Why Teachers Should Try New Things

Try: A Little Word Becomes a Big Gift

“Shoot for the Moon.
Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
– Les Brown

Taking risks is invigorating! It’s a gift that you give yourself. The newness is refreshing and energizing. My personal philosophy is “Learn Forward” — moving with forward momentum, embracing each season, and experiencing life with a sense of adventure. My heart is filled with the hope that you’ll give yourself the opportunity (and gift) of taking a risk, learning, and growing.

Carol Dweck‘s research teaches us how invaluable a growth mindset is in our culture. I want to get really practical with that research. Here’s the big idea:

When was the last time that you tried something for the first time?

Besides being a great conversation starter at your next social event, this question encourages us to consider the gift of risk taking. It’s exhilarating, challenging, and stimulating. I don’t care if it’s jumping out of an airplane or trying a new instructional strategy — your true potential is unknown and unknowable. So isn’t the risk worth the possible growth that you might achieve? Give yourself the gift of trying something new.

Rising to the Challenge

This winter, I tried something new — the challenge of doing a webinar. While I love technology and use many apps on a daily basis, I’m not a techie. I practically break out in hives when something goes wrong. So trying to manage a live webinar was not high on my list of “things I want to try some day.” But I conceded to try, and I designed some content for parents. Then I launched my first webinar about ten days before Christmas, because I hoped there would only be a few faithful fans joining me virtually — you know, those who would be gentle with my risk taking.

After my first webinar, I decided I could build on my brief and understated experience. I chose one of my favorite topics: cultivating cultures of community in schools. While writing content with passion, I enjoyed living in my comfort zone. But then, each time I taped the “Webinar in Progress” sign onto my office door, I shuddered. Over the next six weeks, I did three more webinars. Was it an overnight success? Nope. However, I now have webinars under my belt and some high-quality content developed in a unique format that allows educational leaders to access it and use broadly with their teams.

What might be a more important outcome is that I tried something new. I was challenged and curious. I remembered how it felt to be a learner. I engaged in the same process as the teachers on my team, the students in my classrooms, the parents in my community. I was forced to learn forward. I still have tons to learn about webinars and all sorts of online content, but the learning process and growth mindset are fresh. I feel renewed in my work and willing to try again.

Pedagogy, Parents, and Personalization

In Adam Grant’s 2016 TED talk, “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers,”he states, “If you look across fields, the greatest originals are the ones who fail the most, because they’re the ones who try the most.” That significant little, three-letter word is try.

Of course, each of us is in a completely different space in our professional development. We need to take risks in different ways aligned with our hopes and goals. What I know for sure is that it will be a great gift of renewal and inspiration.

Here are a few ideas for taking risks in education:

1. Try a new pedagogy.

Pedagogy is the method or practice of teaching an academic subject or theoretical concept. We are pedagogues, yet we can always try new methods or practices and take risks. It will be out of our comfort zone and might even be scary. We won’t feel like an expert, but it might be exhilarating, and who knows what our potential is? What new pedagogy can you risk? Project-based learning? A new technology? A different assessment method? Student-led conferences? It’s a great gift that you can give yourself (and Edutopia has a brilliant library of topics).

2. Try to connect in a new way with parents.

A teacher friend recently described her celebration ceremony with parents and students — a banquet that was literally chicken soup for the soul. While it took some effort to explain why cupcakes and candy weren’t included, her homemade warmth and nourishment came in bowls of hearty chicken noodle soup, giving reverence to the learning.

Her story offers an example of taking a risk with parents. Maybe your risk is creating an opportunity to build a connection with an immigrant family facilitated by a translator. Maybe the risk is inviting your parents to volunteer and contribute in new ways. Maybe it’s a song, poetry, or a reading performance. The ideas are as diverse as the readers of this post. The risk will be rewarded with wonderful gifts.

