An #edcamp experience

Photo by SpecialKRB via Flickr

Yesterday I attended my first “unconference,” Edcamp NYC, held at The School at Columbia in fabulous New York City, which was definitely a day of learning that warrants reflection.

The session board filled up quickly upon arrival, and I’m thankful that everyone took the time to share their expertise and talents with others. That’s what this day of learning is all about.

I had the pleasure of meeting and learning from Lauren Goldberg, whose involvement with the Peers Forum for Excellence in Teaching has shaped her experiences with best practices in teaching and learning. Along with Kevin Jarrett and David Ginsburg, we discussed the current emphasis on covering curriculum and how we can shift to a curriculum design that focuses on “the big ideas,” spanning content areas and centering on student learning. I enjoyed hearing from an elementary math instructor at The School at Columbia who detailed their assessment practices: 1:1 interviews with students, portfolios with authentic student work samples, and plenty of anecdotal notes on student progress. There are two teachers in each classroom, so while one teacher leads instruction, the other transcribes the lesson, which is saved to Google docs. When it comes time to report on student progress, the transcripts of learning can be accessed by any teacher, who can draw upon students’ actual learning experiences to shape their report. Amazing!  I absolutely loved hearing about Lauren’s experience with a school-wide topic of study, and would love to bring this practice to our school. She described a school whose study topic was “India,” and every grade level, across all content areas, sought to plan experiences that helped students engage with that topic in some way. My other take-away from Lauren’s session is the list of ideals shared in their learning organization: Caring, Responsibility, Respect, Honesty, Excellence, and Joy.  The two most important ideals? In Lauren’s words, “You just can’t learn without excellence and joy.”

Next I had the pleasure of stepping way outside of my comfort zone and learning from Dr. David Timony, who declared, “Your brain is not your friend and may actually be out to get you.” Frightening, eh? Our group discussed the fallacy in learning styles, the differences between traits (characteristics of a person that are generally not going to change; the ways you look, act, things you do) and states (temporary; affected by an interaction with education). We pretty much debunked the ideas of learning styles, multitasking, and differentiated instruction (the importance of what most consider differentiated instruction “is that you’re teaching the same thing four or five different ways!”) and how some of the things we think we know, but really don’t know, about our brains are severely impacting our educational organizations and student learning. Recommended reads: Self-Efficacy, the Exercise of Control (Bandura), Polanyi’s work on tacit knowledge, and What Kids Can Do. Recommended viewing: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

I caught the end of the Skyping session led by Mary Beth Hertz and Dan Callahan, demonstrating the power of this tool in the classroom. At the start of their session they actually Skyped with an #edcampcitrus crew, and when I arrived, teams of teachers were discussing the use of Skype with students. Great resource from the session found here.

Following lunch (“Are you really going to eat that, Nick?”), it was time for Things that Suck, hosted by Dan Callahan. A popular session whose format is borrowed from Barcamp Philly, Things that Suck asks participants to consider a topic, then physically move to sides of the room indicating their stance on the topic as either “Sucks” or “Rocks.” Indifferent folks stand in the back middle. (I have to admit I spent a lot of time in the middle on most of the issues.) And then the debate ensues. Topics we discussed: the federal department of education, differentiated instruction, the current structure of schools, homework (by far the most heated, opinionated conversation- secondary English teachers represented loud and clear their ideas about homework), and your school’s discipline policy (the topic where I found myself on the “Rocks” side. Hey– I’m the principal.) A most spirited, thought-provoking session. Think of how meaningful this type of session could be in your classroom with students!

It was a pleasure meeting one of my Connected Principals colleagues, Larry Fliegelman, who agreed to moderate an end-of-the-day session with me entitled (hat tip to Deven Black), “Talk back to administrators.” How many teachers would love to candidly speak to administrators about what’s on their mind, yet don’t often have the opportunity? We wanted to give them the chance to do so by leading a discussion about the qualities of administrators that teachers most need and appreciate. We ended up hearing from Deven, David, another instructional consultant for New York City public schools, and two teachers, one of whom has served children for over 40 years. We discussed best practices in teacher supervision, the importance of administrators defining and developing vision in their schools, the absolute necessity for administrators to be visible in their schools and develop relationships with students, the struggle for administrators to put their leadership responsibilities well above managerial tasks, and the use of peer evaluations and “critical friend” reflections in professional development.

Each of the four sessions I attended were filled with insights that made me reflect upon my own practice and how our school operates. Something George Couros has taught me is that it wouldn’t be enough for me to passively soak in the wealth of information being shared; the real learning would occur when I’d take that next step and consider how I’d put into practice those ideas to positively impact my school. I’m excited to start uncovering our curriculum, designing learning experiences that focus on the big picture, trying alternative forms of assessment, helping my teachers understand the science (or lack thereof) behind “learning styles,” evaluating our differentiated instruction and homework practices, and strengthening my supervisory role and increasing teacher ownership in lesson observations and teacher professional development.

As someone who engages in frequent discussions with colleagues via Twitter, it was truly meaningful to have the chance to meet these fine educators in real life. You quickly realize, within seconds of meeting them, that they are exactly as genuine, intelligent, humorous, and engaging as their online personas make them out to be. Getting the chance to meet so many great people in my network was certainly the high point of my day. (Well, that and finding myself in such close proximity to a plate of oxtail.) I’m really looking forward to catching up with everyone (including, but not limited to, Nicholas Provenzano, Mary Beth Hertz, Kevin Jarrett, Rob Griffith, Mike Ritzius, Hadley Ferguson, Joyce Valenza, Dan Callahan, Larry Fliegelman, Deven Black, David Timony, Lauren Goldberg, and David Ginsburg) again at Educon, TeachMeet NJ, ISTE, and any other opportunities that arise! Thank you so much to the organizers of Edcamp NYC for their efforts in planning a fantastic learning experience for all.

15 Replies to “An #edcamp experience”

  1. I’m glad you were able to join us at EdCamp NYC. When I attended EdCamp Philly I was amazed and thrilled at the conversation and learning. Thank you for posting and running a session, I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to attend it. I’m looking forward to Educon. It will be the first time I attend.

    1. Ann, thanks for your work in planning the events of the day yesterday. It was fantastic! I’m looking forward to seeing you at Educon, it will be my first time too!

  2. It was a pleasure meeting you and having the opportunity to discuss administration issues with you, Larry and the others. I look forward to our online interactions and connecting with you again at Educon and other conferences.

    1. Likewise, Deven, it was great meeting you, and I enjoyed hearing your perspectives! Look forward to learning more with/from you!

  3. I’m glad that you enjoyed your day, and thank you so much for coming to Things That Suck! Your insights about what good disciplinary programs look like were invaluable.

    1. Thanks, Dan! I was slightly outnumbered over on the “Rocks” side. 🙂 Great meeting and learning from you!

  4. Lyn, It was very nice to meet you finally. I’ve run a Things That Suck with students twice now and it is always an eye-opening experience. The candid feedback from the students is invaluable and the students have a good time with it.

    Just one question for you: oxtail – sucks? rocks?

    1. Mike, great meeting you too! Thanks for commenting. I’m thinking we’d have to run “Stinks” or “Rocks” at the elementary level, but I imagine it could get equally as feisty.
      Oxtail? The sheer look of it definitely sucks.
      And I’m not brave enough to find out what it tastes like!

    1. Thanks for your comments and for your session at #edcampnyc! I enjoyed learning from you. Looking forward to catching up at Educon!

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