Edcamp Leadership: A Rich Professional Development Experience

Guest post by Larry Rother

If you haven’t attended an Edcamp or even heard of an Edcamp, you’re not alone. These “unconferences” bring together K–12 educators for a day of collaboration and learning with no preset agenda. NASSP was the first organization to include an EdCamp in their national conference at Ignite ’15, and supported the Edcamp Leadership event this past summer.

On July 13, 2015, this Edcamp Leadership event was hosted in 17 cities across the nation and was attended by 1,500+ school leaders comprised of principals, assistant principals, lead teachers, department chairs, and more. And for most of us, it was our first time attending an Edcamp.

Yes, if you caught that last part, I said “our first time” because prior to Edcamp Leadership Phoenix, I hadn’t attended a full Edcamp. Despite my inexperience, I actually hosted the Edcamp Leadership event in Phoenix with my good friend and colleague Dan Kelley, Principal of Smithfield High School in Rhode Island. When we kicked things off, we asked how many participants had been to an Edcamp before. The answer? Four. Now, to be fair, we did have about 40 people in attendance at the beginning of the day, so 10 percent isn’t bad, but I can assure you that after the event was over, the room was full of believers.

Photo courtesy Larry Rother.Here are a few things that I noticed about the day that will have me “Edcamping” in the future:

  • I was amazed at how fast my colleagues shed any apprehensions and jumped into the process of leading their own professional development. The first activity of the day was to “build the board,” which means that as a large group we generated topics for our sessions throughout the day. I was impressed by the variety of topics that were generated and the willingness of my colleagues to lead a session.
  • Each room was full of experts. Through this collaborative process I learned things from all of the participants and at times it was as if, as a group, we were generating ideas or answering questions together on topics such as integration of educational technology, site-based leadership, professional development, and the so much more.
  • Edcamp was fun! Okay, let’s think about the last traditional professional development event you’ve attended…you sit, you “git,” then you eat lunch with who you came “wit.” At Edcamp, because the conversations are so rich and take place in the most informal ways, the whole day lends itself to networking. Perhaps due to the collaborative nature of an Edcamp, there seemed to be a more congenial spirit in the room and I found myself laughing and learning with colleagues who I had just met.
  • Well…it’s free. If you’re like me it’s hard to make the decision to spend money from my school’s budget for my personal professional development, and often even harder to choose a registration fee over a day on the golf course or a night out with my wife (okay, let’s be real, missing date night is not an option…at least not with my wife). In most cases you get what you pay for, but in the case of an Edcamp, that historically accurate economic principle just doesn’t pan out.

When the day was over—and yes, that wasn’t until we held our final networking session at a local watering hole, it was Phoenix in July after all—I left feeling that my day at Edcamp Leadership was time very well spent. From this experience I took away new ideas, validation for things I was already doing, and a renewed sense of connectedness with colleagues who share the same passion for education that I do.

If you’re attending NASSP’s Ignite ’16 conference, you can also look forward to an Edcamp experience on February 25 in Orlando, FL. Hopefully I’ll see you there or at Edcamp Leadership ’16 next summer.

Larry Rother is principal at Chandler High School in Arizona and a member of the NASSP Board of Directors. Follow him on Twitter @LRother_CHS.

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