It’s no secret many teachers find typical professional development activities, like traditional one-off workshops led by presenters who are out of touch with what it’s like to be a classroom teacher, a waste of time.
Edcamp puts a new spin on professional development for educators. Founded in 2010 by a group of educators who knew each other through Twitter, Edcamp is modeled after BarCamp – a popular “unconference” typically focused on tech.
“You don’t have to put a bunch of people with master’s degrees in a room and make them sit and listen to somebody who hasn’t been in the classroom for 25 years,” says Mary Beth Hertz, a technology and art teacher at Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber in Philadelphia and a founding member of Edcamp Philly, the first of these events.
Sessions at Edcamps are created by participants and typically involve discussing a topic of relevance as a group rather than listening to an expert lecture. Since the first Edcamp in Philadelphia, there’s been events held worldwide.
High school teachers used to more traditional professional development activities might be surprised by the following facts.
1. Schedules aren’t created in advance. Educators start the day by networking and building a schedule, says Jerry Swiatek, a computer science teacher at Citrus High School in Florida and the founder and organizer of Edcamp Citrus, one of the first Edcamps.
Educators put their ideas for sessions on a blank board, he says. After the schedule is determined, the sessions begin.
If educators aren’t finding value in a session, they are encouraged to leave and go to another one, says Swiatek, who has organized several Edcamps.
Edcamps are free and usually held on Saturdays, says Swiatek. Any educator can organize an Edcamp in his or her community. The Edcamp Foundation, a nonprofit established after the initial success, provides resources, like nametags and sticky notes for the session board, to organizers, says Hertz.
2. They are a good place for high school teachers to network. Sometimes high school teachers and administrators are a little uncomfortable with the unpredictable nature of the unconference-style event, says Swiatek.
“The biggest challenge we notice with high school teachers is just getting them to show up,” he says. High school teachers are more driven by content and their subject matter than anything else, he says.
But Edcamp can be a great opportunity for teachers to meet other educators. At Edcamp Citrus in November, educators from about 26 different Florida counties showed up, he says.
3. High school teachers can learn a lot from educators of other levels. Not every session will be explicitly about high school, he says. But teachers of older students can learn a lot from teachers of different grade levels, he says.
For example, high school teachers can learn a lot from an elementary school discussion about reading strategies or other topics, he says.
“The teaching strategies themselves are really kind of the same regardless of the grade level,” he says.
Sessions are often centered on trending topics in education, such as makerspaces or teaching gifted students, says Hertz, who is also the technology coordinator at her school.
She’s found once people go to an Edcamp, they can’t look at professional development the same way again. Many districts and major conferences are adopting the Edcamp ethic and model because they realize it engages teachers, she says.
“Letting people with master’s degrees talk to other people with master’s degrees can actually accomplish things,” she says.