When the announcement came about #EdCamp35, I was surprised to see the “unconference” was open not only to educators, but parents and students as well! This is so different from the “traditional” model of conferences, where educators are provided with the opportunity to come together to learn, and perhaps, if they are lucky, parents are provided with a separate evening to learn with each other. If there is anything that has become more concrete and solid for me over the past year of connecting with families, it is that we ALL need to start coming together to have conversations about things that matter to us. Coming together allows the opportunities for broader conversations amongst all stakeholders that develop empathy and understanding of what it is like for everyone. I often find there becomes more authenticity to the conversation as well. It is harder to promote that everything is going wonderfully if you have people in the room who know that is not entirely true.
Having considered all of the above, I swallowed my anxious thoughts, forced myself to step outside of my comfort zone and registered for #EdCamp35.
The first person I met that morning was Chris Wejr. Well, he’s pretty much a rock star on the twitterverse if you ask me. One of the first educators I followed, I have always been encouraged by his openness about developing relationships and partnerships with families. Chris urged me to put up a topic on the session board, so I did. Supporting students who have mental health challenges and communicating with their families. I was inspired by the number of “votes” this session topic received, although I wasn’t entirely surprised. This is a big issue in our families, our schools and our communities.
I need not have worried. The stories that were shared when we went around the room for introductions spoke not only to why this session was needed, but also honoured those who are passionate about the topic because of their own experiences with mental health challenges in their classrooms, or their families. The distinction between parent, student and educator had left the room as we all came together sharing this common bond of lived experience.
What stood out for me was the willingness to share those “not so great” experiences with the group, and the openness of the group to receiving these. As usually happens, when one of those experiences is shared there is a collective gasp heard in the room. I really believe it is important for these negative events to be shared, as it highlights there is more work to be done, and creates a level of awareness of what it might be like for a family who has had that experience. It causes us to think about the times we may have judged or made an assumption in the past, when we should have been curious instead. It encourages us to be more curious in the future. So that perhaps the next time a parent avoids a meeting with the school, or appears “not to care”, we might question what it is that happened to that parent, versus what is wrong with the parent.
I carried this feeling throughout the remainder of the day. I connected with some of my twitter peeps, and made a few new friends along the way. I followed the conversation on twitter of all the learning that was happening that day. Reading comments about how important it was to have students involved in the conversation was amazing!
I would like to extend my gratitude to the organizing committee for #EdCamp35, and the Langley School District for supporting this event. I applaud you for having the courage to think outside the box and include parents and students in the invitation to learning. When I look back at events I have participated in, I often reflect using the critical questions from Scott Miller: what was helpful? What was hindering? And what would you wish?
· The buzz on twitter leading up to the event. Notices about who was registering, ongoing promotion leading up to the day, what to expect during the day, all the communication!
· As a parent, being included in the invitation for this event!
· Meeting my twitter friends and making new ones
· Everyone coming together, no power imbalances, just excitement about learning!
· Being encouraged to submit a topic that was important to me
· My name was called first for the door prizes, when I wanted it to be called last for the Apple TV. Just kidding! I love my new book!
· I honestly can’t think of anything hindering about this day, other than perhaps my own anxiety leading up to it
· More events like this to occur in the future! With even more students and parents attending and sharing in the conversation.
To wrap up, I wanted to share the deeper meaning the relationships I have developed through twitter and this #Edcamp35 have meant to me. You see, we have not always had the most positive of school experiences with our child. In fact, some of our experiences have been quite traumatic, and there is a lot of emotion that comes along with this.
When I started following educators and administrators on twitter, when I stumbled upon the #bcedchat, the conversations I was seeing happening gave me hope. It was encouraging to see the many, many great things happening across the province in education. There are amazing, honest, self-reflective and open educators and administrators that are working hard to ensure students and families are supported. It demonstrated to me the shift in thinking that is happening for people within the education system, the commitment to relationship development and understanding. I share this hope and knowledge with the families I connect with who are struggling. It helps us to continue on our journey, and makes some of the “not so good stuff” fade a little bit further into the background. Thank you for having these conversations. Thank you for being curious. Please don’t ever stop!