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Opinion, Promising Practices

edCamp Vancouver

Exploring the "What's Left" in Professional Development

I’ve attended my fair share of professional development conferences over the course of my teaching career and, with few exceptions, they have all been pretty similar in both design and effect. 

Most have been built around a theme chosen by an organizing committee. Most have featured at least one known and validated keynote voice. A pre-determined slate of workshop offerings, a substantial lunch and a robust publisher’s display are also very familiar features of traditional conferences. Oh, and coffee…lots of coffee! 

It’s a structure that has been in place for years and its a structure that most of us have come to expect when we choose to attend a conference. Until recently, that is…

There’s a new kid on the block, one that’s determined to change our perspective on what professional development looks like, sounds like, and, yes, even what it tastes like!

The EdCamp movement began in the spring of 2010 as about a dozen educators from the Philadelphia area, many of whom had been involved in another unconference-type initiative decided to use the model to create an event for teachers. Over the past year, other EdCamps have been organized around the U.S. and this spring, excitement around the model drifted north of the border and resulted in EdCamp Vancouver in April.

The EdCamp model forces us to engage in some pretty fundamental questions about both the form and function of professional development. And I can imagine that one of the first questions that threatens to stare down anyone considering planning an EdCamp is “What’s left?” Once you take away the expensive keynote, the fancy venue, the workshop leaders, the promise of lunch and coffee breaks, what do you have remaining? 

It’s a powerful question, but the answer, I’ve discovered, is even more powerful. In a sense, when you strip away all of the “trappings” of the traditional professional development conference, you’re really just left with one thing: the voices of the participants. And as you listen to the voices that begin to emerge, you realize that they are voices full of creativity, passion, commitment and hope. You also realize that these are voices that are anxious to be heard and even more anxious to actively participate in the work of transforming education. 

These are the voices that you will hear in the latest Teaching Out Loud podcast, recorded live at EdCamp Vancouver in April. These are the voices that are beginning to emerge as other Canadian EdCamp events come on line this year: EdCamp Quinte in May 2011, and EdCamp Montreal in November. And these are the voices that I’m encountering as I work with others to plan EdCamp Toronto in the fall of 2011. 

Over the next few weeks, I will be adding more in this space about the EdCamp model, some of the finer details about planning an event, the processes that are at the heart of the idea, and information about upcoming Canadian events. We’ll also chat about the challenges involved in gathering and mobilizing these emergent voices across the country. 

For now, allow me to introduce you to some of the passionate folks that I met in Vancouver. To be sure, they exemplify what it means to teach and to learn out loud! Thanks to David Wees and his planning team for extending a warm welcome and for agreeing to share their thoughts on the day.

Meet the Expert

Stephen Hurley

Stephen Hurley

Education Consultant, Catalyst, voicED Radio

Stephen Hurley is a recently retired teacher from the Dufferin Peel District School Board in Ontario. Stephen continues to work to open up public spaces for vibrant conversations about transformation of education systems across Canada.

Stephen Hurley est un enseignant récemment retraité de la Dufferin Peel District School Board en Ontario. Stephen continue de travailler à ouvrir des espaces publics pour des conversations dynamiques sur la transformation des systèmes éducatifs partout au Canada.

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