Edcamps are different…they give me hope.


My daughter and I went to the Warped Tour yesterday.

Let me start over…I drove my daughter and her friend to the Warped Tour yesterday and then spent 10 hours on my own navigating a massive concert venue with six stages (loved it!).  The Warped tour is one of those concerts that if you mention it to someone you either get eyes wide open excitement, or one of those blank stares in which their head slowly tilts to one side.  Hardcore fans go to Warped and folks often travel pretty far to get to a show.  Warped brings together bands like Vanna and Echosmith (Two that I went to see).  It also brings together fans in skinny jeans and those that wear jeans that cover little that they really should have just bean left home(it was too hot for my skinny jeans).  You have folks in plaid, and folks in black.  It is a neat eclectic mix.  Everyone has fun together.  Everyone goes home happy.  For the type of all day concert it is, I have never seen fewer fights (zero), fewer drunken idiots (zero), or less drug use (zero).  What seems like a scary place to be (why is it called Warped anyway?), is a pretty cool community of folks coming together for one reason–their passion for music.  They just do it differently than most.

I am driving up to my first Edcamp of the summer tomorrow.  Edcamp is one of those teacher conferences that if you mention it to someone you sometimes get eyes wide open excitement, but usually you get one of those blank stares in which their head slowly tilts to one side.  Hardcore teachers go to Edcamps and folks often travel pretty far to get to one.  Edcamp brings together educators who teach high school with those that teach elementary. You have teachers from the city, and those from the country (well, east coast country).  It also brings together teachers who come with all sorts of electronic gizmos, and teachers who are happy to leave all the electronics home.  You have folks who like to talk a lot, and folks who are happy sitting in the back row of each session.  It is a neat eclectic mix.  Everyone has fun together.  Everyone goes home happy.  For the type of conference it is, I have never seen fewer fights (zero), fewer drunken idiots (zero), or less drug use (zero)…folks also don’t complain about kids, gripe about the lack of supplies, or swear about parents.  What seems like a weird conference to attend (what the heck is an unconference anyway?), is a pretty cool community of folks coming together for one reason–their passion to provide the very best learning experiences for the kids in their classrooms.  They just do it differently than most.

The session topics are different, that is why you should attend.  The sessions that are offered are unlike any other conference that I attend, unless I use my time machine (I don’t have a time machine).  The topics of many of the sessions at the very first Edcamps are just becoming part of the conversation in mainstream ed-circles in 2014.  The topics of the sessions in 2014′s Edcamps will just start to be mainstream 4-6 years from now.  You will meet people who are doing things that NO ONE ELSE IS DOING ANYWHERE.  

The organization is different.  You have no idea what to expect when you enter.  When people walk in they decide whether or not they want to organize a session based on who else shows up (if it is a twitter strong audience, no sessions on twitter), based on what the attendees request (if someone shows up wanting to learn about twitter there’s a session on twitter), and based on what occurs spontaneously (you can skip all morning sessions and have that conversation in the hallway with your twitter idol).  When you attend a session it is considered an insult to stay in it if you are not getting what you need from it.  People support you getting up and walking into another session.  Sessions are not stand and deliver, they tend to be more conversational.  You’ll find many rooms with chairs in circles rather than rows. There are sessions with three people, and some with fifty people.  It does not matter how many people attend, I have always found the sessions with the fewest attendees to be the most intimidating at the start, but the most awesome by the end.  Yes, Edcamps do fuel extroverts, but it is totally ok and acceptable to just come, keep you mouth closed, sit back, and take it all in.  

The people who attend are different.  Ever person there has chosen to take their day off and attend.  You don’t hear complaining at Edcamps, you hear solutions being tossed around.  Even if you don’t come away from an Edcamp with a single new idea, you do come away with a new found energy.  There are very few ed-conferences that can match Edcamps participants’ energy.  I am not talking about get-up-and-dance energy, just simple positive energy.  The energy at Edcamps remind you why you wanted to teach.  The energy you gain protects you from all the negativity that exists in “the teacher’s room.”  It makes you realize that there are people just like you out there, and sometimes that is all you need to keep fighting back in your home district.  If all you come home with is hope, that is reason enough to attend.

The cost and food is different.  It’s FREE.  It costs you nothing to get in, and nothing to eat.  You get an entire day for $0.00.  And most Edcamps now specialize in a certain food or have some specialty that I look forward to.  There are Edcamps that serve great burgers, some have special chips, and I know they are from some chain store but EdcampNJ have these awesome cinnamon bun things that are worth the trip for me.  I am still hoping one Edcamp will start serving milkshakes, I would travel pretty far for those.

I do think there are still issues Edcamps need to iron out.  At some established Edcamps too many people are coming with canned presentations they set up in advance, those Edcamps are soon going to lose their “organic” label.  Some Edcamps are attracting more people who are no longer teachers and who lead too many sessions.  Some brand new Edcamps are attracting too many new teachers so the session board stays pretty bare because some folks are more comfortable experiencing an Edcamp before deciding to present at one.  And one weakness specifically for me is that too many Edcamps really adhere to the no stand and deliver rule for session.  Just like I love to hear a good keynote, I don’t mind sitting in a session for an hour and listening to someone talk about something amazing. Not all Edcamps have a “request a session” built into it.  I think that is a must.  Newbies might not get involved presenting, but they can certainly help drive the content of the session board through their requests.

I have been to over 15 Edcamps.  I have been to the first content specific Edcamp, first student run Edcamp, first Edcamp at the Department of Education in Washington, DC, the largest Edcamp, and probably the smallest(doesn’t seem anyone keeps a record for that ;), tomorrow will be Edcamprsd6 in Litchfield, CT. Edcamprsd6 is a morning only Edcamp run on four successive Tuesdays (they have awesome food too).  It will be a morning with teachers in which I won’t have to talk about data teams, performance tasks, or uploading documents for my evaluation. Next month I will be driving up to EdcampCT.  Both are small cozy Edcamps full of folks that are different, and even if I don’t come home with any new ideas, I know I will come home with a little more energy, a free lunch, and a lot more hope.

If you haven’t been to an edcamp yet, please find one and attend. Click right here for the Edcamp Calendar.

One thought on “Edcamps are different…they give me hope.

  1. Paul:
    Loved this – and I totally share your sentiments. I think if more teachers got themselves to EdCamps, they would rediscover their love of teaching and get some renewed energy. It takes just a few motivated individuals to get you back on track.

    Among some of the “first’s” you listed above, I have to say I think I have the dubious honor of Giving an EdCamp Session that Nobody Attended! That’s another tip – don’t schedule your session at the same time as one that talks about a hot new tool.. Oh well, someone did take pity on me – sitting all alone in my session – and we had a lovely chat on a topic totally different, and it was awesome. She is part of my PLN and we continue to chat today.

    Bottom line: you really can’t lose going to an EdCamp!

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