Education Trends

5 Reasons Why Edcamps Matter

Edcamps provide informal, personalized, and powerful PD because they’re educator driven, they build networks, inspire passion, and foster conversations — and they’re low stress.

April 18, 2016
Photo credit: Kevin Jarrett via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Edcamp movement is something that I've been very lucky to watch unfold in its early stages. Almost seven years ago, I remember seeing people on my Twitter feed talk about getting together and learning from one another. I thought it was a cool idea. And once I learned more about it, I started Edcamp Detroit as fast as I could. Edcamps have now spread around the world and are making a difference in education. Yet some people still haven't attended an Edcamp or even heard about what an Edcamp is. For a quick background, this video explains what Edcamps are all about. And if you still need some convincing, keep reading!

I could go on and on about so many great reasons why educators should attend an Edcamp, but here are my top five for why you need to get to one this year.

1. Educator Driven

Edcamps are driven by educators looking to share the things that matter most to them. The power of an Edcamp is found in the attendees -- the educators driving the conversations in the sessions, filling out the session board, and starting meaningful conversations. Those not ready to start conversations will find plenty of space to sit back, listen, and learn from others who are. Educators are the ones setting the tone for every Edcamp and making sure that it's focused on learning and education in general.

The best Edcamps that I've attended were the ones where people sat in a large circle and just talked about the different ways that we've all tried to increase student engagement in reading. Everyone is an expert, so we all walked away with something new to try in our classrooms. As long as educators are the ones driving the conversation, putting together Edcamps, and setting the schedule, this model will continue to be the best professional development around.

2. Connections

I've made many new friends through Edcamps. I have a squad of people that I can rely on for anything that pops up. This squad grows every year as more and more people attend Edcamp. I can call these people my friends, and they push me to be better every single day. That's a powerful aspect of Edcamp that very few PD conferences can truly claim.

It's more than just individual connections, though. The larger community is amazing. Edcamps are all connected by the common goal of making education better for everyone. If you've attended one, you're already part of this community. You've shared this common experience and respect for educators who chose to give up their free day for personalized PD. It's a community that provides support whenever you reach out. As educators, it's important that we continue expanding our circles of influence so that we can all continue to learn and improve. Edcamps are a great place to make these connections, not just for that day, but for a lifetime.

3. Passion

If you're passionate about education, Edcamp is where you need to be. Edcampers are some of the most passionate educators that I've ever encountered. Who else would give up a perfectly good Saturday away from family and friends to engage is teacher-driven PD? Even though some districts don't grant PD hours for attending, educators still show up simply because they'e committed to becoming better at their job.

Being surrounded by these passionate educators is invigorating. There are times in the school year when you can't imagine making it to the end without pulling out your hair, but an Edcamp can save you from this. This community can relight your spark, or at least help you make it to June. Passion breeds passion. We see it in the classroom when a passionate teacher gets students excited about a topic. Well, the same thing happens at Edcamp when you see other educators fired up about something. We desperately need more passionate educators in the classroom, and this is where they come from.

4. Conversations

My favorite part of Edcamps is that it's not about talking at people. We do that plenty at traditional conferences. The sage on the stage doesn't really have a place at Edcamp. It's about conversations. It's about getting experts and curious people in the same room to ask questions and share ideas. These powerful conversations are full of solutions to the many different problems that we face in the classroom. Sometimes the best PD is hearing how someone else with the same problem is trying to address it. These conversations are what will last beyond any session with a bunch of fancy slides.

Another great part of Edcamp conversations is that anyone can lead a conversation on anything. I've set up sessions on topics that I know nothing about because I wanted to learn. For example, I wanted to know more about engaging struggling male readers. I didn't have much to bring to the table, but others were happy to join that session. They shared their wealth of knowledge, and I facilitated and took lots of notes. That specific conversation helped me understand different approaches for engaging my students. In general, Edcamp conversations have helped me grow my knowledge base and become a better teacher. That alone is a reason why everyone should attend an Edcamp.

5. Low Stress

Traditional conferences have their place in education, but they can be high stress with lots of running around, trying to fit into an interesting session, and finding yourself stuck in something that's different from what you hoped it would be. Edcamps don't operate that way. The simple Rule of Two Feet encourages attendees to leave a session that isn't meeting their needs. I've walked out of sessions that weren't heading in the directions I'd hoped. I've also left sessions that were awesome because there was another awesome session that I wanted to join at the same time. Session facilitators understand this and don't have hurt feelings. It's a part of the program that makes Edcamps so great.

In this low-stress environment, attendees can focus on the learning and not the mad dash for getting things stamped or signed to prove that they attended each session. The laid-back structure encourages educators to take charge of their learning. Sometimes none of the sessions running during a time slot meet the needs of certain attendees. Those people end up having their own impromptu conversations in a common area. Lunches are long to encourage more conversations, and the schedule usually ends at a normal school dismissal time. All of these factors are designed to make Edcamps inviting to strangers and to promote connections. The informal nature is what makes Edcamps so powerful.

As educators, it's important that we strive to be better every day for our students. Putting together Edcamp Detroit has been one the best things that I've done in education. I know that I've become a stronger educator because of my involvement with this PD model. In a world filled with noise about how to "do" education, Edcamps are the perfect place for finding the voices that matter most and learning what you want to improve your craft. Check out the Edcamp Foundation for more information and to find an event near you.

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