PD Sucks. Is EdCamp The Solution?

G9 Professional Development and Awards - US Army - 092111PD Sucks. Is EdCamp The Solution?

by Dawn Casey-Rowe, Social Studies Teacher & Learnist Evangelist

Related Learnist Resource: Make Your Own EdCamp

Professional Development is about to undergo a revolution of sorts. People all across the nation are taking PD into their own hands. They are tired of professional development gone wrong, of “three device days,” where life rafts of survival are constructed of hidden Dilbert cartoons and fully-charged iPhones.

The root word of the term “professional development” is “to develop.” According to Macmillan, professional development means “the process of obtaining the skills, qualifications, and experience that allow you to make progress in your career.” This is something that is often missing from teacher professional development days. Sometimes, the offerings make no sense, and other times they border on absurd. Who hasn’t heard the jokes about the PD “lecture in differentiated instruction?”

I’d like to do a short series examining a specific, helpful, or innovative type of professional development, digging in to see if we can make PD a better place. Ideally, we’d like to see PD be organic, worthwhile, energizing–something that we look forward to between sessions. Professional development should be individual, differentiated, and geared toward the interests and intentions of the learner. Sure, sometimes there is some PD that everyone must experience together, but when that occurs, it shouldn’t be a substitute for Ambien or Lunesta or mistaken for a meditation session. The sessions should model the way we want our classes to be taught–they should be engaging and motivating. We can’t talk about good teaching if we don’t model it for our own learning.

The EdCamp: Professional Development’s Holy Grail

EdCamp is the Holy Grail of differentiated professional development. In EdCamp, there is no agenda. There is a blank board at the beginning of the day with time slots and corresponding locations. Participants gather around the board and post sticky notes as to what what they’d like to discuss, present, or learn about on the board. People with similar ideas place their note in overlapping time slots, and often people can be seen rearranging their slots because “it’s the same time as that one, and I want to go to that one…”

Then, when the board is filled, people snap pictures and write down the titles of the sessions and attend the ones they want. Sometimes I overhear groans of disappointment, “I really want to go to both of those but they’re at the same time,” followed by collaborative solutions, “Hey, you go to that one and I’ll do this one, and we can tweet about them.”

EdCamp is the essence of collaboration–melding and sharing of ideas in the spirit of excitement. How many school professional development days have seen faculty disappointed that there wasn’t enough slots to do all the interesting professional development?

Now, imagine this. Imagine that your faculty meeting had no agenda. Imagine that there was simply a grid in the front of the room with a certain amount of empty spaces with corresponding rooms and participants could put “I’m going to present this!” Some rooms might have Common Core Standards, others might have co-teaching, still others could have “physical fitness and student/teacher wellness.” It could be anything. People vote with their feet–the sessions that were the most helpful for people would be the ones that fill up. It might be that there were a couple of mandatory sessions. It might be the entire day could be up to the participants.  But to really do it right, you’d have a nice table full of coffee and treats, and just let the day flow.

Consider having one EdCamp-style PD event at your school and getting your rock star faculty to take ownership of the subject material. You’ll save money, give respect to your on-staff experts, and have a day full of community building and interesting collaboration. Set up a twitter board and tweet between sessions. I give a guarantee this will be a PD format you’ll want to continue.

This Learnist board is an introduction to EdCamp-style learning: “Make Your Own EdCamp.” Try these very simple ideas, and your PD will be revolutionized, guaranteed. Please add pictures and successes to this board for others to try, too. EdCamp is about collaboration, and Learnist is, too.

Image attribution flickr user familymwr; PD Sucks. Is EdCamp The Solution?