Samantha Bates is the organizer of EdcampMidTenn
Every educator has been there: Mandatory school-wide professional development on a topic she doesn’t need at a time she doesn’t need it, like the last day of school before summer break. It’s times like these that I pity the PE teacher, forced to sit through an hour-long PowerPoint presentation on Differentiating Writing Assessments in the Content Area for English Language Learners.
The good news is that professional learning doesn’t have to be this way. There is a way that teachers can choose the professional development they need, experience it on their terms, share their personal knowledge, have conversations instead of suffering through lectures, and – my favorite part – get up and leave if it just isn’t working out. Oh, and it’s completely free.
I’m talking about edcamps.
An edcamp is an informal gathering of educators – teachers, administrators, specialists, consultants, superintendents, technology coordinators – who discuss the educational topics that are relevant to them. In fact, the entire beginning of an edcamp is just the educators deciding what they want to talk about that day.
Edcamp sessions are not about the presenter but about the learning needs of the attendees. I’ve presented edcamp sessions on student blogging and using Twitter, but I’ve never gone to an edcamp knowing that I was going to present. Instead attendees ask questions, and there’s generally someone in attendance with experience in that area – mine just happened to be student blogging and Twitter. There are edcamp sessions that begin with the statement, “I want to know more about ____,” and then the participants just have a conversation on that topic.
Then there’s the beauty of The Rule of Two Feet. This rule states that if you are in a session that isn’t meeting your needs, you get up onto your two feet, and you use them to walk somewhere else that will benefit you. This could be another session, or it could be to hang out beside the coffee and network with other educators. It could be to a general area to implement or practice something you learned in another session. You are not expected or encouraged to stay in a session that isn’t helping you.
Did I mention that edcamps are free? I can’t stress this enough. Actually, most edcamps have door prizes, so you’re likely to walk away with a free subscription to an educational product or even technology. At Edcamp Midtenn, the sponsors are Flocabulary, IPEVO, GoNoodle, Kahoot, Doug Robertson (a teacher and author), WriteAbout, HSTRY, TinyBop, and Edutopia. Next Saturday, over one thousand dollars in educational products will be given away to educators who are committed to their professional learning.
If you want to attend an edcamp, there are several in Tennessee in the coming months. Edcamp Midtenn will be in Tullahoma at West Middle School on March 5th; you can register at edcampmidtenn.eventbrite.com. Edcamp GigCity will be in Chattanooga at STEM School on May 14th, and there’s even an edcamp for leaders being planned for this summer in Nashville. You can receive updates about EdcampLeadTN by following @edcampleadtn on Twitter. If there’s not an edcamp near you, you can always organize one yourself. The Edcamp Foundation has a variety of resources on attending and organizing edcamps.
Professional learning is too important to leave in the hands of anyone but yourself. Take control of your professional learning needs by attending an edcamp.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport