Hewlett-Woodmere School District took a bold step by transforming their traditional Superintendent’s Conference Day into an innovative opportunity for true professional collaboration. Using the model of EdCamp, the entire district instructional staff assembled at the high school where educators were allowed to generate topics for professional development that they believed would be meaningful to them. Following a flurry of activity, the professional development committee built a schedule of 24 sessions matched specifically to the needs of the teachers in the room.
Too often educator professional development is devoid of best practice in teaching and learning. Teachers know that students learn better when they have opportunities for choice. Students need instruction that is differentiated according to their prior knowledge and learning styles. Learners need to be actively engaged, not just passive receivers of information. Nevertheless, on PD days educators have been known to abandon these best practices in favor of large group lecture, with few opportunities for interaction.
Recognizing that a system’s structure generates its behavior, EdCamp creates structures that promote collaboration among educators. The EdCamp concept, based on an “unconference,” acknowledges that complex problems are solved and deep learning happens when people have the time and space for dialogue and collaboration. An EdCamp approach honors teachers’ ability to identify their own learning needs. Educators are professionals who make critical instructional decisions every day. They are definitely capable of identifying the topics and information needed to improve their practice.
Hewlett’s EdCamp had only two rules: be part of a conversation and feel free to walk. In other words, if a particular session is not meeting your needs, you are free to move to another conversation. These guidelines sent a clear message that the learner is responsible for his own learning. In education, teachers assume all the responsibility for learners, leading to learning environments that are passive and sometimes unproductive. EdCamp makes a clear point of what should be part of all education: the learner is ultimately responsible for his own learning.
One teacher said, “Once topics started coming in, I loved that we could just go with the ideas.” Learning at its finest. Congratulations, Hewlett. Way to innovate, implementing structures that generate professional collaboration and learning for all.