3. Try to personalize learning.

It’s a tall order to consider personalized learning. We aren’t totally sure how to accomplish it. We understand differentiated learning a bit better. In my region of the continent, “personalized learning” is becoming a common buzzword that we’re all trying to figure out how to achieve. What I know for sure is that we’ll need to take some risks in our instructional design and planning, empowering the student to be responsible for his or her learning.

Recently I heard Charles Fadel speak at a conference, encouraging, “We are underestimating the capacity of our students to design their own learning.” What if student engagement, learning, and achievement increase when we personalize the experience even further? What if the students love it? I encourage us to be willing to try. Tell your administrator what you’re working on or find another encouraging thought partner.

Courage to Try

The gift of this little three-letter word, try, is that you’ll automatically have a story to tell your students. You can write the word on the whiteboard and share risks that each of you is taking this week. It will be a wonderful celebration of learning, with magic enough to encourage every teacher’s heart. We’d love to hear about your efforts to try something new in the classroom. Let’s create some positivity with tweets about the #couragetotry. And also feel free to respond in the comments section of this post.

Journal Questions

  • Describe the last time that you felt energized when you tried something new in the classroom.
  • Why were you energized by that event?
  • How could trying something new be important for you this season?

The #1 Factor That Determines A Toxic or Thriving School Culture

288H.jpgBy Alex Kajitani

As a teacher leader who travels the country working with schools to improve their culture, I’m constantly amazed at the varying degrees to which staff members respect, encourage and communicate with each other.

Here’s what I’ve concluded: the number one factor that determines whether a school culture is toxic or thrives is how staff members deal with their own conflicts as they arise.

As teachers, part of our job is to help students learn to get along. As teacher leaders, we must be able to address our own inevitable conflicts in a positive, respectful manner. This can make or break our school culture.

So, How Can We Handle Conflict Effectively?

Try this step-by-step approach when a conflict with a colleague arises:

Step 1: Be well-rounded.

Think about the situation from
at least three perspectives: yours, your colleague’s, and the students’. Whatever the situation you need to confront, this will help you see the situation more fully, and begin to pinpoint exactly what the issues are.

Step 2: Confirm behavior privately. 

Often, we wonder if a colleague’s behavior is bothering others, or if it’s just us. It’s OK to privately ask another colleague for perspective–in a professional, upbeat manner, focusing on specific behavior and how it affects the group.

For example: “I really want to approach (insert teacher’s name) about how she interrupts in meetings, as I’m concerned that it’s affecting our productivity. However, first I wanted to check with you to see your perspective on the situation.”

Step 3: Make an appointment.

When you’re ready to approach the person, it’s important that this conversation takes place in a comfortable, private location, with plenty of time. Catching someone off guard is not only unfair, it can also block the ability to have a relaxed and real exchange.

Consider stepping into your colleague’s classroom when she’s most likely to be available, and saying, “Hey, I was hoping to talk to you, when’s a good time?”

Step 4: Open strong.

Sometimes, knowing how to begin the conversation is the hardest part. Rehearsing a clear opening is key to whether the conversation becomes productive, or gets derailed before it even begins.

Consider something like: “I’d like to talk to you about (name the problem in one sentence). You don’t have to agree with everything I say, but I do ask you to please listen first.”

Step 5: Be specific.

Avoid making general, “blanket” statements about an issue. Rather, use specific examples, such as, “You arrived 12-14 minutes late to our past three Tuesday meetings.” Only when we are willing to confront someone with specifics can the specific behavior be addressed and improved.

In addition, it’s imperative to separate behavior from self-worth. Telling someone he came to the meeting late (behavior) is far more productive than telling him he never gets anywhere on time (self-worth).

Step 6: Be real.

It’s OK to laugh, cry, or admit to being confused. It’s also OK if the conversation goes silent for a few moments. By bringing our authentic selves into a conversation, we’re able to lean into a conflict, instead of shying away from it.

