Sunday, March 2, 2014

Slice of Life #2: The Wrong Question - Reflection on Edcamp Columbus



Yesterday, I attended my very first Edcamp Columbus. I, along with my principal and two colleagues from my school, were intrigued to experience self-directed PD. All of us were new to Edcamp with no idea what would transpire. Trying to explain to others what Edcamp is proved challenging. “It’s a conference that has no specific topic, no specific agenda and no planned breakout sessions.” I anticipated responses like, “Sounds like chaos to me. Have fun with that.”

Edcamp is an “unconference” designed for the teachers needs. The Edcamp website states, “Built on principles of connected and participatory learning, Edcamp strives to bring teachers together to talk about the things that matter most to them: their interests, passions, and questions. Teachers who attend Edcamp can choose to lead sessions on those things that matter, with an expectation that the people in the room will work together to build understanding by sharing their own knowledge and questions.”

I was going to spend my blue sky, sunny Saturday indoors, and I had no idea what would happen. As with any PD experience, I always ask myself “What can I take back with me to use in my classroom?” The PD would be worthwhile if there is something I can take and use in my classroom. For me, this question has always been the hallmark of a good PD session. Would Edcamp Columbus be productive and a worthwhile day of professional development?

Upon arriving, I saw many familiar faces from my district. Edcamp had been buzzing around the Twitterverse for some time. I also saw some familiar faces that I’m used to seeing in small profile picture boxes on my Twitter feed. Hmm...here was a room filled with around 140 characters accustomed to chatting in 140 characters.

After a quick meet and greet with new and old colleagues, it was time to build the board. Educators in the room were encouraged to submit ideas for sessions. Not presentations per se, but more discussion-based sessions. The layout of the day became more apparent as text filled in blanks squares on the projected session board. I scoped out the four hour-long sessions that interested me with topics that ranged from: creating a flipped classroom, restructuring the school day, defining personalized-learning and discussing how classrooms are like gaming. After each session, I left the room without handouts. I typed hardly any notes that I could take back to my classroom. Were these sessions worth it? Had I just wasted 4 hours without a new strategy or resource to start using in my classroom on Monday?

Driving home, I talked with my principal, Jacki Prati, about our impressions of the day. What were our take-aways from the sessions? Is there something that we can take back for school or classroom improvement? Our conversation was peppered with non-committals: “Hmm, I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” or “That’s a great question” or “I’m going to need to think about that.” We sat there with so much swirling around in our heads. I continued to think at home: What were the take-aways?

What can I take and use in my classroom? Nothing.

But, I had been asking the wrong question. I should have been asking myself: What can I take and use to be a better educator for my students?

I believe the purpose of Edcamp is not learning specific new strategies to use in the classroom. It’s about building an understanding of what really matters in the classroom: Empowerment.  Involvement. Risk.  Relationships.
  • Is personalized learning different than differentiated learning? 
  • Does flipped classroom open doors to students or limit the role of a teacher and stifle classroom community?
  • Should our classrooms be more like the video game our students play (Power-ups, cheat codes, passing levels, global collaboration)?
  • How can schools restructure the school day to allow for more teacher collaboration?
Sitting in those rooms with those educators made me realize that it’s not the answers that drive us. It’s the questions we ask. I had so many “a-ha moments” throughout the day that have made me think about my classroom space and culture like I never have before. Why? Because we dared to ask the questions. Edcamp reaffirmed that taking risks is essential to be a teacher for 21st century learners. Our job is too important for us to be doing things the way they’ve always been done before. I need to continually push myself to find the right questions to ask.

15 comments:

  1. I'm just going to leave thinking about this, "It's not the answers that drive us. It's the questions we ask."

    Cathy

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  2. Excellent post! I had to stop in the middle of writing my own reflection to read yours. I really enjoyed being in the same space as other passionate, reflective educators asking questions that are never asked on regular school time.

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    1. Thanks Derek. It was great to meet you as well. I'm excited to hear about how Edcamp Parkersburg!

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  3. I love edcamps. I think what I really like is being surrounded by passionate educators, who take the time to share what they do and give me more to think about. And putting faces to those Twitter pics--priceless

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    1. Thanks Deb! I agree with you. Edcamps create a vibe of risk-taking and passion for education. I think self-directed PD is such a valuable experience, and I hope that more districts move towards allow teachers to share their experiences and expertise.

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  4. We just had an decamp in Denver & I couldn't go because of a PD at my school, but I hope I can make the next one! Your reflection seems valuable, asking the right questions helps everyone, students too!

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    1. Sorry-darn spellcheck-I mean "decamp"!

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    2. Thanks for reading Linda! Hope you get to go to Edcamp Denver next time! It was quite a thought-provoking experience.

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  5. I love to read the reflection of first time "edcampers." Transformations take place during the day and well after the day. I love your thoughts about what we need to build in our classrooms - Empowerment. Involvement. Risk. Relationships. In order to do that, we must actually take part in experience in our own lives that will develop those traits. Twitter is that tool for me. 24/7 at my fingertips - I feel empowered and involved education. I take risks and build relationships!

    I'm looking forward to two #edcamps this month - #edcampiowa (being held in 5 areas across the state simultaneously) and #edcampomaha

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    1. Thanks for your feedback! Twitter was a game changer for me as well. I know that it's hard for teachers to take risks when so much focus is on standardized tests and teach evaluations. I think administrators are a huge part of creating a culture of risk-takers.

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  6. I adore EdCamps and have been to two. There is so much to recommend. One of the best things is that some of us decide to organize this 100% free event providing good food and amazing door prizes and the rest of us decide to come on our own time to share and encourage each other. It shows the dedication of the education community and what we can do when put ourselves in charge of our own PD.

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    1. You are right. Edcamp is definitely a group of dedicated educators. It's truly an inspiring place to spend a Saturday!

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  7. I attended my first Edcamp in RI in October. I've been asked many times what it was like, like you it is hard to describe, but like you I walked away filled with ways to think reflectively and ask questions. One topic was the a model for higher level thinking called SAMR. It was my favorite session how can we use technology to redefine what we do. I think about it everyday. Thanks for the clarity of your post, maybe I will see you at an edCamp one day!

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    1. Thanks Crystal! Edcamp has stayed with me and I'm sure it will continue to do so. There were so many great people with great ideas worth sharing.

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  8. Edcamp sounds so interesting. I wouldn't have been able to go on Saturday, but I do want to attend one. I guess I need to be on Twitter more. :) I'll have to pick your brain on Thursday.

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