-engaging students and forging relationships with students that help engage them in their learning. And I could go on for several more paragraphs on all of the amazing discussions that occurred today at EdCamp Grafton.
EdCamp Grafton ended in a slightly different way than the typical “App Smackdown” conclusion. We thanked all who attended, presented and shared throughout the day. Additionally, in place of the App Smackdown we simply asked, “How Will Your Learning Today Change Your Monday?”. Attendees raised their hands and we scurried up to them with microphones. Several participants shared how what they learned today would impact their teaching and their classrooms next week. New ideas blossomed from all around the room and provided everyone with an abridged version of nearly every session held at EdCamp Grafton.
On Saturday, EdCamp Grafton was about educator voice. An EdCamp model is what educators want out of their professional learning. Not just one day of it, but consistent conversations around themes and ideas that help improve their practice and ultimately provide a better learning experience for the students they teach. EdCamp is not about “App Smashing” or technology. EdCamp is not an organized forum for educators to complain about policy. Put simply, EdCamp is an invigorating refresh for educators’ passion. Passion that has always been there, but interrupted by disingenuous educational policy.
Like the spoken word, the EdCamp model will endure and hopefully become the standard paradigm by which districts integrate professional learning. My hope is that we don’t need to attend an EdCamp in the future, rather, it simply becomes the standard professional learning model that every teacher experiences throughout his or her career.