Being real also means truly being open to the other person’s perspective. Thus, after you’ve opened the conversation with specifics, your main job is to listen.

Step 7: Make a plan.

Conclude the conversation by agreeing on a plan of action, including how you’ll hold each other accountable. Too often, great meetings end with everyone feeling better, but no plan in place. This often leads to the problem occurring again.

Simply saying, “So, what’s the plan?” will move the conversation toward implementable, sustainable solutions. Then, follow up.

It’s Up To US.

When it comes to the success of an individual classroom, nothing is more important than the relationship between the teacher and the students.  When it comes to the success of an entire school, nothing is more important than the relationship of the adults in the building.

Conflicts happen when human beings work together. How we deal with those conflicts is where we have the power to truly shape our school’s culture.

 

Alex Kajitani is the 2009 California Teacher of the Year, and the author of the acclaimed book Owning It: Proven Strategies for Success in ALL of Your Roles as a Teacher Today

Breast and Body Changes Are Driving Teen Girls Out of Sports

The New York Times

By JAN HOFFMAN

Photo

CreditHarriet Lee-Merrion

So why aren’t more teenage girls out on the playing fields?

Research shows that girls tend to start dropping out of sports and skipping gym classes around the onset of puberty, a sharp decline not mirrored by adolescent boys.

A recent study in The Journal of Adolescent Health found a surprisingly common reason: developing breasts, and girls’ attitudes about them.

In a survey of 2,089 English schoolgirls ages 11 to 18, nearly three-quarters listed at least one breast-related concern regarding exercise and sports. They thought their breasts were too big or too small, too bouncy or bound too tightly in an ill-fitting bra. Beginning with feeling mortified about undressing in the locker room, they were also self-consciously reluctant to exercise and move with abandon.

Experts on adolescent health praised the study for identifying and quantifying an intuitive thought.

“We make assumptions about what we think we know, so it’s important to be able to say that as cup size increases, physical activity decreases for a lot of girls,” Dr. Sharonda Alston Taylor, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, who focuses on adolescent obesity.

The challenge is what to do about it.

After reading the study, some pediatricians and adolescent health specialists said they needed to do a better job informing girls about breast health and development. Almost 90 percent of the girls in the study said they wanted to know more about breasts in general, and nearly half wanted to know about sports bras and breasts specifically with respect to physical activity.

Joanna Scurr, the lead author of the study and a professor of biomechanics at the University of Portsmouth in England, said the breast itself had little internal support, so when a girl’s body moved, the breast moved independently, and the movement increased with breast size. In up to 72 percent of exercising women, she said, that movement was a cause of breast pain or discomfort.

Yet while sports and physical education programs frequently recommend protective gear for boys, like cups, athletic supporters and compression shorts, comparable lists for young women rarely include a mandatory or even recommended sports bra.

Only 10 percent of the girls surveyed said they always wore a sports bra during sports and exercise. More than half had never worn one.

Dr. Taylor said that lack of education about bra fitting and sizing was commonplace in her practice.

“The mom will say, ‘I don’t know what size she is,’ and the patient will say, ‘I just grab my sister’s or my mother’s bras to wear.’”

Using data from this study and others, the researchers from sports and exercise health departments at three British universities are trying to design school-based educational programs.

When researchers asked the girls how they would prefer to receive breast information — via a website, an app, a leaflet or a private session with a nurse — the overwhelming majority replied that they wanted a girls-only session with a female teacher.

At what age? “Most of them said 11,” Dr. Scurr said.

Andria Castillo, now 17 and a junior at Mather High School in Chicago, says she remembers that when she was around that age, she was painfully self-conscious about her breast size; she thought she was developing more slowly than everyone else.

“I felt boys and girls were making fun of me,” she said. “Even though no one called me out, I felt they were, behind my back. I was taking taekwondo, and I would look in the big mirror and try to find ways to cover myself up and hide. I asked my dad if I could stop going.”

