Tuesday, March 29, 2016

#EdcampSWCT: My First (Amazing) #Edcamp Experience!

By Dan Kreiness

This reflection was originally published by Dan at https://leaderoflearning.wordpress.com on March 14, 2016 and is cross-posted here with permission.

It’s not you, it’s me.

Step aside, traditional professional development methods. You’re not right for me anymore. I’m an Edcamp guy now!

Only recently I found out about and realized the awesomeness of a relatively new form of professional development for educators called Edcamp . See, I have absolutely become a self-admitted education nerd, spending (probably too) much of my spare time browsing the internet, Twitter, and Voxer reading about, talking about, and tweeting about teaching and learning. And as I have dedicated this spare time over the past few months to becoming an uber-connected educator, reaching out to other teachers, coaches, administrators, consultants, etc. around the country and even around the world, I have been finding so many new ways to grow myself and my colleagues. That’s when this concept of Edcamps suddenly appeared up on my radar.

I should mention that I have attended or worked at a summer day camp almost every year since I was entering nursery school at four year old. I have served in many roles in my time on the staff; from group counselor to activity specialist to administration. That may have been part of the initial reason why the word camp stood out to me, but it may have also been the same reason why the unconventional format of Edcamps confounded me.

According to the Edcamp South Dakota‘s explanation of what Edcamp is, “Edcamp is a form of unconference designed specifically for teachers and their needs. What makes Edcamp an unconference? Unlike traditional conferences which have schedules set months in advance by the people running the conference, an Edcamp has an agenda that’s created by the participants at the start of the event. Instead of one person standing in front of the room talking for an hour, people are encouraged to have discussions and hands-on sessions. Sponsors don’t have their own special sessions or tables, all of the space and time are reserved for the things the people there want to talk about.”

So, last week I found out that #EdcampSWCT (Southwest Connecticut) was happening that same weekend. This would be an amazing chance for me to get even nerdier about education and learn more about my craft so that I can get better at supporting the teachers I work with. Selfishly, it would also be a great way to put faces to the names of some of the other educators from around the state whom I had followed on Twitter or spoken to on Voxer, and to connect to even more people than I already had.

Speaking of connections, one that I had recently made was to a teacher who was very well connected in his own rights and, believe it or not, teaches at the middle school in my town. Little did I know at the time that this teacher, Joel Pardalis, not only grew up in the house next to mine and that our kids take the bus home from school together, but then I found out that he was one of the organizers of #EdcampSWCT. I knew then that this “unconference” experience would be something I would definitely have to check out!

It is difficult to describe what I was feeling when I arrived at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk, Connecticut on that Saturday morning. I do know, however, that I definitely expected to learn a lot, and I was eager to assert myself in conversations and sessions throughout the day. That is what led me to post my own session idea. If you look at the session board photo above, my session was posted in the last time slot in room 1045 and would be about online close reading using ActivelyLearn. I decided to facilitate this session because I wanted the experience, but I also figured that this program that I wanted to demonstrate was relatively little known, so I would be able to offer a certain level of expertise that perhaps the other participants would not. So, it would be like teaching in some ways, taking the information that only I have and giving it to others. I also decided to post the session in that final time slot because, since this was my first time even attending an Edcamp, I wanted to gauge various aspects of the other sessions I would attend first.

I decided for the first time slot to attend a wonderfully informative session facilitated by an amazing district-level technology coordinator/coach Alexa Schlechter – whom I had also recently connected with on Twitter – on the 20 Google Chrome extensions teachers can’t live without. It was ruly an enlightening session. I quickly learned how to manage my time between following along with Alexa as she presented the various extensions and live tweeting my experience using the Twitter hashtag #EdcampSWCT. However, that was coincidentally when I began to get a little nervous.

One of the appealing aspects of Edcamp and the “unconference” format is that it allows session participants and even facilitators to not be experts in the area of the topic being presented in a session. In fact, Joel, who had facilitated a session of his own on the question formulation technique – getting your students asking the questions, had mentioned that he even told his session participants at the start of the session that he sought their input as he did not consider himself a leading expert on the topic. But Alexa seemed like such an expert in the extensions she was presenting and had clearly put in the time to prepare her presentation.

And the next session I attended, led by another #EdcampSWCT organizer and recent education connection on both Twitter and Voxer, Rob Pennington, on the use of another amazing education tool called BreakoutEdu, was again a well-prepared and expertly executed session. I was definitely second guessing my decision to facilitate the ActivelyLearn session. And, oh yeah, I had met Michele Haiken, another inspiring educator, who herself was highly knowledgeable about ActivelyLearn. I worried that she knew more than I did and should have been the better choice to run the session than I. I was feeling a bit intimidated and very unprepared.

By the time I got into my third session as a participant, despite enjoying the Edcamp experience immensely so far, I was beginning to think of excuses to get out of running my own session. I found out that after lunch many of the conference goers leave to enjoy the rest of their day and weekend. I also was dealing with a pest problem at my house that I may have needed to leave to deal with at any moment. Perhaps these would prove to be opportune ways for my session to be cancelled. But what would that say about me? What would it do to my chances of becoming/staying well-connected in the education world? Why would I stray from my personal commitment to being a highly-regarded educational leader?

I stayed at the Edcamp, determined to run my session and live up to my own expectations of myself. I have to admit, there were certainly aspects of my session that I would have liked to go better. The other participants (there were seven others besides me) and I had some trouble signing into the program I was presenting, and my goal of having them become “students” in my sample class never really happened. Plus, I had to figure out the answers to a few questions on the spot. But I stayed the course and lived to tell the tale. And I’d like to think that at least a couple of the other session participants even learned a few things and may actually implement the program in their own classroom, or better yet even recommend it to others.

So, what did I take away from this, my first time at an Edcamp? Realistically, too many things to even begin listing here. But I will tell you that I am so glad that I went and so very glad that I didn’t flake out on my own session. It was a completely worthwhile and fulfilling learning experience that I am now starting to think will become something I get hooked on. Just in the few days since this event I have reached out to others to find out how to become even more involved in Edcamps than simply attending/participating. I have also begun to think about ways to organize an Edcamp in my own district (stay tuned for more info. on that as it arises).

Thank you to the founders of Edcamp and to the organizers of  #EdcampSWCT. You have further fueled my fire to become that highly regarded educational leader I alluded to already, and inspired me to think outside the box to come up with fresher ways of enhancing professional learning for me and the other educators I am connected to on both a personal or digital level!

Dan Kreiness serves the Derby (CT) Public Schools as a secondary level Instructional Coach based in the middle school. Before taking over this position in the fall of 2015, Dan helped create the intervention program at Derby Middle School as the Reading Interventionist. Dan began his teaching career by spending nearly eight years in the New York City Department of Education at two separate intermediate schools as an eighth grade English language arts and interventionist and middle level literacy coach. Dan holds Masters in Adolescent Education and Educational Leadership and has specific interests in administration, educational technology and student engagement.

Follow Dan on Twitter @dkreiness and find his blog at https://leaderoflearning.wordpress.com.


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