Today was our second Edcamp Hamilton and it was great! After months of planning, we welcomed over 60 educators, parents and a student for self directed learning and discussions. People came from all over southern Ontario, from Belleville through Toronto, Waterloo and Niagara. I reconnected with some many Ontario educators and met some new friends. And the Smackdown? Epic. Check out the sessions, linked Docs and our Smackdown page at http://bit.ly/edcamphamschedule.
The openness and level of the sharing and conversation was truly impressive.
And everyone gave up a sunny Saturday to learn. Wow.
I attended Edcamp Leadership this week: my fifth time at an Edcamp and a great day! Let me tell you why.
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 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.
I spent last Saturday at edcamp (@edcampblo) in Buffalo, New York. Naturally, it was filled with New York educators: teachers, technology leaders, consultants, and a handful of principals. These are teachers and principals who are dedicated to students and to their own learning enough to show up at Canisius College on a weekend.
Edcamp Buffalo was a day of dichotomies for me. While it was exhilarating to meet new people and explore new ideas, it was also sad to see dispirited educators who seem to have lost the joy of teaching and learning.
From conversations in workshops, it was clear that unless you work in an independent school, New York educators are overwhelmed, discouraged and downtrodden by the new system of yearly teacher appraisal and the yearly grade 3-8 standardized state tests in Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies. Although we had profound conversations about leadership, about trust, and about building 21st century skills and personal learning networks, educators also often said, “Yes, but” and “We can’t because” with rueful or even angry expressions.
This Saturday, I participated in #satchat, a Twitter Chat for educators. The topic was “Leading in a standardized education world”. You can find the Storify archive of the April 20th chat here. During the chat, educators shared many ideas and feelings about standardized testing and testing prep. It underlined why New York educators are feeling undermined.
After these conversations, I feel very strongly about where we need to focus. It’s not on standardized testing. Educators know we can’t look away from what is really important: student learning. We need to spend our time understanding curriculum expectations and standards. We need to work at figuring out what students don’t know through diagnostic assessment and observation. We need to focus on what we don’t know as educators and then use an inquiry framework to learn how to do it better. We need to respond to student needs daily by adjusting our teaching and checking how well students are learning. We need to be trusted to measure student achievement. When these things happen, we feel a tremendous sense of purpose and accomplishment. We feel hope.
Can we free ourselves from the shackles of standardized testing to focus on what’s important and worry less about test prep?