The evolution of EdCamps

Have you ever attended an EdCamp? If the answer is no, you are missing out. On what you might ask? An innovative, sharing-based day of learning that will forever change your view on professional development. Typically held on Saturdays, educators meet up at a particular location and either present or attend sessions that focus on best practices in education. My first experience with this new type of professional development was in the summer of 2012 at EdCamp Leadership. It forever changed my view on how educators, including myself, should learn and share.

The first EdCamp ever held was in Philadelphia about five years ago. Fast forward to 2014 and there are hundreds taking place around the globe. The great thing about EdCamps is that they are free. Most EdCamps require participants to sign up in advance on their website just so they can get an accurate head count. After that, you simply show up, sign in, fill out your name badge, and make your way to the session board. What is the session board you might ask? It is a “living document” of sorts where attendees can take a peek at what sessions they could possibly attend. It’s important to remember that participants do not pre register for sessions at an EdCamp. You can attend any session you want. Also, if you have a sudden urge to hold a discussion on something you are passionate about, simply put your name and topic on a sticky note and place it on the session board.

Attending an EdCamp is a phenomenal experience. After the opening remarks and a bite to eat for breakfast, attendees can participate in sessions that spark their interest. What happens when you are sitting in a session that is not applicable to you as an educator? Simply stand up, walk out, and attend a session that is more suitable to your needs. I know, it seems awkward, it is actually something that makes the EdCamp experience special. For years educators, including myself, have attended educational conference sessions that are boring or irrelevant. And what do we do? We sit there for hours and leave the conference unfulfilled. As a response to this issue, EdCamps encourage participants to vote with their feet.

Typically, after attending 4 or 5 sessions and networking with many wonderful educators, participants get to experience a smack-down session. For about 30 minutes participants get up in front of the audience and share a best practice web tool that can be integrated in the school setting. Each person has about 90 seconds to present their resource and quickly explain it’s usefulness. As this is going on, one of the EdCamp organizers archives the resources shared on a spreadsheet that will ultimately be shared for all to enjoy. Door prizes and other educational goodies are also given out to bring the experience to a close.

The EdCamp experience is changing the educational landscape for the better — enabling teachers to collaborate by quickly sharing ideas across schools and districts.  EdCamps are happening everywhere and provide educators with an experience that will last a lifetime. The people you meet, the resources shared, and the collaboration that takes place is memorable. I encourage other educators to find an EdCamp located near them and get involved!

Teacher-leaders going the distance

Research proves that children learn best from each other. Likewise, teachers learn best from each other as well. We all know that as teachers, when we teach a concept, we personally learn that same concept all over again. We internalize it, and learn it better as a result of teaching it! So why not teach each other? This encourages positive growth for all involved parties.

We have all had those moments in the day-in day-out throes of teaching – those “ah ha!” moments when some new or different tactic worked. When faced with an epiphany such as this, share it with others! We want all children to have the best chance to learn and the most benefit from learning possible, not just our class(es), right? After all, we are all in this together, striving to promote student success and the greater good as a team! As a teacher-leader or mentor, communicate with colleagues in various ways in order to inform, collaborate, and network on best practices to enhance student learning.

Teacher-leaders and mentors are constantly learning, growing, and sharing. They are never the same at the end of the year as they were at the beginning. They are in a “morphic” state as a direct result of their own personal love of learning.

How else can teacher-leaders and mentors be described? They have an extensive understanding of pedagogical knowledge, the curriculum, and the needs of students. They are constantly seeking to add to and enrich the curriculum; guiding others in that endeavor. They continually facilitate students’ engagement in learning, higher-order thinking skills, and the application of learning in current, relevant ways. They guide others to reflect on their own practice and progress.

Teacher role models such as this are charged with the task of encouraging others to set challenging goals for themselves, and tackle new ways to present challenging content. They lead others in the effective use of data to inform instructional decisions. Teacher-leaders continually demonstrate expertise and lead others to determine and develop a variety of assessment strategies and instruments that are valid and appropriate for the content and student population. They are constantly engaging in professional growth, and the application of the methods and skills learned. This contributes to the development of others as well as the well-being of the school community of learners.

Being a teacher-leader or mentor encourages success for all, including students and teachers. This leadership role fosters our collective goal of creating and constructing lifelong learners, which ultimately extends itself to a global community of learners. Serving as a teacher-leader and mentor to others in these capacities merits truly exemplary status.