My Edcamp Takeaways


Image taken from: the Edcamp VT website:




This past Saturday I went to Edcamp Vermont. It was my first Edcamp experience, and I’m glad I went. If you don’t know much about the Edcamp movement, you can learn more here.
Here are my takeaways:
1. The “unconference” model really works. 
During his introduction Larry Fliegelman  assured us: Don’t worry – the agenda board really does get filled. But as an introvert who’s comfortable with space and silence, that wasn’t actually my concern. Rather my biggest concern was that the loudest, quickest people would gobble up the space for each session and the day would serve more as a soapbox for the few than a conversation among many. 
That is far from what happened.
Instead, the group of us made our way to the board, calmly looking at the available space and talking in small groups among ourselves. Eventually, a couple folks grabbed a sticky note and posted an idea. That sparked more little conversations, and little by little other folks starting posting both new ideas and little additions to the post-it notes that were already up. 
Once the board was filled, we did not end the process of filling the board.
Instead, we continued to look over what had been put up so far. We were invited to continue to take some time and think things over. Some people eventually moved some sticky notes around, and others added a few new ideas.
Only then did the first session begin. It’s important to me to emphasize that the time and space that was given for the board to be filled allowed the sessions to be as meaningful as I found them to be.
Speaking of meaningful sessions, here’s my second takeaway:
2. We have an incredible community of enthusiastic, brilliant educators in Vermont who are passionate about the work they do. 
I enjoyed each of the 3 sessions I went to. In one session I was inspired by the creative ways educators are building and utilizing PLNs. In another session I was blown away by the way teachers are blogging with their students in thoughtful, carefully planned ways that are allowing kids as young as kindergarteners to participate authentically in both online and face-to-face communities. (Sharon Davison led this session. I highly recommend learning more about the inspiring work she does with her kindergarten students.) In another session I had a chance to share some of what I’ve learned by implementing Edmodo in my school this year, while simultaneously learning about the radically different ways other teachers are using Edmodo in their classes. In all cases, it was clear that we have a vibrant community of educators who are passionate about facilitating and inspiring student growth.
Speaking of a community of educators, that leads me to my third takeaway.
3. By having my iPad with me and using twitter throughout Edcamp, I was BETTER able to connect with the other participants than I would have been without being “plugged in.”
This takeaway surprised me. While I love technology, I sometimes worry that being “plugged in” all the time prevents us from being fully present in the here and now. That worry has not completely gone away — I very much believe that we need to be mindful of when and how we’re using technology — but my experience having my iPad and tweeting throughout Edcamp expanded my understanding of when and how technology can be useful. 
I could write a much longer blog post than I’m going to right now about why I found using my iPad and twitter throughout Edcamp to be so beneficial (and at some point I might do that). But for now I’ll just say that being on Twitter didn’t distract me from connecting with the people I was sitting next to. Rather, by occassionally checking twitter I was able to learn more about them – thus being able to connect more meaningfully in the moment. Additionally, I was — and continue to be — able to continue conversations with the people I met at Edcamp through twitter. While I would have enjoyed the conversations I had at Edcamp without twitter, I wouldn’t have gotten nearly so much out of them. Twitter provided differentiated ways for me to participate in Edcamp, and as an introvert who gets just plain exhausted after hanging out with strangers for hours, I found myself able to be more present in the here and now than I would have been if I hadn’t been able to go back and forth between having big face-to-face conversations, and checking/posting to the VTed hashtag we were using for Edcamp.
If you haven’t had a chance to check out an Edcamp, I recommend it. And if you’re interested in learning more about what we discussed at Edcamp Vermont this past Saturday, then check out the Edcamp Vermont website.
– Jenn

Why I’m Doing This

ImageI’m the program coordinator at an alternative high school in Vermont. My role includes teaching a few classes per week, supporting teachers and students, designing and facilitating professional development opportunities, doing some administrative tasks, and lots of other odds and ends.

The students we work with at our school are smart, hardworking, funny and courageous young people who arrive at our school only after gaining many years of experience feeling like failures.

If anything else had worked, our students wouldn’t be with us.

And so we do our best to do school very differently than all the schools that came before us. We’re therapeutic and student-centered, with a strong focus on the whole child. We’re small enough that we can truly get to know each student, and we prioritize building relationships with our students that allow them to feel safe, heard and invested in their education.

We rarely offer our students worksheets or tests, and regularly offer them hands-on projects, community-based programming, and problem-based learning. The same course is rarely offered twice, because the same course that fit the needs of one group rarely makes sense for the next group.

I’ve been at this school for 6 years, and while I’ve learned and applied so many things during that time, I’m still often struck by how truly deep and nuanced this work of teaching is. My bag of tricks has grown over the years, and I have a much larger repertoire of experiences to draw on than I did 6 years ago, but I still don’t know “the answers.” The teachers at our school joke about having a school “playbook” for all those tricky situations that arise — something to refer to that will tell us what to do — but of course nothing of the sort could ever exist.

This is one of the reasons I love teaching: there’s “better practices” (and we as teachers have a responsibility to know them well), but there’s no formula.

My hope for this blog is to prioritize my reflective practice — to keep myself reflecting in thoughtful and intentional ways — and then to use this reflective practice as a springboard for sharing with and learning from other thoughtful educators.

I hope that as time goes on this blog helps you in your journey as a teacher, and I hope you’ll be willing to share your experiences and insight with me.

– Jenn