One of the best things that I did this year was attend a couple of Ed Camps. Before last spring I had never attended an Ed Camp or really even heard too much about them. I would see some stuff on Twitter about them but didn’t think too much about it. Luckily I had some friends ask if I wanted to go with them to one and that was all it took. That day of learning was by far the best day of learning I have had with other teachers. Standard conferences are nice but actually having time to have discussions and learn together is the key part of learning. Not to mention the people that I got to connect with in person for the first time, some I had connected with on Twitter but meeting people face to face is always key.
For those that do not know about Ed Camps, they usually follow the same guidelines. There is no set schedule ahead of time, there are no presenters and there are definitely no handouts copied before you arrive. Ed Camps usually happen on Saturdays, so the people who want to attend are the only ones there, no one forces you to go. The schedule for the day is set in the first session, people propose topics they would like to discuss and the list is created from the audience, not the people running the Ed Camp. You go to the sessions you want to go to and if that session turns out to be something you do not like, you use your feet to move to another one that you do. Twitter becomes useful at this point since you can quickly find out where the great discussions are taking place and join those groups. You will find that a lot of the educators at Ed Camps are on Twitter and the discussions can continue even after the conference thanks to that tool. One session that I really enjoyed at the last Ed Camp that I was at was titled “Rocks or Sucks”. Pretty much you had to pick whether a certain topic sucked, rocked or you could even be in the middle. You had to state reasons to support your decision and people had to take turns, this was not going to turn into a shouting match. It was a great opportunity to understand different viewpoints and find out that there was a lot of common ground, things we all could agree on. I can not wait to go to more Ed Camps, I just need more free weekends.
Now compare this to our traditional professional development that takes place at school. Most of the time you have no say in the schedule, you are forced to go, there is a single presenter who almost always has a ton of handouts for you. There is no time to go deeper into the content and definitely no time to apply what you learned. People usually do not come away feeling refreshed and energized, a lot of people come away feeling unhappy and tired.
Not all PD is bad though, many schools are trying to do differentiated PD that is focused on the actual needs teachers have. The question that many are asking though is, “what would happen if our PD was like an Ed Camp?” I would love to think that PD would be great if it was set up like an Ed Camp, but unfortunately there is a reason that Ed Camps are still not attended by whole schools. We have teachers who do not see the importance of PD or any other way to improve as a teacher. They are comfortable with where they are at and they will teach the same no matter what happens. The question I have then is, “what can we do to help those teachers?” I think a school doing its own Ed Camp is a great idea and one I hope to see happen soon. We have to remember that we are teachers, we are an important part of the learning process and we can not be afraid to learn ourselves. If we do not model what it is like to be a learner for our students, then how can we expect them to become learners and excel in our classrooms?