Last year, the hands-down best professional development I was involved in was EdCampSTL. I had heard of EdCamps but had no idea what they were. Knowing a few teachers who were on the planning committee for EdCampSTL gave me the nudge I needed to attend. I had no idea what to expect.
When I walked into Affton High School, the EdCampSTL site, I saw a sea of teachers mingling, coffee in hand, and signing up on huge white sheets of paper that were hanging on the walls. Signing up for what, I wondered? It turned out that teachers were signing up for rooms and times to give PD sessions. Ahhh, I was beginning to see how it worked. Teachers who were not presenting could see the offerings and create their schedule accordingly.
The underpinning idea of EdCamps is that teachers can provide high-quality, relevant professional development for other teachers. All teachers are expert in many areas and can teach their colleagues many things. In typical professional development situations, we normally don't put teachers in those situations. We have traditionally hired "outside experts" to come deliver PD to the teaching staff, overlooking many on-staff who could offer PD that is just as good. This traditional PD model assumes that the teachers on staff are not expert, and it is wrong. The EdCamp model relies on the expertise of teachers to deliver quality PD. The role of the teacher is the big difference between traditional PD and EdCamp PD.
I have said for years that if you want good PD, you should put teachers in a room together with NO AGENDA, and what those teachers come up with, naturally and organically, will knock your socks off. Teachers, by their nature, are curious learners who want to find new things to do in class and new ways to teach the essential skills to the kids. Teachers are creative, passionate experts who have a lot to offer their colleagues. The EdCamp model takes advantage of teachers' expertise and gives them the venue to share, collaborate, train and learn. It is a beautiful day of learning. When our schools run more like EdCamps, we will have taken a giant step toward personalize learning for students, and the students will be all the better off for it.
Note: For teachers interested in attending EdCampSTL on February 7, they can find all of the information at edcampstl.org.