For the past 6 months, I have been involved in the planning and leading of #EdCampSTL with the ConnectED Learning STL. ConnectED Learning is a 501(c)(3) organization which hosts and promotes free learning opportunities for educators from around the St. Louis region. Every year, the big event is EdCamp. The best way I can explain EdCamp is that is a “conference about nothing.” Educators come and sign up to facilitate sessions on topics or issues they are passionate about. For example, there were sessions on Makerspaces, Bloxels, motivating the unmotivated, improving data teams, Google Expeditions, bringing empathy to leadership and even using WordPress in classes. Over 450 people gave up their Saturday to learn and network. Urban, rural, suburban, black, white, Christian, and Muslim educators came for one purpose…Improve the teaching and learning happening in their schools.
Here are my takeaways from this event:
- Surround yourself with an All-Star Team. I say this as a member of the leadership team and as an educator. This event is not possible without the guidance of Chris McGee, Bob Dillon, Manual Herrera, Julie Szaj, Chuck Baker, Patrick Dempsey, Rob Lamb, Steven Shaw, JaNekka Hutchinson, Dorean Dow, Danielle Zuroweste, Kristen Wellinghoff and so many others. Communication plans don’t happen without the guidance of Samuel Fishburne and Cody Collier. Other behind the scenes folks include Debbie Fucoloro, Christine Ruder, Melissa Hellwig, Chris Campbell, Dino Kiveric, Kat Korte, Julie Tiemeyer, Erin Whalen, Colleen Skiles, Erin Whalen, Matt Weld, Kathleen Dwyer, Lance McLard, Matt Geringer, Ryan Boeckman, Drew McAllister, Michael Dragoni, Emanuel Young and countless student volunteers. Connected Learning STL Board Members deserving of praise include Amy Peach, Jason Kelly, Cathy Bear, and Brenda Watt. These passionate educators believe in the mission of EdCamp and are willing to dedicate their time and energy in sharing best practices with so many other educators. This passion is contagious and what has rejuvenated my passion for education. Besides, it is not everyday a teacher is able to surround themselves with genius and these men and women are my educational heroes. (I apologize if anybody was omitted, as there are so many folks who make this event happen.)
- Take risks and get out of your comfort zone. The first EdCamp I attended in person was at Grand Center Arts Academy in 2015. I learned about things like Kahoot, Quizizz, ZipGrade, Plickers, and other Web 2.0 tools/apps. These were things unknown in my school. This was foreign territory for a school which banned phones from the classroom. Early on in this experience, you start talking to people, exchanging ideas and networking with folks via Twitter. The conversations continue and the thoughts of the day continue to grow. EdCamp merely plants seeds in learners who are willing to take calculated risks in their professional learning. For school districts looking for innovative practices, imagine having your professional development sessions in the same style as EdCamp. While EdCamp is not innovative in and of itself, the thought processes and practices which come out of these sessions will drive your innovation. All it takes is someone to take the risk and facilitate this movement.
- Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Honest conversation is the hallmark of a great experience. My first session on Saturday involved attending a packed session in which teachers discussing issues of race and privilege in the classroom. Conversations like this and employing empathy are conversations that we overlook far too often in our schools. Confronting our our biases is needed now more than ever, especially if as a teacher you work in a predominately white institution. We need to confront why we feel or believe certain things, while also uplifting all of our students to be compassionate and caring individuals of all humanity.
- Being selfish is OK, when it comes to your professional growth. Very rarely do teachers get to experience anything for “FREE,” let alone of a professional development aspect. EdCampSTL works to ensure the experience is largely free for those who attend. Breakfast and lunch is provided at no cost. Prizes and resources are offered at no cost. You may buy a t-shirt, but they are sold at cost. Also, you have the ability to choose the sessions you want to attend. Nobody is forcing you to sit down for hours at a time and keep track of your attendance. If you don’t like a session, use your feet and find a place which will feed your brain. If you didn’t learn anything, that is your fault, because you control the learning.
- Your knowledge means nothing if you keep it to yourself. Too many teachers, schools and districts exist in silos. Information is not shared. School culture stifles innovation when we do not network with others and ask the simple question, “Why can’t we do this here?” I have asked that question so much as of late and will continue to push the envelope on this issue. Reading authors like Simon Sinek, Daniel Pink, George Couros and others has pushed my thinking in a whole new direction in addition to the EdCamps themselves. As teachers, we need to familiarize ourselves with the world of business and organizational theory. When we isolate ourselves and keep doing the same thing for 10 years, we become obsolete as practitioners. The need to constantly evolve and stretch what is possible in our schools is desperately needed.
For me, EdCamp allows me to “be the change I wish to see in the world.” That means disrupting stagnant processes. It means having courageous conversations and incorporating voices which are not included…mainly the voices of students. They are the voices we need to hear from. If they are not learning, we need to take a look at ourselves and figure out how to best reach them. EdCamp helps facilitate those connections.