Learning and loving the unconference model

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I finally got a taste of a traditional EdCamp. (It feels weird to call it that, since by its very nature an EdCamp is not traditional; but when your first experience of the model is the only all-digital version, it feels…right.)

I won’t go into great detail about the day or the learning I did there – not here, not now. Those things seem to me to be best served in a more private space for now. Instead, I thought it best to commit to more public spheres my take on the model overall and why I want to find a way to use it at my school and in Sacramento.

For those who may not know, the EdCamp model for professional development is called an “unconference” model. That means that the expansive, vendor-driven, enroll-for-sessions-in-advance model for educational conferences is subverted. Instead, EdCamps offer a more self-contained, teacher-driven, establish-and-pick-your-sessions-collaboratively model. The EdCamp ideal is for any educator in attendance to have multiple opportunities to select and interact with topics of interest to them, at the moment they walk in the door. No sessions are pre-arranged or developed. No presentations are given. No products or textbooks are overtly marketed. It is all about choice and collaboration.

My friend and colleague-from-another-school Peter and I put down our interest in talking about and learning more about going paper-lite using apps. It was an entirely self-serving and self-centered request to have that session. And that is encouraged. In fact, that’s what EdCamps thrive on: Teachers who know what they want or need in order for them to grow. Aside from the session we ended up sort of facilitating, we sat in on three others that people had pitched that were of immediate or passing interest to us. The result was our spending four hours in conversation with educators (not all like-minded, either) who were in the rooms of their own volition, out of the mutual interest in getting better at what they do.

What did I take away more than anything? I want to bring this model home.

At my school, I want to help organize a day – or part of a day – in which my colleagues can select what they want to focus on to make themselves better and thereby best serve our student population. I think required attendance at a guest’s presentation has its place, but at this particular crossroads where we now find ourselves and our school – 1:1 iPad rollout now, modified block schedule next year, a realignment with new standards, an action plan for our next accreditation cycle – this unconference model should be considered the ideal method of at least starting genuine conversations and inquiry into shepherding our school through these processes.

In my class, I want to help center learning more around what students need and want. Why not conclude a novel study with an unconference on student-generated topics? What better way to release responsibility and ownership of discussion? Why not conclude the psychology class I teach with a self-directed inquiry period that culminates in an unconference? Why not?

For our city and region, I want to help organize a full-sized EdCamp event, EdCampSac. I want to reach out to like-minded educators who are willing and able to take a day on a weekend to meet up and discuss and inquire and learn together. With a grassroots event like this, our schools will hopefully get just a little bit better, and our students will hopefully see the passion in their teachers a bit more clearly.

When the model works, free of charge to the participant, how can you deny its endless possibilites?

For those interested in some of the resources from EdCampSFBay, visit the event’s wiki. You can find notes on individual sessions, the session board with session titles/topics, and links to a healthy helping of Twitter archives from the day’s goings-on.

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