5 lessons I learned about PD from attending edcamp

After attending my first edcamp in Kansas City, MO about a year and a half ago, I immediately began to see how the edcamp model could be applied to PD on a building level.  As I prepare for EdcampSTL on February 9th, I have started to think about what I have learned about PD from attending both EdcampKC and EdcampSTL.

1.  Everyone is an expert.

The great thing about attending an edcamp is that discussions can be started by anyone in attendance.  I have been a part of professional discussions led by brand new teachers and other sessions led by veteran superintendents who have been in education longer than I have been alive.  The common bond all of those sessions and "presenters" have shared is that they are there to learn just like everyone else. No matter what one's area of expertise, experience level, or passion, there is room for everyone to facilitate a session at an edcamp.

Don't look too far when you need presenters for building or district-level professional development days. Often times the best presenters for your building's PD days are already walking its halls, your own teachers.

2.  Sometimes the best plan is no plan at all. 

In my experience, both the toughest sell for edcamp and its greatest strength is the unpredictability that goes alone with the day.  When I tell someone that there is no keynote speaker, no planned breakout sessions, and no big name presenters, I am typically met with looks of disbelief.  However, once the skeptics get past their original concerns and walk in the door, they quickly forget about the lack of name recognition of the attendees/presenters and embrace the lack of pre-planned activities.  Some of the best edcamp sessions I have been a part of were planned on a moment's notice and thrived because of the people in attendance. Sessions like What Rocks/Sucks about Education and an English teacher round table discussion have made me think about my professional views and classroom practices more than most planned building-level sessions I have attended throughout my career.

Occasionally, let teachers in your building plan their own professional development.  Let teachers determine what conversations are going to take place throughout the day.  You might be surprised by the roles taken by some of the more reluctant teachers in your building. 

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3. Never underestimate the power of a little immaturity. 

One of the most memorable parts of last year's EdcampSTL was the after lunch activity, Things you Can't do While Kids are in the Building.  This activity required participants to take part in goofy activities like throwing mashed potatoes in the cafeteria, yelling in the library, and running down the hallway.  These juvenile activities not only woke everyone up from their free-pizza-induced coma, but also helped participants to foster relationships with others in attendance.

Taking this activity back to your building is guaranteed to help teachers who may not work together often to foster a working relationship. 

4. Intrinsic motivation is the only kind of motivation.

The beauty of edcamp is that no one has to be there.  Edcamps are filled with progressive educators who all share one thing:  the love of free food...well, that and a burning desire to improve education. Filling a room with individuals who are intrinsically motivated to make a change is a very powerful thing.

Allow teachers to share their passions on professional development days.  Their excitement will be contagious and will lead to teachers going back to their classrooms excited and ready to set the world on fire. 

5. The real value of the day is in making connections. 


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When the last session of the day is over and the final attendance prize has been given out, the most powerful aspect of an edcamp is relationships that are formed and cultivated throughout the day.  Starting with attending a pre-edcamp tweet-up and continuing through the event itself, make sure meet as many educators as possible, talk to people who teach the same classes or grade level as you do and make connections that last long past the end of edcamp.

While all of the meetings, breakout sessions, and informal learning time is important to making a PD day a success, it is important to give teachers a time to make connections with their colleagues they do not have a chance to talk to on a daily basis.  Allowing time for teachers to foster relationships with their face to face colleagues will pay dividends throughout the school year. 


If you haven't had the opportunity to attend an edcamp yet, I encourage you to attend EdcampSTL on February 9, 2013.  It truly is an amazing day of learning for everyone involved.  After a day at edcamp, like me, you will surely take many lessons back to your building.  For those of you who have attended an edcamp before, leave a comment and share what you have taken back to your building from edcamp.



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