Edcamp in Vancouver

Two days ago, I went to the best professional development day I have been to in a long, long time. It was definitely the most engaging pro-d I’ve ever attended. I actually tweeted that at the conference while listening to a discussion on Assessment for Learning. A couple of colleagues at the conference replied to my tweet asking “why?” I knew that I needed more than 140 characters to fully explain my thoughts.

This conference was unlike any I had attended before. Technically it was an “unconference” which is a movement away from traditional and/or expensive conferences. The day started at 9am, with all of us in the library of the school. I was so excited to be there. While it’s true that I’m more of a lurker on Twitter than a producer (that is starting to change), I was looking forward to meeting people whose blogs and tweets I’ve read and whose ideas about education are ones that resonate with me. Throughout the entire day, I kept hearing “oh, you’re “so and so”!” or “what’s your Twitter handle?” to be answered with big smiles and handshakes all around. A lot of the day felt more like a party than a conference. And the time just flew by.

The first part of the day included a welcome from the organizers (who did an amazing job), but even before that, people were busy chatting and developing discussion topics. Some ideas were percolating on the edcamp vancouver website in the days and weeks leading up to the unconference. But on that morning one person would write his/her discussion topic on a piece of larger construction paper and then people interested in meeting about that topic would stick a post-it with their name on it, onto that paper. From there the organizers could see which ideas were the most popular and then they arranged these sessions on a big schedule. The whole process, welcome included, took less than an hour and looked like this.

At the welcome, David Wees thanked his organizing team, gave us the low-down on how the day would work, including the hugely important hashtag for the day’s event. I looked around me and saw so many people with their heads down typing away on a laptop or on a smart phone. This was the first time for me, that it was okay to pull out my smart phone while someone was talking, and everyone was paying attention. Then we were set free. I waited around for a little while looking at the schedule and trying to commit to memory the order and locations for my sessions. I wasn’t listening well when David mentioned the link for the schedule. But I did get out my iphone to take a picture of the schedule.

My first session was led by a parent who is working to bring TEDXtalks for kids to BC schools. I thought this sounded like a great idea! I’d love to see this in schools, and so I volunteered, along with a bunch of others, to help organize the event.

Next I went to a session/discussion where we talked about award ceremonies in schools. Specifically getting rid of ceremonies where only a few become “winners” and the vast majority of students are “losers” because their own unique talents and strengths aren’t necessarily ones that are highly regarded or celebrated in most schools. Chris Wejr led this discussion along with a parent from his school (how awesome is that? – talk about modelling working together in parent – teacher partnerships!) who talked about the importance of celebrating each child and shifting the focus away from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation. I just visited Chris Wejr’s blog and noticed a tab titled “Recognizing All Students – The Movement.” And really, it is the beginning of a movement… at least I hope it is. I plan on working towards making this happen for more and more kids.

This is exactly why, this conference was unlike any other I had ever attended. When I walked into each room holding a session that I wanted to talk about and think about, I was meeting people who I felt like I already knew on some level. Even though I haven’t yet put myself and my thoughts “out there” my thinking about teaching and my approaches to teaching are constantly changing and developing for the better because I have this network of inspiring colleagues. How lucky am I? Five years ago I was so fortunate because I was teaching in the same building as some of the most talented teachers on the planet. They became my friends and they held my hand as they taught me how to use technology in my teaching, and helped me to become a better teacher for my students. Now we’ve scattered to all corners of the globe, but now I have them, and others, in my online community. And on Saturday, many of us were together meeting for the first time.

It was during the third session, also led by Chris Wejr, on Assessment for Learning that I really started to feel the power of this type of conference. I was sitting there with my laptop open at a table between a principal from the Okanagan whose blogs and tweets I have been following for a few months and a teacher from Washington who I met, and started following that day. Chris gave a great presentation with his Prezi on AFL and from there the discussion just flowed. BUT there were at least two discussions happening. The one in living colour in the classroom I was sitting in, where one person got to speak at a time, and the second Twitter discussion where everyone got to speak at once and retweet other people’s thoughts, disagree, or discuss a point at deeper level. Perhaps some people would find this overwhelming, but I loved it. The two discussions, in person and on Twitter, were totally connected without being the same. The lively in person comments sparked some great conversations simulataneously on Twitter. And though I didn’t jump into the in-person discussion, I was actively engaged with the ideas and conversation happening online. My mind was buzzing throughout the entire session! I honestly didn’t want that session or those conversations to end. And they won’t. These ideas and conversations are out there and will continue through tweets and blog posts and hopefully next year’s edcamp.

So now I’m left to decide how I will use this experience to improve my teaching and to do good things for kids. I have lots of ideas and am excited to see where this day will take me.

Thank you to David Wees and the Edcamp Vancouver organizers!

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