She had a friend who had been active in sports. But in the sixth grade, the girl’s breasts developed rapidly. “She eventually stopped going to gym altogether,” Ms. Castillo said. “Instead, she just went to a classroom and did her homework.”

In time, Ms. Castillo turned her attitude around; she is now on her school’s varsity water polo and swim teams. She credits not only her mother, but also a Chicago-based project, Girls in the Game, which has body-positive, confidence-building programs, including single-sex athletics.

Some experts in female adolescent obesity and fitness suggested that young girls would be more comfortable in single-sex gym classes. But others said that option had its disadvantages, too.

Kimberly Burdette, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Loyola University Chicago who looks at the psychological factors that promote well-being and healthy weight in girls, says such separation might be helpful at a time when adolescent girls had a heightened awareness that others were looking at their bodies.

“It’s hard to be in the zone, focusing on athletic movement, on what your body can do, if you’re thinking about what others think your body looks like,” she said. “I like programming that is for girls only, where a girl can try a sport, regardless of her ability, without the male gaze.”

But Elizabeth A. Daniels, an assistant professor of developmental psychology at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, disagreed. “I’m not sure the concern or embarrassment is always just about boys,” she said, noting that girls can make derisive comments about one another. “So do we change the structure of the gym class or address respectful behavior?”

Why Online Gradebooks Are Changing Education

The Atlantic

New software better connects parents with what’s happening in their children’s classrooms—but it can also lead to heightened surveillance and less risk-taking.

LAURA MCKENNA MAR 10, 2016
How did my son perform on his high-school physics test this morning? Seconds after the teacher posts his score online, I can find out. With just a few more clicks, I can also tell you how the grade affected his overall performance for the quarter, his GPA for the year, how many times he was late for school, and what he ate for lunch this week.

All of this information is readily available to parents at any time through our school district’s virtual gradebook—an increasingly popular tool that is reshaping parental involvement in schools nationwide and opening up the black box of student assessment. Experts predict that these programs will evolve using the latest technology to measure increasingly varied facets of students’ educational lives. While many parents seem to appreciate the increased connections with their schools, others—myself included—are not interested in the constant surveillance and assessment of their children.
Nearly all of America’s public schools now post grades online through student-management software such as PowerSchool, Engrade, LearnBoost, and ThinkWave, according to Jim Flanagan, the chief learning services officer for the nonprofit International Society for Technology in Education. And online gradebooks are only one component of these programs, which also typically aggregate students’ demographic information, arrange schedules, and track and manage payments for food services—ideally, Flanagan said, providing comprehensive collection of data for every student.

Many parents are not interested in the constant surveillance and assessment of their children.
Student-management software was first developed by locally operated companies about 15 years ago, before being slowly acquired by larger education technology firms, and now accounts for a big chunk of the $8.38 billion ed-tech market. Those within the industry are very optimistic about its expansion. These systems have the potential to rethink the ways that schools assess students, Flanagan said, beyond the traditional quizzes and tests—for example, through data dashboards that measure students’ emotional state, level of engagement, and mood or motivation. One San Francisco start-up has created a program that utilizes motion-tracking and facial- and speech-recognition software to collect this type of data, which they say will increase hands-on, project-based learning.

Some parents have reported that this new software is an effective method for increasing communication between school and home. Many of my friends are very happy with this technology. One said that she learned that her daughter was struggling with reading by reviewing her marks on the online gradebook; the teacher never informed my friend of these issues. With this knowledge, she was able to get help for her daughter early in the year. Others have said that they’ve been able to correct teachers’ grading errors with these programs.

To respond the proliferation of these online gradebooks, the Harvard Family Research Project has a list of useful tips for administrators, teachers, and parents on how to effectively use these new tools. It recommends that parents strike a balance between monitoring data and allowing the child to progress at his or her own pace, noting that parents should avoid constantly checking online portals, also known as “e-hovering.”

