I just attended a session by three of the founders of Edcamp, Kristen Swanson, Ann Leaness, and Christine Miles. They shared an interesting statistic: in the two years since the first Edcamp Philly, there have been 101 separate Edcamp events around the world. There has been a great deal written in the blogosphere (including this blog) about the value (or lack thereof) of this model for improving teacher PD. I’m not going to extend that conversation here, though I think it is still a valuable one and worth pursuing.
What struck me, though, in the crowded session, was the cognitive dissonance that was going on when the teachers and administrators in the room tried to wrap their heads around the concept. Many of the questions by the participants pointed out that most of us still see professional development as district-centered, administrator-led training sessions where all of the teachers receive the same packet of knowledge and skills in a “sit-and-get” session.
The idea of putting a bunch of educators in a room and just letting them be, well, educators together was just not working for many of those in attedance. Several comments were clearly coming from a perspective where there was fear that the time wouldn’t be productive and the teachers would goof off, grade papers, or simply cut class. Behaviors which, frankly, we often see in traditional professional development sessions. If we don’t closely control the day, the thinking goes, nothing will get done.
One of my own roles in my district is planning professional development with the rest of the curriculum team. One of the biggest requests I hear from teachers is, “We need time together as a group to discuss/work on ___.” Why not simply give it to them? The lesson from Edcamp, and events like it, is that given the opportunity to learn together, teachers will actually learn together, and the learning that happens will be valuable (because they generated it themselves) and the time productive (because they invested it themselves). Will it be the specific, targeted, standards-based objectives that the central office wants to make happen? Maybe, maybe not. But it will contribute to an improved culture of teaching and learning, and it will help build capacity within the teaching staff. That in itself is a worthy goal.