Make a connection. Instead of “sit and get” professional development, EdCamp requires that you move around, actively participate, and talk to new people. I went to a tech conference in the area last spring and went almost the entire day without having more than a small-talk conversation with anyone – and I’m a pretty social person. It’s pretty impossible to get away with that at an EdCamp – I promise. We’re expecting participants with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, so take advantage of the cross-pollination and make a connection with someone new.
Centerpoint isn’t like any other school you’ve seen before. Take a tour through our building, where rooms have names instead of numbers, students cook lunch for the school every day, and staff are encouraged to turn student-centered ideas into action (for example: this week we’re launching a therapeutic in-car driver’s ed program – I think it’s the first program of its kind). We do everything we do for the benefit of our students, and you can see that when you walk in the door. Come be part of our community for a day.
Nurture yourself. Why come to an EdCamp during a school vacation? I think you’ll find it to be a way to “fill your tank,” rather than increase your burnout. We’ll have a ton of food and coffee to get your brain ready for learning (thanks to Physician’s Computer Company, Cabot Cheese, City Market, Healthy Living, and more of our amazing sponsors). The content of EdCamp is whatever participants bring to the table – so talk about the issues about which you are passionate, with other passionate education stakeholders from across Vermont. Put some energy and enthusiasm in your bank, and start fresh after the break with new ideas about how to support learning for all learners.
My main takeaway from Edcamp Boston was the brilliance of the overall structure and feel of the day. I am now totally a convert to unconferences. The model just makes sense. I appreciated the collaborative we’re-all-in-it-together feel. I appreciated that sessions were sometimes just questions or calls for help. I appreciated that everyone was treated like an expert, and everyone’s opinion held equal esteem. One of the sessions I went to was about how one school transformed their inservice through an Edcamp model, and that was pretty inspiring to me. We have lots of professional development at my school, and while there is some amount of agency among the teachers to propose and lead sessions, I think we could take it one step further. That’s something I’ll definitely bring up to my school leadership as we start planning for summer inservice.
My other takeaway from Edcamp was how glad I am to not work in public school. Throughout the day, I heard so much from other teachers about feeling isolated at their schools, feeling unsupported by administration, feeling distanced from their peers. In one session on urban education, I talked about my school’s framework of “unconditional positive regard” toward students. One teacher asked me how that was implemented – how do you get teachers to start living that? I was lucky enough to be able to answer that that’s the way it’s been since before I started working at my school – that’s just part of our culture. I am so lucky that I have peers who support me, administration who really care about and believe in our students, and the autonomy to implement changes or experiment with pedagogy in my classroom.
I was also reminded all day of how grateful I am to not have to deal with standardized testing. My kids have the option to take the Vermont state tests, but it may not surprise you that most of them opt out. I don’t have any pressure from my administration to get higher test scores. I take that for granted most of the time, and Edcamp gave me a new appreciation that the pressures at my school are about how to best serve each individual student. That’s the way it should be.
Don’t get me wrong – I respect so much those who work in public schools. It just hurts my heart that some of my peers at public schools are struggling so much, and I wish there was a way for the positive culture at places like my school to influence culture at the public schools around us. On the flip side of the coin, I definitely developed some envy over the day of the institutional support received by some of my fellow tech integrators. I recognize that at my school, the idea of structured technology integration is new, and these things take time. It was inspiring to hear about established programs at other schools and dream about where my program can be in the future.
I guess that brings me back around to the importance of something like Edcamp. A free conference allows a wider cross-section of teachers from schools that may not be able to fund attendance at other conferences. I got to meet a great range of teachers from different settings, and as much as I took from them, I hope they’ll take a little from me as well. Maybe then we can close the gap of isolation that so many people talked about, and become more of a community that can come together to support our students with care.