 

Others are less impressed with the impact of this technology on family life. Madeline Levine, a clinical psychologist and the author of The Price of Privilege, described online gradebooks as “a miserable idea.” Teachers these days grade “everything,” even works in progress, she said, and the online gradebooks make these scores subject to constant inspection by parents—potentially discouraging kids from experimenting or making mistakes that are integral to learning.
This heightened adult surveillance of kids, Levine added, is precisely what they don’t need during this stage of development; it can create “robo-students” and exacerbate the already-distressing levels of stress, anxiety, and depression among teenagers. “As an adult, what would it be like to have your every move evaluated?” Levine asked.

At the same time, parents can get overly attached to the constant information rewards the software provides. “Your kid gets an A one day, then a C the next, and then an A the following day,” Levine said. “Parents end up logging in too many times. It’s seductive and addictive. One loses the ability to manage it.” When her children were in school, she found that she was logging in every day, so, she requested that school not send her any information. “There wasn’t anything there that I couldn’t learn from talking to my kids.”

Although I can easily find out how my 16-year-old son fared on this morning’s physics test by logging into our online gradebook, I won’t. Like Levine, I stopped looking at his grades about a year ago, because daily monitoring of his performance made everyone miserable. Dinner time had become the place for all-caps conversations about grades that did nothing to help an already-stressed high-school junior. Between school, track practice, and homework, he routinely works 18-hour days, his weekends packed with SATs, track competitions, and term papers. We decided that home had to be a refuge from those pressures; he couldn’t handle angry parents on top of everything else.

“Parents end up logging in too many times. It’s seductive and addictive.”
By stepping away from the Big Brother of online gradebooks, my husband and I chose to prioritize learning and sanity—both his and ours—over grades. We were not interested in producing another “excellent sheep” or fracturing our family. So, I ask my son about once a week if he’s checked his grades and whether he’s doing okay, but that’s about it. I can see that he’s working hard and learning, and that’s good enough for me. Schools have to balance the demands of parents who want more data with parents who want less—and maybe a simple “opt out” button on these gradebooks could create a happy middle ground.

Now that we’re not arguing about grades during family meals, we’re talking about other things. We talk about the primary results and the policy differences between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. He and his dad talk about European soccer teams. We’re helping his little brother learn the names of all the countries in Europe. Because learning doesn’t just happen at school; it also happens at the dinner table.

Why Do Girls Tend to Have More Anxiety Than Boys?

The New York Times
By LEONARD SAX, M.D., PH.D.
APRIL 21, 2016
The laid-back, underachieving boy; the hyperachieving, anxious girl. Over the three decades since I graduated from medical school, and especially over the past 10 years, this pattern has become increasingly common in my practice.

In one case, which is pretty typical, my patient’s parents are concerned about their son. He’s not working hard at school and his grades are sliding. At 16, he spends most of his free time playing video games like Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty, or surfing the Web for pictures of girls. He’s happy as a clam.

Both parents are actually quite proud of their 14-year-old daughter, who is a straight-A student, an athlete and has many friends. But when I met with her, she told me that she isn’t sleeping well. She wakes up in the middle of the night, feeling remorseful about having eaten a whole slice of pizza for dinner. She often has shortness of breath. Recently she has begun cutting herself with razor blades, on her upper inner thigh where her parents won’t see. She hasn’t told her parents any of this. On the surface, she is the golden girl. Inside, she is falling apart.

Why is it that girls tend to be more anxious than boys?

It may start with how they feel about how they look. Some research has shown that in adolescence, girls tend to become more dissatisfied with their bodies, whereas boys tend to become more satisfied with their bodies. Another factor has to do with differences in how girls and boys use social media. A girl is much more likely than a boy to post a photo of herself wearing a swimsuit, while the boy is more likely to post a photo where the emphasis is on something he has done rather than on how he looks. If you don’t like Jake’s selfie showing off his big trophy, he may not care. But if you don’t like Sonya’s photo of herself wearing her bikini, she’s more likely to take it personally.

