On Saturday I had an opportunity to attend my first edcamp at #edcampphilly. Although the principles of an "un-conference" were completely familiar to me, being a part of it is something I highly recommend to any educator looking to engage in the big conversations around education with a completely diverse group of people. For more about edcamps and edcamphilly, please click on the links. I'm sure there is an edcamp organizing around you, and if one isn't, your job is to help get one started.
The second half of my day @edcampphilly found myself co-facilitating with Kristen Swanson and Tom Murray around Professional Development in education. Notes from the session can be found here. There was incredibly rich discussion about the kinds of professional development we as teachers want and deserve. The last session of the day, facilitated by Mike Ritzius also ended up in the PD direction as well. Even more rich discussion about the balance of traditional and Non- Traditional PD occurred within that session. Teacher professional development and the value of it will always be paramount for educators because the same individualized and differentiated approaches we seek to provide for our students, we wish to be evident in our own learning experiences as well.
Kristen Swanson shared an insight that resonated with me, that #edcamp is like the "cherry on top of the learning ice cream sundae". For a long time, I have been convinced that "un" conferences were the ideal, that every educator should want to show up on a PD day, self organize and get to work sharing and learning. And maybe that IS the ideal, but I don't know that every educator wants to learn in this way or even CAN learn in this way. Perhaps those of us who love to learn in this venue, who are desperate for these kinds of conversations miss the point we are trying to make: the one size fits all model doesn't work regardless of which end of the spectrum you are on.
If you contrast Kristen's culinary insight with my own which was that sometimes the content/tasks associated with district level Professional Development is something akin to "eating your vegetables: you don't like them, but you know they will make you stronger", you get a bit of an insight into the conundrum districts often struggle with in planning the time teachers spend together on these days. For every educator who hates being told what to do, there are those who will say "Just tell me what to do and I'll get busy doing it." For every teacher who says "Let me own my own learning" there are just as many who just want to accomplish the tasks ahead of them. Gerald Aungst added "As administrators, while we may be stuck serving a can of vegetables, we need to do everything we can to make them as appetizing as possible."
Yesterday in my school district, we had our third professional development day of the year. I have been fortunate enough to be a part of a core planning team of teachers and administrators this year. The day was divided into three sessions. The first session was entitled "Learning by Sharing" in which all teachers and administrators K-12 (almost 500 people) were randomly organized into 40 groups and were given 3-5 minutes each to share a new learning, the work of their PLC, highlight student success, or just share whatever they wanted to. It was the first time we did something like this, but the goal of bringing Elementary and Secondary Teachers and Administrators together to share was met. Early indicators from tweets and hallway comments were that this time was both valuable and enjoyable. Check out the twitter feed for the day: #qcsd521
The second session was entitled "Learning through Work" and had teachers organized into department level groups by district administration. Tasks and conversations were determined by department co-ordinators and there were varying amounts of tasks being accomplished and dependent on each group's needs. There have been tremendous efforts to identify the unique needs of each department and trying to bring those needs in alignment vertically and horizontally as well as trying to align district curriculum with the Common Core Standards in PA. Although this time might have been akin to "eating your vegetables", there were efforts by administrators to make that time as valuable and efficient as possible. In the session that I co-facilitated, we left with a "ticket-out" that set our goals for next year as well as provide some direction to district office about our professional needs for next year. A colleague (and my wife) Jessica Evans noted "What I liked best about my session was that Dr. Holler provided us the flint and steel, but let us start the fire" in reference to the amount of work Dr. Holler did prior to the session to allow them to engage in deep discussions instead of seeking out resources.
The third session was entitled "Learning through Choice". About a month prior to the day, teachers submitted proposals of sessions they wanted to facilitate. Those choices were entered into MyLearningPlan and teachers then had two weeks to sign up for the session that they wanted to engage and learn in. The types of sessions were as diverse as the types of teachers we have in the district. And while we can't yet determine the effectiveness of the sessions, we do believe that the choices provided for teachers were big steps towards differentiated and individualized learning opportunities. The only "rule" for the session was that you couldn't learn alone.
While I am incredibly proud of being a part of a team who helped plan this time, I don't think we are done figuring out the right model. Mostly because our needs as educators (like our students) will always be changing. Attending #edcampphilly provided me insights into what we are doing right and what we need to improve. It also provided me a ton of ideas. In the end, what I believe about professional development mirrors what I believe about learning: it needs to be relevant, purposeful, individualized as much as possible , and a call to action.