Sunday, September 15, 2013

My Love Letter to EdCamp: Real Staff Development and Ed Reform!

Yesterday was fantastic!  A new world of possibilities opened up to me.  I finally attended my first EdCamp, Ed Camp Los Altos.  Upon entry, I was greeted with smiles, a big blank whiteboard of possibilities, and a "You look just like your twitter picture!  It's so nice to meet you."  Upon exit, I felt energized, excited to share what I learned with my grade-level partners, and a renewed sense of how powerful and progressive my PLN (professional learning network) can be.  Simply put, I love EdCamp.

You may be wondering, what is EdCamp? 
EdCamp is an unconference where teachers gather together to discuss issues, topics, and ideas
EdCamp Los Altos session board: All ideas from teachers!
determined on that day.  It is solely teacher-driven.  Everything that was said and happened at an EdCamp session should have been said and should have happened.  There is really no such thing as getting off-topic.  Participants are encouraged to fill a blank board with post-its for session ideas.  Once all post-it suggestions have been gathered, they are categorized and grouped to determine the sessions for the day.  Then, participants pick which sessions to attend.  In sessions, teachers move chairs and tables to sit in circular groups which foster face to face discussion.  At EdCamp Los Altos, one person per session volunteered to be a session notetaker.  The notes are online for all to see and even add to.  Nearly everyone had their own device out for personal notetaking, web browsing for reference and sharing, and Tweeting learnings.  EdCamp is truly driven by the teachers who attend.   If you want a more detailed explanation, check out the EdCamp.Org site.

What EdCamp is NOT: 
EdCamp is not driven by people who do not work in classrooms everyday.  Nor is it a place for vendors and corporations to pitch their ideas to try to make a profit.  It is also not driven by school district administration or staff developers.  Most importantly, in my humble opinion as a 12-year classroom teacher, it is not driven by education reformers who barely spend any time at all in classrooms, yet who are full of opinions about what education should be (That was my one soapbox rant in this post.  My rant is now over).  It is also not a workshop on one topic or based on a particular curriculum. EdCamp is not about what teachers and students should be doing.  Rather, it is about what is possible and what hasn't even been dreamed up yet!  It is about classroom teachers learning from each other.

My EdCamp Los Altos Experience
As I entered the multipurpose room at Blach Junior High in Los Altos at 8:00AM yesterday,  I saw groups of chairs placed in circular formations, a table set-up with coffee and doughnuts (yes, we are teachers after all), and a large, blank whiteboard.  Groups of teachers were deep in conversation, typing away on their devices, or jotting ideas on post-its to be placed on the blank white board.  There was no podium, no stage, and no predetermined schedule or agenda.

I walked over to the blank board and jotted down the one thing I was currently struggling with in my classroom: Math & The Common Core.  I placed the note on the white board among other post-its that read Genius Hour/20% time, Game Design, Robotics, Project Global Read Aloud, Using Neural Pathways as Graphic Organizers, and more.   After placing my post-it on the board, I started chatting with other classroom teachers from neighboring school districts.  It was great to connect with educators outside of PAUSD.  I highly value my PAUSD colleagues, but I also value those outside of my district who have a great deal to offer.  EdCamp is an opportunity to chat across districts in a face to face, organic, honest setting.  Our conversations mainly centered around the common core, teachers we knew in common, and how the start of the year was going in each of our classrooms.

Eventually, one of the EdCamp Los Altos organizers grabbed a microphone, announced the session topics as determined by all of us in the room, and directed us to head out to start our first session.  She also noted that there would be a raffle after the third session.  Everyone piled out of the multipurpose room and into one of the three first sessions.  I attended a session focusing on Common Core/Math/Kahn Academy/Other Math Ideas.  We all entered the room, arranged the desks into a
EdCamp Los Altos Session:  Teachers in a circle
to promote discussion- no leader or director in place!
Photo by Alyssa Gallagher, @am_gallagher
circle, and began the discussion.  It was fantastic!  There was no agenda, no talking points, and nothing predetermined!  It was just teachers talking with each other about what we're doing in math and how we're all trying to figure out how the common core is changing what math instruction will look like.  Our conversation drifted into Khan Academy, math notebooks, plusses and minuses of different curriculums, flipping math instruction, and the new Smarter Balanced Assessments, which currently seem to assess the lack of technology use and access in classrooms as opposed to math capability of students.  I connected with a few teachers who I follow on Twitter and even had a few tell me that they follow my blog.  I have to say, it was really cool hearing that!   I am excited about continuing to follow these innovative educators and especially excited about continuing our conversations!

My second and third sessions focused on performance-based assessments and neural pathways as graphic organizers.  Both of those sessions were also purely teacher-driven.  My thinking was challenged as we discussed the use of grades and report cards in the performance-based assessment session.  I learned all about Live Binders and different uses for graphic organizers in the third session.  Most importantly, I connected with other educators in a valuable way that we determined for ourselves to help improve the teaching/learning that takes place in our classrooms everyday.

After the third session and many valuable, forward-thinking discussions, we all headed back into the multipurpose room.  My day at EdCamp Los Altos ended after a quick raffle and a few, short closing words.  Thank you so very much to the teachers in Los Altos who organized the day, Alyssa Gallagher, Kami Thordarson, Karen Wilson, and Erin Zaich!  I am looking forward to my next EdCamp.  If you're interested in heading to an EdCamp near you, check out the EdCamp Calendar of Events.

Finally, I am so excited to say that I am part of a group of dedicated teachers in Palo Alto who are in the thinking/planning stages of EdCamp Palo Alto!  Stay tuned for more information on that.