Imagine another girl sitting in her bedroom, alone. She’s scrolling through other girls’ Instagram and Snapchat feeds. She sees Sonya showing off her new bikini; Sonya looks awesome. She sees Madison at a party, having a blast. She sees Vanessa with her adorable new puppy. And she thinks: I’m just sitting here in my bedroom, not doing anything. My life sucks.
Boys are at lower risk for the toxic effects of social media than girls are, for at least three reasons. First, boys are less likely to be heavily invested in what you think of their selfies. “Does this swimsuit make me look fat?” is a question asked by girls more often than by boys. Second, boys tend to overestimate how interesting their own life is. Third, the average boy is likely to spend more time playing video games than Photoshopping his selfie for Instagram. And in video games, unlike social media, everybody truly can be a winner, eventually. If you play Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty long enough, you will, sooner or later, complete all the missions, if you just keep at it.

Parents can’t easily change any of those factors. You can’t easily get a girl to be less concerned about her looks; or to overestimate how interesting her own life is; or to care more about completing all the missions in Grand Theft Auto than about how many likes she’s getting on Instagram (nor is it clear that this last change, even if accomplished, would be a change for the better). So what can you do, to improve the odds for your daughter?

If your daughter is the girl sitting in her bedroom looking at other girls’ social media, maybe she shouldn’t be in her bedroom at all. In the typical American household today, when kids go home, they go to their bedrooms and aren’t seen again except perhaps for meals. That’s crazy. A family can’t be a family if the kids spend more time alone in their bedrooms than with their family members. Insist that your daughter, or son, do whatever they’re doing online in a public space: in the kitchen or the living room. There should be nothing in the bedroom except a bed: no TV, no PlayStation, no screens. That’s the official recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Another suggestion: fight for suppertime. And don’t allow phones at the table. In a 2013 Canadian survey of kids across a range of backgrounds, those who had more meals with parents were much less likely to have been feeling sad, anxious or lonely. They were more likely to help others and more likely to report being satisfied with their own lives. But be mindful of what you say at the table. Discussions of poor grades or disappointing test scores are out of bounds. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict? Of course. The origin of the universe and the meaning of life? Certainly. But the personal shortcomings of your child are, as a rule, not appropriate suppertime conversation in a loving family.

A third suggestion: No headsets and no earbuds in the car. When your child is in the car with you, you should be listening to her and she should be listening to you – not to Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus or Akon or Eminem. Teach the art of face-to-face conversation. Or play a word game. Or have the whole family sing a song. Or make up a limerick, as my family and I did last night. It sounds corny, but it helps.

If your daughter is not sleeping at night, or is cutting herself with razor blades, then limericks at the dinner table are not likely to be a sufficient cure. I do prescribe medication, cautiously and judiciously, for the clinically anxious girl. There is also a role for professional counseling, alongside or sometimes in place of medication. Regardless, medication should never be the most important part of the treatment. The most important part of the treatment is to prioritize the family, to give your child a secure grounding in a loving home.

Leonard Sax is a psychologist and a practicing family physician in West Chester, Pa., and the author, most recently, of “The Collapse of Parenting.”

Laptops and Notetaking

Conforming to the System of School?

By George on Apr 23, 2016 

This post from NPR titled, “Attention, Students: Put Your Laptops Away”, was shared multiple times on social media, and I shared it was well.

Reading this piece Via @NPR – Attention Students: Put Your Laptops Away https://t.co/s8KHExBDE4

— George Couros (@gcouros) April 17, 2016

I found it to be an interesting piece, but the beginning really stuck out to me.  I have bolded some of the parts below that really drew my attention.

As laptops become smaller and more ubiquitous, and with the advent of tablets, the idea of taking notes by hand just seems old-fashioned to many students today. Typing your notes is faster — which comes in handy when there’s a lot of information to take down. But it turns out there are still advantages to doing things the old-fashioned way.

