American innovations: Edcamps redesign professional growth

Kriscia Cabral

Growing up I was a fan of all things school. I went every day. I listened and followed directions. Yes, I was 'that' student. It wasn’t until college that I really turned the page and started asking the question “Why?” about the information I was learning. It is because of this inquiry that I have landed in the position I am in today.

My name is Kriscia Cabral. I teach a combination 4th and 5th grade class in a San Diego suburb called Poway. I’ve been working for the Poway Unified School District for eight years. Over time, I’ve grown as an educator, as learner, as an individual. Each year brings new reflections and learning experiences I look at as growing opportunities. My goal is to teach my students to think for themselves, ask questions, and teach me something new. I look at my role in the classroom as their motivator, their supporter, their partner in learning.

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Every year, teachers attend professional growth events. We go, learn lots of theories and techniques and then often leave wondering if what was fed to us was really what we needed. Wouldn't it be nice to have a professional growth where you create the learning experience based on your individual needs? Edcamps are exactly this.

Imagine walking into a room where a schedule is being formulated based upon the needs of the room. Teachers come in and share out what it is they have (“What am I bringing to the table as an educator?”) and what it is they want to know more about. A blank session board is displayed and starts to fill up as people sign up to be a part of a discussion on the topic of their choice. Teachers can sign up based on wanting to share what they have, or they can sign up on a topic they want to know more about.

Once the board is filled, educators vote with their feet as to where they want to go for their learning experience. Once everyone is in the room of choice, the discussion begins. Note that I said discussions - not presentations. There is no one standing at the front of the room with a PowerPoint presentation, there are no worksheets to try or articles to read and highlight. Edcamps are an opportunity for teachers to communicate what is working, collaborate on ways to improve what's not, and share ideas together. Edcamp is the discussion. It's the "make-and-take" of the 21st century.

The best part about Edcamp is the flexibility in structure. You never know which direction the conversation might go. I recently attended Edcamp Ignite (#edcampignite), which was organized by a group of teachers within my district (So awesome!). My first session to attend was supposed to be about BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). By the end of the session, we were discussing ways to use Google docs.

By the end of the day at an Edcamp you have connected with educators from all over. You’ve exchanged twitter handles and emails. You’ve collaborated on an idea or two and plan to Skype or Google Hangout together. There is so much more to the experience than just the joy of learning. It’s the love of feeling connected.

Edcamps are amazing. They are exciting because people want to share about what they are doing well. They want to have conversations about areas they would like to improve. Let the learning come from within. Teachers feel empowered when their voice is heard. They then take this empowerment back to the classroom and share it with their students. It’s a win-win!

If you’d like to learn more about the EdCamp approach to professional growth, visit their website. Follow discussions on twitter using #edcamp. Think about creating this type of learning environment for teachers at your site, within your area, within your town. Try to create a learning experience like this for your students. Just as much as we like to choose what we learn, so do they!

Are you thinking about getting an Edcamp started? I’d love to hear how it’s going!

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