“I don’t get it.”
We heard this comment from more than one teacher when describing EDCAMP leading up to our November 2nd school-based professional learning day. Some of them were having a hard time wrapping their brain around the concept, and rightly so. For many, there is still this deep-rooted view of a PD model where an ‘expert’ imparts knowledge to a group, the group listens, then takes what they want from the presentation. In my experience, this model almost always provides excellent strategies and ideas that rarely make it into daily practice. There is usually little or no opportunity for colleagues to get together to further explore the idea.
But a culture of collaboration and capacity building has been steadily growing in my school for the last few years and most of the staff were intrigued by the possibilities of an EDCAMP, so we decided to give it a go. We asked our staff of 60 to consider two questions in the time leading up to the big day.
- What are some learning experiences that would be relevant to me?
- What are some learning experiences that I would be willing to lead in?
On November 2nd at 8:15 a.m. we gathered in the “garage” (an open space in the core of our school) for coffee and muffins. On the whiteboard was a large blank schedule for the day. As part of the opening remarks we showed this short clip to set the stage, then invited the group to start filling in the schedule. It was amazing to watch. Over coffee, wonderful conversation started to take place and once the first staff member approached the board others soon followed. About 20 minutes later we had no fewer than 14 sessions set for the day.
Staff members were asked to give a quick explanation of their session and in keeping with the EDCAMP philosophy, the group decided whether or not that session would stay on the schedule. It was also agreed that individuals would be free to come and go from sessions as they saw fit, based on their own learning needs. No offence was to be taken by anyone. At 9:00 a.m. we made our way to the first sessions.
As I walked throughout the school that morning I witnessed an extremely high degree of staff engagement. Talk about drive 3.0. There was an amazing sense of ownership of their own learning; no texting, no whispering to a friend, no nodding off. The most difficult part of the day was trying to keep to our schedule. Nobody wanted to leave the work they were involved in.
At 12 noon, with 14 sessions complete, we came together for some final reflection. I listened intently as individuals described the days learning as relevant to them. Many said it gave them much-needed time to sit down with colleagues to discuss important topics and plan for further action. A number of new “go to” people emerged as well, who were previously reluctant to identify themselves as an expert on a particular strategy or tool. We further bonded as a staff on that day and everyone thought we should definitely do this again.
Awhile back I read that if transformation of our education system is going to be realized, teachers need to be at the center and not on the periphery of change. When we give them control of their own learning, we are placing them in the middle. If you try an EDCAMP at your school you are definitely doing this.