For one thing, research shows that laptops and tablets have a tendency to be distracting — it’s so easy to click over to Facebook in that dull lecture. And a study has shown that the fact that you have to be slower when you take notes by hand is what makes it more useful in the long run.

In the study published in Psychological Science, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles sought to test how note-taking by hand or by computer affects learning.

“When people type their notes, they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can,” Mueller tells NPR’s Rachel Martin. “The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.”

First of all, I do not think lectures are bad, but I do think “dull lectures” are.  Interesting thing is that we expect that students pay attention to a “dull lecture” while I watch so many people in organizations choose Facebook or email over “dull staff meetings”.  There should be accountability to not only the learner, but the educator in this situation.  Encouraging things like back-channels. or providing the information before and encouraging learners to create something from it, is actually a much better way to have students “retain” information than listening to a “dull lecture”.  It is not that content isn’t important, but what you create and connect from this content is where the powerful and deep learning happens.

The second part that stuck out to me is when the article says “people”, not “some people”.  The reality is that not all people are the same, but in this article they are using technology (both the pen/pencils and the computer, not only the computer) to standardize.  Not all people work this way. In fact, whether you give me a pencil or a laptop, I am never furiously writing notes down. Ever.  I will write only what resonates with me, but with a computer, I might google quotes or applicable articles that I will save for reading later.  I might not be “listening” as much,  but I could actually be learning more, just not necessarily from the person lecturing at that exact moment.  Is the focus on what I am learning from the person standing in front of me, or what I am learning on the topic in general. These aren’t always the same thing.

Many educators on social media reiterated the findings and shared how they made all students use pencils instead of laptops.  The problem with this approach is that we assume one way works for all.  What we need to realize is that some students benefit from having a laptop, and some from using a pencil.  Choices are beneficial.  Some students will need more guidance than others, but we also need to realize that we should never force students to use what works for us over what works for them.

As a student in K-12, I was single-handedly responsible for supporting the paper reinforcement business in the 80’s.  Many of my notes would eventually be torn out of my book, but even if they stayed in my binder, they were never beneficial to me.  This is not to say that this process wasn’t beneficial to others, just not for me.  But was the problem here that I didn’t conform to the system, or that the system didn’t conform to me?

Technology should personalize, not standardize.  We need to understand that we live in a time where there are more ways to reach more kids.  To lump all kids together and have them do the exact same thing is doing an incredible disservice to the learners of today.

Why Edcamp?

Edutopia

During the past six years, hundreds of Edcamp events have popped up worldwide. Teachers from every corner of the globe have been organizing open opportunities for educators to collaborate and solve problems.

In spite of this growth and energy, there are still many educators who are either uninformed or skeptical of the Edcamp model for teacher professional development. Given the plethora of “silver bullets” and magical cures in education, some skepticism is healthy. It ensures that we refine and revise our beliefs through meaningful investigation.

What’s an Edcamp?

Let’s begin with a definition. In short, Edcamps are:

  • Free: Edcamps should be free to all attendees. This helps ensure that all different types of teachers and educational stakeholders can attend.
  • Non-commercial and with a vendor-free presence: Edcamps should be about learning, not selling. Educators should feel free to express their ideas without being swayed or influenced by sales pitches for educational books or technology.
  • Hosted by any organization or individual: Anyone should be able to host an Edcamp. School districts, educational stakeholders and teams of teachers can host Edcamps.
  • Made up of sessions that are determined on the day of the event:Edcamps should not have pre-scheduled presentations. During the morning of the event, the schedule should be created in conjunction with everyone there. Sessions will be spontaneous, interactive and responsive to participants’ needs.
  • Events where anyone who attends can be a presenter: Anyone who attends an Edcamp should be eligible to present. All teachers and educational stakeholders are professionals worthy of sharing their expertise in a collaborative setting.
  • Reliant on the “law of two feet” which encourages participants to find a session that meets their needs: As anyone can host a session, it is critical that participants are encouraged to actively self-select the best content and sessions. Edcampers should leave sessions that do not meet their needs. This provides a uniquely effective way of “weeding out” sessions that are not based on appropriate research or not delivered in an engaging format.

