The dog days of another Seattle summer will soon be over. The bicycles and sand toys will be tucked safely away in the garage for next year and the Gortex jackets stuffed in the back of the closet will reappear as another school year begins. So, why did I drive 150 miles to voluntarily attend a day of professional development in an elementary school in a Portland suburb on a sunny summer Saturday instead of spending the day at the beach?
After all, I had recently suffered death by PowerPoint lecture from well-intentioned presenters when I had traveled across the country to attend a conference only a few weeks back. But the truth is, I’d been singing the PD blues for a while. Given all that educators know about learning, why does really powerful professional development for teachers seem so elusive?
Over the past year, I started hearing about the Edcamp movement, a participant led one-day conference and I was intrigued. Unlike traditional conferences, Edcamps are loosely organized, and cost nothing. There are no PowerPoint presentations or keynote speakers. As a Type A personality who thrives on schedules and values preparation, it was hard for me to imagine how such a loosely structured day could lead to high levels of learning.
Here is how my day at Edcamp Portland went. The schedule and topics for three breakout sessions were collaboratively organized on the morning of the event. Anyone could to suggest and lead learning around a topic. Most participants were teachers. Before the first session started, one of the organizers gave the briefest of welcome addresses, and led a quick activity for everyone to get to know each other. This initial activity was not just fluff. It was key to establishing relationships with those who would engage in discussions together throughout the day.
Each presenter (who was really more like a facilitator) took a few minutes to pitch the first session. Although this was not a conference explicitly centered around the Common Core, the topic came up in just about every session I attended as participants talked about powerful learning strategies to help students reach new, rigorous standards. The topics were as diverse as the participants themselves. Here is just a sampling of the breakouts:
- Race and Identity
- Flipped Learning
- Genius Hour
- Creating a Culture of Voluntary PD
Edcamps exemplify the principle of teachers taking control of their own learning. Crowdsourcing the content and the expectation that participants share as much as the presenters leads to high levels of meaningful engagement. Edcamp is governed by “the law of two feet.” If a session isn’t working for you, the protocol is to get up and leave at any time and find a different session. The goal is learning.
Thank you Edcamp Portland for demonstrating the powerful motivation of learner driven PD.
For more about Edcamp, check out this article from Educational Leadership.