I have started and re-started this post more times than I can count. Each time I feel I am leaving something important out, a lesson learned, a question created, or an explanation required. Instead of writing a 3000 word manifesto outlining the planning and hosting of EdCamp YYC I will try to share some of the lessons I have learned over the past six months. I will say this, planning and hosting EdCamp YYC was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had as a teacher and I am proud of how the event turned out. What started as a simple PD event among some CBE schools quickly grew into something beyond anything I could have imagined. The day was a powerful illustration of what can happen when teachers take control of their own PD. Thank you to everyone who attended and helped with planning this event.
Lesson One – If you build it, they will come
When the idea of an EdCamp type of PD day was first pitched to admin, it was pitched as an opportunity to get 2-3 schools together and to develop sessions that were of interest to teachers. We knew teachers in all schools were struggling with the same issues and that it would be important to have an opportunity to share what was happening in each of our classrooms. I remember sitting in a staff meeting, pitching the idea and being asked what numbers would be like. I believe I answered with something along the lines of “I would love to get to 200, but I think 100-150 would be around the high end.” Staff at Elboya were encouraged to tap into their own personal networks and share the opportunity. We were fully aware that schools often have their PD days set out in advance and in many cases teachers told us that they couldn’t attend since they had a mandatory PD day at their own school. It was when #edcampyyc hit twitter that we began to see traction. Our first non-Elboya registrant was a substitute teacher in the CBE, they were simply the first of 260 non-Elboya registrants for #EdCampYYC. We had individuals from Red Deer Lethbridge, Lacombe, and everywhere in between. We tapped into something and while I cannot speak to the motivations of every participant, I would like to think it was the desire to sit down and discuss things that were important to them with a diverse group of passionate educators. we provided the space and were flooded with interest. My takeaway is that teachers are keen to further their professional learning, but they wish to have a greater say in what it looks like. One size fits all does not work for our students and should not work for our teachers.
Lesson Two – Trust the process
As a group, we knew we were in somewhat uncharted territory with hosting an EdCamp. We had done our research, we attended EdCamp Edmonton and felt like we had a good understanding of how the day would look. There were several times where we doubted ourselves and whether we could pull the event off. At some point in February I believe we adopted the motto of “Don’t eff this up.” There was a certain degree of pressure knowing that 300 people were coming to your school expecting an amazing PD experience, especially knowing that not everyone fully understood what this PD experience would look like. As our numbers grew to 250+ we began to really question whether we could offer a true EdCamp experience. By true EdCamp experience I mean having the schedule made the day of by the participants. Reaching out to one of the co-founders asking about the largest known EdCamps we found that 240 was the largest.
As our numbers continued to creep up, we made the decision to utilize technology to create the schedule in advance. The thought of having close to 300 people in our small school creating the schedule terrified us, would it be too chaotic, would it be too overwhelming for those unfamiliar with concept? Our goal was to try and stay true to the idea of having an event that was participant driven still, but also provide a little bit of structure in order to ensure that things did not spin out of control. There was debate over whether we should offer only sessions with facilitators or whether we should allow for open sessions as these were conversations that people wanted to have? We ultimately decided to allow for both facilitated and open sessions. In the end, minus a few minor deviations we stuck to the process established by the EdCamp Foundation and what we found is that the process is sound. Our fears about sessions being overcrowded or not having anyone worked themselves out. The process worked and overall feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Knowing what we know now, I would love to try and build the schedule the day of.
Lesson Three – The conversation needs to continue
EdCamp YYC was a good first step. The most common feedback we have received to date went along the lines of “The sessions were too short.” “I wish the day was longer.” “Having people stay for lunch would have led to more opportunities to network.” “45 minutes a session is not a long time, how can we continue the conversation?” On one hand as an organizer I am disappointed that we could not provide enough time for people to really dive into their topics and collaborate with each other. On the other hand however I am thrilled to know that people are wanting to continue the conversation and to push their practice while collaborating with others. One such community has already sprung up and could potentially serve as excellent hub for continuing the conversations that only begun at EdCamp YYC.
Lesson Four – You are not alone
It truly was inspiring for me to see teachers, professors, and community members from across the province come together and attempt to answer one common goal, how do we improve student learning? The topics for conversations took many shapes, but in the end they all came back to the student. Personally I enjoyed seeing sessions made up of teachers from four different school boards all teaching different grades and relate their experiences to one another. I had numerous teachers mention that they always thought they were the only ones that “thought this way” and that they loved the opportunity to connect with one another. I have often felt that education seems to be too focused on competition, whether it is district vs. district, school vs. school, or even class vs. class. Too often I find we are focused on why what we did was so great and less on how can we work together. It was refreshing to see so many teachers representing so many different views come together and forget about competing or saying look at me.
Lesson Five – Alberta has some pretty amazing teachers
As we began to receive feedback from our exit survey I was struck by the quality of comments from participants. Their feedback was specific and they provided precise examples on how future EdCamp type events could look and be improved upon. None of this feedback came across as being mean spirited. It was refreshing to see and to know that this is likely the type feedback their students receive from them. I have to say that one of the downfalls of hosting such an event is that you don’t have the opportunity to speak with everyone. Many of you I have spoken with on Twitter or through email and I simply did not have the chance to chat with you in person. I am humbled that all of you took the time to come to our “small” PD day at Elboya School and feel I owe each of you a thank you for helping build a collaborative community of educators. I look forward to continuing the discussion and improving on future EdCamp events. We appreciate all of your feedback and thank you for taking the time to provide it.
This event was only as successful as the people that participated, participants overwhelmingly stated that this was a worthwhile PD opportunity and that they would suggest a similar even to a colleague. I do not pretend to think that this event was perfect, but I do feel that we provided something that was missing for teachers. If the result of this is more of these types of events great, if it leads to even greater collaboration and conversation, all the better. I look forward to seeing how this conversation will continue to grow and how these events will continue to evolve as teachers become more comfortable with this unconventional format.