Despite the concrete definition, it can be difficult to truly capture the Edcamp experience. That’s because a “typical” day of learning at an Edcamp doesn’t really exist. Each Edcamp is unique and based on the needs of the participants. When you arrive at the location (usually a school or university) on the day of the event, there is no pre-set schedule of sessions or presenters. Instead, there’s just a blank sheet of big paper with a grid on it.

From that blank slate, everyone builds the session schedule together. As people mingle and chat over free coffee and donuts, they put up potential discussion topics on a board. Since it’s my job to build the schedule at the Edcamp events I organize, I can truly attest that the entire process is positive and organic. Occasionally, people who don’t even know each other realize that they have similar interests and end up running a session together. Other folks come with an idea, throw it out to the group, revise it, and end up posting it with a refined focus. Since anyone who attends an Edcamp event can be a presenter at the event, it’s a very empowering experience for everyone involved.

The skeptics are likely wondering, “What do you do if no ones signs up?” (I get that question a lot.) And while there are certainly specific strategies you can use to ease your anxiety (building an idea board on the event page, having conversations with amazing educators who are planning to attend, etc.), they usually aren’t needed. I’ve never attended or heard of an Edcamp where the schedule board didn’t fill. It just doesn’t happen.

What Happens in a Session?

Given the spontaneity of the schedule creation, you may be curious about the content of the sessions that are typically shared at an Edcamp. Well, it’s certainly hard to generalize, but here is a sampling of sessions from recent Edcamp events:

  • Edcamp SF Bay
    • Fostering Student Learning Networks
    • How to Run Your School from Your iPhone
  • Edcamp Omaha
    • The Global Read Aloud and Reading in the 21st Century
    • Badges, Levels, Games, and Learning
  • Edcamp Atlanta
    • Twitter Newbies
    • Collaborative Classrooms, a New Physical Environment

Educators often have very specific, concrete takeaways from sessions like these all over the country. Consider these positive personal outcomes:

  • “I learned ways to flip my faculty meeting, spending less time on announcements and more time on PD, relationship building and modeling a maximization of time with my staff.” – Joe Mazza
  • “I absolutely loved hearing about Lauren’s experience with a school-wide topic of study, and would love to bring this practice to our school. She described a school whose study topic was ‘India,’ and every grade level, across all content areas, sought to plan experiences that helped students engage with that topic in some way.” – Lyn Hilt
  • “In one Edcamp I learned about all the cool things you can do with Evernote and how you can save everything there!” – Joy Kirr

These aren’t merely fluffy concepts. They are specific, practical strategies and ideas that educators are sharing and investigating at Edcamps all over the nation.

Beyond the Takeaway

Further, the social, interactive, recursive nature of an Edcamp is directly aligned to adult learning theories. In a whitepaper I wrote in 2011, blog posts about Edcamp were qualitatively analyzed to determine common themes. The most popular ideas were:

  • Collaboration and connections
  • Group expertise
  • Tech tools
  • Instructional design
  • Surprise (at the number of educators dedicated to their craft)

These themes are directly correlated to the tenets of effective adult learning as stated in the meta-analysis by National Academies Press entitled How People Learn: Brain, Mind Experience, and School. And further peer-reviewed research in 2016 has corroborated these findings and added greater understanding about the efficacy of the model.

The Edcamp model provides educators with a sustainable model for learning, growing, connecting, and sharing. Everyone’s expertise is honored, and specific, concrete strategies are exchanged. When professional development is created “for teachers by teachers,” everyone wins.