Why Professional Development Should Be More Like Edcamp

I didn't have any pictures of our edcamp, so I took some of another edcamp I wish I could have attended.

Most of the time, I leave conferences frustrated by the sessions. I find myself feeling frustrated by the irrelevance of sessions. I get bored with the sit-and-get style. My eyes grow blurry from the steady flow of slides. The exception is edcamp. In this model, teachers vote on the most popular sessions and then people lead them in a discussion-based format.

Every time I have experienced this type of professional development, I have left with more ideas than I would typically have in a conference. I also feel more validated professionally, because I had a chance to share my expertise. And yet, I didn't have to "prove" myself to the crowd, because I was, at best, a facilitator leading a discussion. Sessions were practical, philosophical, idea-driven and, at times, a safe place to be vulnerable.

It makes sense. If you have teachers together face-to-face, why not let them talk about what works? Why not let them ask questions of one another? Why not use the best medium available, the human voice, to learn from one another?

It has me thinking that our weekly professional development ought to work in an edcamp model. By this, I mean offer multiple choices, keep the groups small and then lead a discussion. It could be a book study or a week-by-week discussion on a topic. It could be a new set of topics each week, depending upon the desires of the teacher.

An edcamp model would empower teachers to share their expertise democratically.  

Ultimately, the value of edcamp is in the sharing of ideas and in the validation of one's professional identity. Too often, that's not happening at the weekly professional development that teachers attend. Yet, in a more democratic model, teachers begin to see that what they believe and what they know actually matters.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think democratic PD should be the only model we use. There is a value in presenting information in a class-like format, where a teacher has prepared in advance. There is a value in doing Ignite-style sessions. I think the coaching model, job-embedded planning model and elective-class / multiple-week model all have value. So, why not embrace the edcamp model as part of a holistic plan for professional development.

(I added a final paragraph after reading George's comment)

photo credit: rwentechaney via photopin cc

John Spencer is a teacher, author, speaker, and incessant doodler.
He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard
and the co-founder of Write About .

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