Thursday, May 8, 2014

The EdCamp PD Model: Have a Go

Last week my colleagues and I organized a morning of powerful professional learning for an elementary school in our district.  It took very little planning, everything went great, and the teachers were very happy.  Hard to believe?  Believe it.  This was all courtesy of the EdCamp model.  To clarify, our morning was more of a modified EdCamp model, but either way it was terrific.  Here's how the process played out.

Step one, time.  We were approached by the building principal who asked us if we were available the morning of May 2.  We pitched the EdCamp model to her and she was on board from the start.  All she asked us to do is follow up with the school's tech coordinator/teacher so we were all on the same page.

Step two, a 30 minute planning meeting with the building tech coordinator/teacher.  We came up with a list of topics, available classrooms, and a loose schedule.  The lack of structure was different and a little uncomfortable, but we assured her things would be fine.  The many people from our department that were planning to attend assured we would have plenty of support available.  That always helps.

Step three was the actual PD morning itself.  We took about 40 minutes to set the stage for the day.  This included an introduction to the format, previewing the available sessions, having the teachers actually sign up for the sessions, deciding on where the sessions would take place (based on how many people signed up for each session), and going to work.  Here's what the board looked like after the teachers signed up for their sessions.

You can actually see the flexibility, can't you?  As the picture represents, there were two 50 minute sessions and a 20 minute reflection and feedback session at the end of the morning.  The lack of structure was different, but nothing everyone didn't get used to pretty quickly.

Fast forward to after the two PD sessions.  Here's a small sample of the feedback we received from the teachers following the morning:

"Thank you for your thoughtfulness in planning today. It was wonderful to have choice. It allowed for small groups and appropriate content."

"I loved the different classes to choose from."

"This was the best PD I have ever been a part of. This advanced my understanding and opened the doors for what I could be doing in my classroom. I also feel confident advancing my understanding through the summer to give me more confidence with this technology come fall."

"Really liked the EdCamp format! Thank you for being such a presence in our school."

"This was an excellent format - teachers had choices of what they wanted to learn about. It really met our staff's needs because everyone is in a different place with technology and they were able to determine what they wanted to learn."

"We love the support of our tech coaches! Thank You!"

And those are just the highlights. There were many more kind words in regards to the morning. Speaking with one of the participants early this week she shared that there was much more discussion amongst the teachers after this format. "Where did you go?" "What did you learn there?" Positive feelings, empowerment, and sharing after a professional development session. It happened. I saw the whole thing.

One specific question we added and asked on our feedback form (thanks +Kellie Ady-CCSD) was, "Would you like to see this type of PD in the future? Why or why not?" Every response to this question was positive. Here's a Wordle of the responses. (And for those of you that aren't familiar with Wordle, the larger the word, the more it was included in the text the teachers created.)

The words seen above, including "yes", aren't words that are associated historically with professional learning in schools. Much of traditional professional learning is done "to" or "at" its participants. What the teachers and the facilitators loved about this format is the learning was done "with" and alongside the teachers. For example, when the teachers arrived at the session they chose the agenda was crowd-sourced. The needs of the teachers became the driving force behind the content that would be shared and discussed during our time together. The smaller groups allowed us to create the agenda together. This structure was just a little different for us as facilitators within this model, but our knowledge and experience with the tools the teachers chose to learn about guided us through the process. (Also, it's always okay to say "I don't know" and the group can figure out/find the answer together. That's a little thing I like to call a community of learners.)

Overall, what a morning. Great feelings about learning, collaboration, discussion, reflection, and a structure we can easily replicate in the future. We have shared the story from the morning with as many people that will listen since last Friday.

As always, there are next steps. I would love to provide a chance for this structure to be totally teacher driven. For example, the pre-camp organizing meeting would include teachers volunteering to share their experiences and knowledge/expertise with their colleagues. I imagine it beginning with, "Who would like to share/teach?" After getting those volunteers the rest of the group simply decides where they would like to go. The support from our department would be from the background and would answer any of the more specialized questions the teachers asked.

I'm definitely looking forward to when we get the chance provide another experience like this again. The feedback we received from the teachers is something that can't and shouldn't be discounted or pushed aside. This needs to and will happen again sometime soon. Stay tuned.

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