How do the teachers in your school react when you schedule a professional learning day? If they are less than enthusiastic, it might be time to ask yourself if you’re doing it right.
Don’t get us wrong — we understand. We’ve been educators and administrators at districts where training seemed a necessary chore at best. But at Wappingers Central School District in Hopewell Junction, New York, we wanted to do better. That’s why we embarked on a strategic planning initiative that included making our professional learning days as collaborative and engaging as possible. The solution we hit on — proposed by district technology integration specialists Paul Rubeo and Daniel Roberto — was a districtwide edcamp.
Edcamps are organic, participant-driven professional learning experiences created by teachers, for teachers. They are built around the simple structure of teachers teaching each other what they know — collaborative learning at its best. They strive to bring teachers together to talk about the things that matter most to them: their interests, passions and questions. With this spirit in mind, we launched EdcampWCSD.
Our results were nothing short of phenomenal. Teachers got into the spirit almost immediately, tweeting about their excitement and what they were learning before, during and after the event. “A prof dev day that leaves me refreshed, inspired and ready to try new things!” said one.
“Sharing across buildings, across disciplines — great day!!” said another.
“We have been inspired by the best!”
Although this was our first edcamp, it was a huge success, largely due to our concerted planning, from the promotional stages through execution. Here’s how we did it.
Promoting the edcamp
Because collaboration lies at the center of the edcamp approach, we knew we had to drum up as much participation and excitement as possible and get our teachers — who would be both the educators and the students at our edcamp — involved as early as possible.
Here are the tools we used to promote the event:
Website. We kicked off our edcamp planning efforts by launching a website two months before the event. We sent the URL out on Twitter and social channels. Eventually, we put survey links, the edcamp schedule, tutorials and other resources on the site.
Video tutorials. We posted video tutorials on the website explaining the role of session facilitators and the backchanneling process, which allows people participating remotely to interact in the conversation via Twitter or other videoconferencing tools. This was as much of a promotional tactic as a logistical one. It showed participants that this was a big deal and it fueled their enthusiasm.
Twitter. We helped educators at each school set up Twitter accounts if they didn’t already have them. We created the hashtag #EdcampWCSD and encouraged everyone to tweet photos of their preparation and share their excitement with their professional learning networks.
Google Forms survey. We created a survey to find out what session topics resonated with faculty, staff and administrators. We asked administrators to help spread the word by inviting their staffs to help shape the event. It worked. We received over 650 responses.
We also asked survey takers for their grade level, department, building assignments and interest in facilitating sessions. This data automatically populated a Google Sheet for easy analysis. The Professional Development Committee and administration reviewed all survey results and worked to consolidate sessions, finalize titles and make recommendations for session facilitators.
Planning the event
Our district is large, so we put on three separate edcamps — for primary, intermediate and secondary levels.
We ended up with 212 sessions on a wide range of ed tech topics, from using interactive whiteboards to tech tools for formative assessment. The final schedule went up on the website with a link to another Google Form for registration that asked participants to select 10-12 sessions in four time slots. We offered the most popular sessions multiple times to meet demand.
We then sorted information from the session selection survey to create participant lists for each topic. With access to the Google Sheets, each principal could track the registration progress. Once registration was complete, we sent a link to a document posted on the website listing participants and the room number for each session.
Preparing the facilitators
We gave each facilitator video tutorials and a text document offering tips and guidance on facilitating sessions. Each facilitator was responsible for creating a Google Doc for their session and adding information before the event to help generate conversation on the topic.
We asked facilitators to remind attendees to share specific examples and resources, and we encouraged them to acknowledge and engage participants using Twitter as a backchannel. At the end of each session, we asked that they allow all participants five minutes to drop everything and tweet.
The success of each session depended on the contributions of its participants. The facilitator’s job was not to make a presentation but to keep the discussion moving.
Collaborating on the big day
When the day of the WCSD Edcamp arrived — a Friday at the end of March — we were ready. At each of the three locations, the day kicked off with an opening session about the importance of teacher leadership and becoming a connected educator.
We promoted backchanneling using the Twitter hashtag, which fed into a live feed, as well as capturing the “big ideas” from each session in Google Docs to create a digital archive. Over 700 faculty, staff and administrators participated in the WCSD Edcamp. Some of their favorite sessions included:
Google: Yes, It Is Really More Than a Search Engine.
Using Technology for Formative Assessments.
80/20 Genius Hour: Using Students’ Passions to Motivate Learning.
Merging Content Across STEM.
Can We Talk About Race.
Although some facilitators were nervous at first, they soon discovered that moments after the clock started on their 45-minute sessions, the ideas were flowing and the conversation was lively.
One of the best tools of the event was the live feed, which enabled teachers around the district to interact during their sessions. Most found it exhilarating to collaborate with far-flung colleagues. At the end of the edcamp, participants reflected on the event in a “smackdown” session. Overall, teachers and administrators loved the opportunity to meet with their colleagues and exchange information and ideas.
Keeping the learning going
We also sent out a feedback survey. Here are just a few things that participants had to say about the experience:
“Edcamp helped to build my confidence and helped my area of knowledge.”
“Giving everyone the same voice was empowering.”
“Hearing from teaching assistants to administration and everyone in between on the same topics was inspiring.”
To extend the professional learning beyond this day, we continued adding resources and comments to the interactive documents. The Google Docs became a tool for collaboration and a catalogued professional development resource for the district.
Our edcamp experience has taught us that, much like students, educators learn best when they have a choice. When you ask educators what they want to learn about, you cultivate a climate where everyone is focused on positive, ongoing growth and student achievement.
Caroline Pidala is principal of Millbrook High School in New York. She was formerly an assistant principal at Roy C. Ketcham High School in Wappingers Central School District. Janet Warden is currently the assistant superintendent for curriculum and personnel at the Carmel Central School District. She was formerly the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at the Wappingers Central School District.
(This is an updated version of an article that originally published on the ISTE Blog 12/23/2015)
Thank you to Daniel Roberto and Paul Rubeo, who proposed and helped plan WCSD Edcamp. Roberto is a district technology integration specialist, and Rubeo is a tech integration specialist as well as vice president of the board of directors of the New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education (NYSCATE), ISTE’s New York affiliate.