It’s not ALL bad on the education-in-the-news front! This is the education story that the media is missing: teachers who love their jobs and their students and are actively investing in their own professional development.
EdCamp NYC was held this past Saturday at The School at Columbia University. It was just one of many EdCamp events spreading across the U.S. and Canada: free, participant-driven unconferences. The goal? Meaningful, differentiated professional development (read: PD that doesn’t put you to sleep.)
An unconference is structured, but informal. At EdCamps, participants can suggest topics they’d like to talk about using the wish board. Sessions are determined collaboratively and the topics are posted on the session board. During the initial opening conversation held in the main room, participants are told they can choose to attend any sessions they want, and are specifically instructed to change sessions and move around as needed to make sure they’re getting PD that meets their needs.
The sessions are a very manageable one hour long, with most of that time devoted to conversations and interactions among the participants. There’s plenty of time for networking, socializing, and sharing ideas throughout the day: the initial gathering over breakfast is an hour, lunch is a generous 90 minutes (the biggest luxury of all for classroom teachers, no?), and there are 20 minute breaks in between sessions. This way, conversations can continue and partipants have time to think, share, and reflect before digging into another topic. The overall effect of this scheduling is a relaxing, non-rushed day of PD in which informal conversations are just as valued as the actual sessions.
After EdCamp is over, resources are shared on the wiki, and attendees can continue to share ideas on Twitter using the edcampnyc hashtag. A smackdown, or share-and-tell, of websites, tools, and teaching tricks is also available on the fabulous Cybrary Man’s website.
The unconference model used at EdCamps is a great model for school-based staff development. It saves the district money because the format relies on the expertise of teaching staff rather than outsiders. It’s more meaningful to teachers because they can choose the session topics offered and decide which sessions to attend. And unconferences aren’t just “drive-by professional development” in which tons of new information is thrown at teachers and then forgotten. The PD is actually ongoing, because there are so many online resources provided for teachers to share how they’re implementing their new ideas in the classroom and get support and feedback.
So how can you get involved? Find an EdCamp near you, or start your own! Suggest to your administrators that they use this model for your school’s next PD day. And most importantly, tweet/Facebook/email/use other ways to spread the word about these free opportunities for educators to learn and grow together. Let people know that good things are happening with teachers and schools!