It’s kind of funny, since this place has never looked more like a ghost town, but I’ve actually done more blogging in the past few months than ever before. It just turned out to be not here. I am, of course, referring to Edcamp Philly, where for almost all intents and purposes, I kind of wound up being in charge of almost all communications, which meant tending to the blog and Twitter feed. Those letters to the Edcampers? I wrote them. Those Meet the Edcampers posts? Did almost all of the copy-pasting. That being said, I performed as only one tiny piece in the larger machine of the Edcamp organization team, and it would have all fallen apart if I had tried to do it on my own. I’m extremely fortunate to have met the right people that, as a team, we were able to pull together a great day.
And it was a great day, probably the absolute best day of my eight years as a teacher. To think that I helped pull together something which brought so much knowledge and joy to the educators in attendance is, to me, nothing short of miraculous. Two years ago, I couldn’t have imagined doing something like this. One year ago, I could have imagined it, but would have dismissed it out of hand as unrealistic. Seven months ago, I met a wonderful group of teachers who all really wanted to do it, so we did.
But all of that is really besides the point, and not what I came here to blog about today. I really want to talk about one very unexpected moment I had during my day.
I ran a session right after lunch entitled Things That Suck. I’ll be honest I completely stole the format from UX Crank, who ran a session with the same name at BarCamp Philly back in November. The basic idea: throw out a topic, and have the people in the room move around the room to different areas to signify whether they think the topic you’re discussing a) sucks b) rocks c) is not worth caring about. here’s what we talked about:
- Merit Pay
- Interactive Whiteboards
- Full Inclusion
- Students with cell phones
- District Professional Development
There was some great discussion as I started calling on people from the different sides to justify their positions and respond to what others were saying. a few times somebody would say something and half of the room would go “ooh!” and raise their hands to respond, which was awesome. On most of these issues, there’s no really right or wrong position, but you can learn a lot about the states of people’s schools by finding out their viewpoints. The cell phone debate was so good that we let it go a few minutes long.
The powerful moment, however came on the fifth topic. To set the scene a little while after we started, our roaming cameraman came in and miked me up to record the conversation. No problem, everybody’s having a good time. Until I say the magic words “Next topic: Your district’s professional development plan for you.” If you’ve never seen a roomful of teachers looking at you like deer caught in headlights, I don’t recommend it. They looked at me, shifted their gaze to the camera, looked back at me, and then I told the camera guy to cut the feed. As soon as he did, I’d estimate that fully three-quarters of the room made a beeline for the sucks side of the room.
People, we have a problem.
The people on the rocks side did an excellent job of presenting why we should all hope that our districts can be forward-thinking to give us meaningful professional development. In particular there seemed to be a strong element of collaboration, particularly in the use of Professional Learning Communities. On the sucks side, people seemed upset about being forced to sit through mandatory professional development programs that frequently follow a “do as I say, not as I do” model. They’re wondering why they’re told they must differentiate their instruction, but never have their professional development differentiated for them.
The main thing I got out of the discussion is that, it doesn’t matter who you are, what age you are, people are hungry for a choice. The people who blessed us with their presence on Saturday gave up their own free time so that they could connect with other teachers and hopefully learn something useful. They didn’t get any continuing education hours out of it, they genuinely wanted to learn. i think a big reason why we got such positive comments from the attendees is specifically because they had complete control over their own days. We actively encouraged people to vote with their feet and walk out of a session if it didn’t fit their needs or interests and find something that would.
At the afterparty, I got to talking with a few different people about the mindbending moment of people being afraid to speak their minds in public with a camera rolling, and we came to an important question: If teachers feel that strongly about how much they would love to have some choice and control in their own learning, what implication does that have for our own instruction? Something tells me that if we feel as if our kids wouldn’t love choice in the same way that we did on Saturday, we’re simply deluding ourselves.