I think if there were a crown for Missouri EdCamp attendance I would DEFINITELY be holding it! I have been to three different Missouri EdCamps this year and each has been a unique experience. While the goal of EdCamp in general is to get teachers together to share their learning and to collaborate, the beauty of the movement is that teachers are free to do that in whatever way they wish. From Saint Louis to Saint Charles to Kansas City Edcamp has been embraced across the state of Missouri and with that has come insight into the concerns teachers face and the movements they are looking to next to continue in the work. After spending so much time at EdCamp with Missouri educators, I have learned three big things about making an impact in this profession.
- Connection is SURVIVAL: This one goes out to EdCampSTL and their partnership with Connected Learning STL. EdCampSTL is the biggest EdCamp I have attended this year. Not only is the event HUGE drawing hundreds of teachers from across the state; in my opinion, it is a model of what collaboration could look like in education. Connected Learning STL is an organization devoted entirely to connecting educators with the resources needed to make innovative ideas fly. They bring in the partnerships necessary to make things like EdCampSTL a hit each year including a local book tour, marvelous swag, and an actual makerspace and Lego space for educators at EdCamp. They also provide training opportunities for teachers and teacher coaches throughout the year to help them to continually improve their practice. See those summer 2018 opportunities here. I interviewed an outstanding Connected Learning STL team member. You can meet Aubresha Young by checking out our sit down here. The takeaway is this, in order to persist in this profession it is important for educators to reach outside of their classrooms and be willing to partner outside of their comfort zones. It may be that as a classroom teacher, building leader, district administrator you are able to cultivate and maintain these relationships on your own; if not however, do not hesitate to reach out to intermediaries who can get these key partnerships in place. Here in Kansas City we have several including Communities in Schools, KCRPDC, and Prep-KC to name a few.
- The future is NOW: This particular take away stems from EdCampSCSD. I attended Saint Charles School District EdCamp for a couple of reasons. The first is that it was the first EdCamp I attended that was set up by district administrators. Tina Lauer is a Saint Charles School District Technology Coach and Lauren Mertz is an active member of the district’s professional development team. Together they helped to begin EdCampSCSD and strive each year to add what is new and relevant to teachers. This year they had an opportunity for attendees to take a virtual fieldtrip complete with VR goggles. There were multiple experiences available including a space station that really got my third grader excited. Along with VR educators had a “playkerspace” where we got the hands on student experience. We were given technology and then allowed to play with it and determine how it worked. It forced us to move away from the sit and get of traditional instruction to using our skills (reading, math, reasoning) to figure out how to program robots to move. It was challenging and thrilling! The takeaway is this, as educators we have to prepare students for the world beyond our classrooms by interacting with that world ourselves. We cannot teach traditionally and expect more than traditional results. We have to create space for ourselves to explore and create just as we expect our students to do. That means exposing ourselves to new technology, pushing through challenges, and facing the future confident that we are capable learners too. If we don’t believe it about ourselves as instructors, it will be difficult to discern in our learners.
- Learning is more than technology. This one goes out to EdCampKC. EdCampKC is an annual teacher driven bi-state endeavor put on by Laura Gilchrist and Kyle Pace. Laura is an instructional coach in Kansas and Kyle is a technology director in Missouri. Both of them have prolific Twitter followings and a lot to say about teacher development. While I expected EdCampKC to have a heavy technology focus as a result of their occupations if nothing else, what I got instead was schooled on using tech tools properly before adding to the instructional basket. Laura led a session on birdwatching and taught not only myself, but other teachers, my third grade child, and her best friend how impactful time outside of the classroom can be for developing thinking and listening skills for students. I memorized bird calls and can now identify at least one new tree type. All of this came by observation and yes some technology use. The difference here was that the technology was an enhancement and not the star of the show. The session itself led me to an epiphany, teachers want to be effective but they are being hit with a lot of expectations and a lot of options when it comes to technology use. This can make it difficult to determine efficacy and that lack of clarity could be the reason some never move up the SAMR model of integration and make the most of the tech they have available. The takeaway is that teachers may need some help with balance when it comes to successfully incorporating technology. We are sometimes inundated with so many new platforms and options that it can seem the only way to engage students is to put a screen in front of them. EdCampKC helped to show participants that technology can only ever be an enhancement to real instruction. The keys will always be good planning, engagement, real world connection, and relevance.
Remember to lead is to constantly learn, and while others may not tell you the truth, I always will. Teachers are able to drive their own development. They need support via meaningful connections, in depth learning experiences, and help with balancing administrative expectations with the realities of 21st century instruction. With these in place and a compelling vision to get behind, schools can position themselves to win.