3 Reasons I Go to Edcamp

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I attended Edcamp Leadership this week: my fifth time at an Edcamp and a great day! Let me tell you why.

Credit to www.edcampleadership.org

Credit to www.edcampleadership.org

1) The Unconference Model:  Educators want choice and autonomy when it comes to their professional learning. They want to decide what they need to learn to meet student and staff needs better. They want to find out about great resources and ideas. Educators also want to hear about what others are doing in their classrooms, schools and districts. They want to listen, talk and reflect with colleagues.

Unconferences, of which Edcamp is a variant, offer all these to participants. There’s no keynote. There are no vendors. The success of the day is up to you! Participants build the schedule. No one edits or crosses off. If you want to engage others in an issue or topic, put it up on the session board at the beginning of the day. Choose whatever sessions you want to attend. Offer your ideas, opinions and experiences in person, on Twitter, or take notes for your next blog post. If one session doesn’t meet your needs, leave and head somewhere else. Go hang out in the lobby and chat with a new friend. Oh, and it’s free. Yes, free.

2) Connections:  There’s a strong link between Edcamp and Twitter.  Many people who see the value of social media connections also attend these unconferences. I use Twitter to connect to educators around the world, but especially in Canada and the United States. One of my favourite things to do on Twitter is participate in chats like #satchat, #iaedchat, #ptchat or #cdnedchat. It’s a chance to have a real time conversation about interesting and timely topics in education. The 140 character limit forces me to distill my thoughts to the essentials.

It was super to meet many “tweeps” face to face at Edcamp Leadership and especially those I’ve met through Twitter chats. I even got to participate in a live #satchat with Brad Currie (NJ), Scott Rocco (NJ) and Tom Whitby (NY) – what a privilege!!

I have to give shout outs to Vicki Day (NY), Tony Sinanis (NY), Jimmy Casas (IA), Ben Gilpin (MI), Reed Gillespie (VA), Joe Mazza (PA), Tom Whitford (WI), Sue Bruyns (ON) David Fife (ON), Anne Marie Luce (ON). These wonderful educators are worth following through their blogs and Twitter feeds. Each one is making a huge difference to their students and to the improvement of education.

I also met a number of interesting and committed teachers, vice principals and principals in sessions and break time.  I find the atmosphere at Edcamp open and friendly, much more than at a traditional conference. Folks are more than willing to meet and engage.

3) Learning:  I love to learn through conversations. Edcamps offer the chance to engage in deep thinking. When you arrive, you hang out in the main room and watch the schedule being built by participants. It’s a time to chat with people and listen to their realities, successes and struggles. You really can have a conversation about all of that in a few minutes!  Then it’s time to choose your sessions, where the “law of two feet” applies.

My thinking was challenged and stretched by sessions on leadership and struggle and how to put cultural competency in action. These discussions were so rich that I am drafting blog posts to address both.

What’s next? How about Edcamp Toronto, Barrie or London?

You should go.

 (I also blogged about Edcamp here. That post included links to Open Space and unconferences.)

System Leaders with School Responsibilities

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web“We need system leaders with school responsibilities.”

This culture building quote comes from Dr. John Malloy, Director of Education for Hamilton-Wentworth. He said it during a meeting with superintendents, principals and vice principals. It resonates strongly with me, because I see it as a shift in thinking for so many school leaders.

Big picture thinking has always intrigued me. As a teacher, I always wanted to know the how and why of pedagogy and decisions that affected my classroom and the school. I also spent some time in union leadership, and the provincial machinations and interplay as well as their effect on schools and individual teachers fascinated me. I didn’t always appreciate or agree with some school and system decisions and went through times where I could feel disillusioned with “the system”. In my various roles as school leader, I came to a deeper understanding of where and how decisions are made within large organizations like school districts.

My interest in why led me to Simon Sinek‘s work. He talks about how leaders inspire action in his book and TEDx talk, which you can find here.  He talks compellingly about how individuals, companies and organizations need to start with “why?”

Why do we exist? What is our purpose?

Every formal and informal leader in our system must understand our larger purpose and the why. We all need something to believe in so we can come together with that shared purpose but without the narrow focus on our own backyard. That translates into system leaders with school responsibilities. When we know the why, we can explain it and inspire others. Every leader must be willing to engage in measured, thoughtful dialogue with educators, parents, school support staff and students about their beliefs and our purpose.

Of course, school leaders have work to do in schools, but it should never be an us vs. them mentality within a district. It’s easy to focus on why your school doesn’t have the latest in gym flooring and others do. Understanding system decisions helps. Yes, the endless email takes way too much time. Marking essays and writing report cards can be a grind. I, too, can get caught up in the operational side of my work, but that will never inspire me.

Have you thought about deeply about why you come to work every day? Do you know your why? Mine is a strong belief in public education within our human society. I also believe in the power of people to make a difference in each other’s lives, both individually and together. I am privileged to be in a position to influence, in some small way, children and youth’s lives.

Let’s continue the conversation in the comments – what do you believe? Are you a system leader with school responsibilities?

Looking Back – Planning Forward

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Our school year is drawing to a close. It’s a frantic time as all educators finish up year end tasks and plan for important occasions like graduation and even closing ceremonies. And yet…

Time goes byJune is the perfect time for reflection.  July can be too late; we’ve already checked out and started vacation. In August, the previous year can seem like a long time ago as we prepare for a new start.

I know all educators ask themselves if they accomplished their professional and personal goals with students and staff. Usually the answer is no, because we educators tend to set the bar high and focus on setbacks or even failures. We all need to take the time and remember all the wonderful and positive things we accomplished this year. What difference did you make to students, to colleagues, to parents, or to your boss? And let yourself feel good about it!

I am finishing my first year as a school superintendent. It’s been challenging, and I’ve learned more about myself as a formal leader and what’s necessary to be the kind of leader that can open up the conversation.  I’ve been reflecting about my own processes and organization for next year. More thoughts on that will come in a future blog post. I’ve also been thinking about great educators I’ve worked with or who taught me. For instance, my grade 8 teacher was genuine and honest. She really believed in me.  Colleagues in teaching showed me how to meet individual student needs, even when it was hard. Others showed me the power of an idea. Former principals encouraged me and let me stretch my wings, maybe in ways they weren’t always comfortable with. Superintendents said yes instead of no. And now I have supervisors who believe in me and allow me to make my own way.

I want to take these lessons and convert them into ongoing action as a superintendent of schools. I want to always be authentic with all the people I come in contact with. I want to believe in others’ ideas and support them as they learn. I want to say yes more than no.

What about you? Who do you remember from your schooling and your career? How can you synthesize the lessons you learned from them with your June reflections?