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Well there you have it ... the first every EdCamp for the Langley School District is in the books. And what an amazing day it was. When the team came up with the idea of bringing this growing form of professional development to our district in the valley, we hoped that 50 - 70 educators would give up a Saturday (and a sunny one to boot) to talk about how to make schools better. Instead, we ended up with over 150 people from all facets of "the school system" come together to learn, share and connect with each other. And as I take a minute to reflect back on the build-up to EdCamp35 and the day itself, here are some of the things that resonated most with me (in no particular):
1. ALL stakeholders are passionate about education: At EdCamp35, we had so many different perspectives represented in the conversations going on. There were the expected groups of educators present - teachers, support staff, and administrators. But there were the other crucial voices to the conversation given a voice during these important dialogues. We were lucky to have many students and parents contribute while the key ears of District Leaders and Trustees were there to listen. It really enforced the notion that it will take all of us to revolutionize education in the way necessary.
2. Conversations Trump Presentations: One of the staples of an EdCamp is the notion that sessions are built around conversations as oppose to "stand and deliver" presentations. And on Saturday, the format allowed for many different ideas and perspectives to be heard. The sessions I attended allowed students to tell us what they really thought about teachers using social media (hint...it's not what you'd think) or how complicated the idea of moving away from formal letter grades is from community to community. These kinds of rich dialogues are just harder to attain in traditional professional development workshops/conferences.
3. The Power of Twitter in Building Deeper Professional Relationships: I had always thought this was true at some level, but had it brought right into my consciousness at EdCamp35. It was Christine Younghusband that helped me realize that the professional dialogues I have with my PLN (Professional Learning Network) on Twitter lets me get to know them on a certain level without having met them face-to-face. And then at an event like EdCamp35 when I do get to meet them in person, I find it much easier to take that professional relationship even deeper, much more quickly. And as a result, the connecting, sharing and subsequent learning is so much more beneficial.
4. Education is Complex and Exciting: At EdCamp35, I found myself fully immersed in some deep conversations about very complex issues. And while at times, the problems we were attempting to address were overwhelming, all I felt was excitement about the challenge of making learning as powerful for students as possible. For example, the discussion about an alternative to letter grades was almost too much to tackle. But as I listened to what other districts were sharing, along with our own, I was energized by the possibility of something more effective in truly enhancing learning and communication in the reporting of learning. And this was only one example. Whether it was navigating social media in schools, digital citizenship or just debating "things that suck," I was excited about tackling the complexity that is school.
5. T.E.A.M. - Together Everyone Achieves More: I was lucky enough to be a part of the organization team that help make EdCamp35 a reality. And it was very clear that it required a true team to put this awesome day together. Working with such amazing people and inspiring educators confirmed my belief in the idea of synergy. I can't thank Chris Wejr, Magdy Ghobrial, Ngaire Leaf, Nick Ubel, Katherine Mulski and Victoria Olson enough for making the journey so tremendously fulfilling and incredibly fun.
I want to sincerely thank everyone for coming to EdCamp35. It sounds cliche, but it is not a success unless the people who are there make it a success. We are excited to already be thinking about next year's EdCamp35 and look forward to seeing more of you at other EdCamps around the province. Please continue the conversation by checking out our website, www.edcamp35.com
The following letter was emailed to the EdCamp35 organizing team by Karen Copeland, a parent from the Abbotsford School District who attended EdCamp35 on April 12, 2014 ...
About 8 months ago, I stumbled onto a #bcedchat on twitter. It was encouraging for me to see all these amazing educators taking time out on their Sunday evening to discuss topics that were meaningful to them. I took a deep breath and jumped in with my parent perspective. I cannot say enough about how welcomed my perspectives were, and slowly my own network began to grow.
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.
In the days leading up to the event, I begged my colleague to please ensure she could also attend (she did!). I was nervous. I pondered cancelling my registration. But my excitement about the opportunity to learn together with educators prevailed. I was also looking forward to meeting others I follow on twitter, and I didn’t want to bail on my colleague, either!
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.
A group of over 20 of us assembled in our designated room for the session, where it then became apparent that the person who suggested the topic should be the facilitator. Gulp! A parent facilitating a conversation for and with educators?!? How often does that happen? And how would it be received?
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 walked away from this session feeling very encouraged and inspired by the sharing that took place. It was great to hear the perspectives of the educators who are working within the system, who believe in the goodness of ALL children. It was incredible to hear the perspective of the youth who attended the session, about what might work for them in a secondary school setting. Most importantly, I felt that everyone was valued in the conversation. We didn’t necessarily have titles other than people with a common interest. What a fabulous feeling! It is my hope that those who attended the session came away with the same thoughts.
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!