Reflections of #EdCampSEMass
by Rayna Freedman, Jacqueline Prester, Karen Winsper and Kim Zajac
#EdCampSEMass opened its doors once again to host its 3rd annual event on Saturday, December 1, 2018. We welcomed sixty-seven attendees from forty-four different districts and/or companies to join a day of collaborative learning and professional development and personal recharging! The session board was filled in record time putting the ever-popular Student Panel on the marquee, along with a full range of topics such as Creating Ed Tech Resources, Mindful Classrooms/SEL and The Great Homework Debate for participants to plan and choose their schedule for the day. The learning and growth extending from the event reached all in attendance including the founders and organizers of the event, Rayna Freedman, Jacqueline Prester, Karen Winsper, and Kim Zajac, who have shared their reflections, Aha! Moments, and visions for the future of #EdCampSEMass here.
Maintaining Relevance and Value in Professional Learning
OnCUE: How great events come to be and the way they uniquely evolve over time is always a topic of interest in the professional development world. What is the story of #EdCampSEMass?
EdCampSEMass: After attending many Edcamps hosted by colleagues throughout the region, we knew we wanted to bring the unconference model of professional learning to our part of the state. Edcamps are such empowering opportunities for educators to connect on topics that are meaningful to them. We wanted to share the Edcamp experience so the best way was to host an event ourselves. Rather than waiting for others to organize a local event, we thought, “Why not us?” We are fortunate to have the support of the Norton Public Schools where we have hosted every year. We are also very thankful to the dozens of sponsors and our veteran volunteers who help to make the event the success it has been!
The EdCamp Style of Learning
OnCUE: In year three of organizing and hosting #EdCampSEMass, what stands out as the most distinguishing aspect of the EdCamp style of learning as compared to more traditional PD events and opportunities?
EdCampSEMass: We love the anticipation of not knowing what sessions will be offered beyond our student panel and MassCUE session. Educators come and the session board is empty, waiting for ideas to be discussed. The topics people choose are important to them, and they are seeking answers and ideas from like-minded educators. We also love the ‘leave the title at the door’ mentality for Edcamps. It does not matter if you are a superintendent, principal, teacher, school committee member, student, or coach. It is your ideas and interests that make learning happen. Lastly, we have a student panel that is always a huge crowd pleaser. We love the questions being asked and the honesty of our local students in answering them. Often in traditional professional development, it is a one size fits all models where you sit and listen. EdCamp allows us to think with our feet and have discussions. People leave with new ideas, feeling refreshed and ready to implement new things the next school day!
Building Professional Learning Networks
OnCUE: How would you describe the influence your event, #EdCampSEMass, has had on facilitating connections and the building of PLN relationships for attendees over the past three years?
EdCampSEMass: Often times, educators feel isolated within their own districts. EdCamps draw educators who are like-minded, willing to take risks and try something new. Those who have attended EdCampSEMass come back year after year to see friends they have made at the event. Many have seen first hand the value of social media and connecting across districts, remaining in contact long after EdCampSEMass by sharing curriculum ideas and supporting one another. We encourage long-distance communication and camaraderie with our annual Twitter Challenge leading up to Edcamp, as well as in the week following the event. It’s a great way to give our attendees targeted discussion points before and after the event.
Benefits of Attending
OnCUE: To the educators reading this blog post who have never attended an EdCamp event, what words of encouragement, reasons or examples of benefit would you provide them to encourage them to step outside their comfort zone?
EdCampSEMass: The Edcamp community is extremely welcoming of all attendees. We tell potential participants that everyone leaves their title at the door. We are all equals who come to learn, grow, share, and network. Whether you are an Edcamp veteran or a first-time attendee, you will find it a refreshing and inspiring experience like no other. All attendees are encouraged to propose a session, whether as an expert wanting to share or as a learner wanting to know more! I’ll admit I was a little nervous the first time I went to an Edcamp, but was easily won over. With the format of Edcamp, you never know where a conversation may lead. At another Edcamp I attended, a discussion about Teach Like a Pirate turned into an impromptu lunchtime Hangouts session with none other than Dave Burgess, author of the best-seller Teach Like A Pirate! The possibilities are endless when you gather a group of inspired, motivated, and curious educators.
Organize Your Own Edcamp
OnCUE: To the educators interested in #LeadingUp who are curious about organizing and hosting an EdCamp event in their district or geographical area, what advice or words of support can you provide to encourage them to take the risk and join the world of being #BetterTogether?
EdCampSEMass: There was a gaping hole for self-directed professional learning in our area. The founders had traveled for EdCamps, but realized hosting one in our area would fill a need and connect local educators who could network long after the event. One of the best things we did was tap into the resources from the amazing organizers who host EdCamp Cape Cod. Their advice and resources helped us get off the ground. We also connected with other EdCamp leaders all over the country via Twitter and Facebook to get more ideas. If you are decided on hosting one in your area take the risk and try it out. Ask for help! Expect attrition with attendance. Host a student panel. Seek volunteers to help you out with preparation and the day of. Have fun! You will not regret creating a learning space for passionate educators to share their resources.
OnCUE: As we enter 2019 and anticipate the arrival of the 4th annual #EdCampSEMass event, it’s only natural to look for teasers for what’s next and how favorited events will level up. What aspects of #EdCampSEMass do you envision expanding or reaching new heights?
EdCampSEMass: One of the most anticipated and highly favored aspects of #EdCampSEMass has been the Student Panel. From the very start, we knew our Edcamp would have a strong voice for student-centered learning. What we did not know is what shape that would take. In our first year, we decided to invite a panel of students to reserve a spot on our session board. They took to the stage of the auditorium where an audience of educators ranging from paraprofessionals to superintendents filled the room candidly asking questions to gain perspective from perhaps our most valuable, unfiltered and untapped resource: the students. This experience provided a wealth of learning to both attendees and students which extended far beyond anything that could be gleaned from a book or research study. Attendees and students ask each year if the panel would make a return. Each year the answer has been a resounding “YES”!
In 2019, #EdCampSEMass fans should look to see the student presence at #EdCampSEMass reach new heights. The creative geniuses of the 2018 Student Panel have been cooking up plans to add a new dimension of Student Voice! While the ideas continue to percolate, we could speculate they might offer up a flipped student panel where educators take to the stage and students provide the questions and thinking points to be discussed. Alternatively, they could also surprise us with the provision of a student ignite showcase or “Dear Future Me” exposé. Whatever form the student presence at #EdCampSEMass takes on, it is sure to leave all who attend with a new appreciation for student perspective, mindblowing inspiration and discussion points to bring back to their own districts!
#EdCampSEMass is organized each year by Rayna Freedman, Jacqueline Prester, Karen Winsper and Kim Zajac. Follow @EdCampSEMass on Twitter for the latest updates.
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