In 2013, I attended various educational venues on Long Island, NY, and one of them was a pro Common Core presentation. The New York State Parent Teacher Association (NYS PTA) was sending Dr. Robert Aloise around school districts to explain the Common Core Initiative to parents.
As it is common with top-down presentations and parent academies about the Common Core, Dr. Aloise dealt only with learning standards and omitted to explain the schools are supposed to implement testing, APPR, and data mining in addition to the standards. But he was aware of troubles with implementation of the standards. He talked at length about the importance of a quality professional development (PD). It was interesting. I contacted him the following day and we exchanged few emails on that topic.
Consequently, Ms. Ricca, MUFSD Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction & Educational Services, and I had a brief discussion about the extent of PD in our school district. In order to save money, the district management sends out certain number of teachers-liaisons to attend professional development sessions. In return, those liaisons train the remaining staff (turnkey training) in their respective building. She confirmed the professional development sessions were dedicated to aligning curricula to the Common Core.
This year (2014), I learned that, according to the MUFSD budget, approximately $12K was allocated for the professional development of the entire district staff and another $12K was allocated for training of two lead evaluators, Ms. Ricca and Dr. Colaitis, on how to evaluate the staff (3012-c, related to APPR). The staff professional development is left up to the district, the 3012-c training is part of the Common Core package (mandatory). More info about the financial impact of the Common Core initiative on residents can be found here.
Combination of circumstances, including limited funding and low quality of the top-down organization of professional development contributed to the origin of an “unconference” organized by Philadelphia teachers five years ago, in May 2009. The “un” refers specifically to the fact that there is no top-down organization, no registration fees, and no vendors. Unconferences are participant-driven professional learning gatherings. The unconferences transformed to edcamp movement.
In the edcamp, the agenda is self-organizing, formed on-the-spot the day of the gathering. Participants enter the room to a blank grid set up with time slots and room assignments. They write on a post-it note what they want to learn about and post it on the agenda grid. One hour later, participants head to their first session. Unconferences matter because for a lot of teachers it’s their first experience of taking control of their own professional development—meaning they have total control over what they learn and when they learn it. EdCamp provides educators with the ability to learn and establish connections with other passionate education enthusiasts, whether it’s at the event or via Twitter (#edcamp). Even students stop by the events.
The interest in participant-driven gatherings grew fast. Since 2010, EdCamp has predominantly grown via word of mouth and social media. There were 8 edcamps in 2010, 190 in 2013. EdCamp has moved beyond the periphery to break into traditional institutions like the Massachusetts Teachers Association.
The first edcamp held on Long Island will take place on September 13. It’s on Saturday and it’s free. In my email to Ms. Ricca and Ms. Thomson, I described edcamp movement with links to resources and suggested they forward the information, as some teachers might be interested.
Update 9/15: You can read reflections (and review the sessions) on the first EdCampLI here.
The growing interest in participant-driven professional learning didn’t stop with educators. It reached also school and district leaders. Monday, August 4th took place the third annual appearance of Edcamp Leadership,* the unconference targeted specifically to educational leaders. You can read reflections here.
Educators and lead learners, usually parents as well, realized that one component from the participant-driven movement was still missing—parents. In order to engage parents, ParentCamps were born. The ParentCamp movement has a strong presence on Twitter. It has a global address @ParentCamp and the topic carries the hashtag #parentcamp. The first ParentCamp took place in 2013. It is scheduled for November 15th of this year in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.
The ParentCamps can be as local or global as parents, educators, and leaders make them. The leaders and educators experience first hand the issues the education is facing. They need parents to help them and parents can’t afford to leave educators and leaders alone on their own. Parents need their own professional development, too, as they are ultimately responsible for learning experience of their children. The school districts that embrace all three movements will undeniably set their students on “life ready” path.
*Update: January 24, 2018. The website edcampleadership.org has been discontinued.
Are you a teacher and attended an EdCamp? Are you a leader and attended EdCamp Leadership? Share your experience. Are you interested in organizing a ParentCamp in our district?