September was filled with many new experiences as I started my central position. You could almost hear the energy crackling in our workspace (which has been nicknamed ‘The PIT’ as we are the Program and Innovation Team). Some of the energy in the PIT was focused on planning EdCamp Barrie, held on September 27th. Several members of my team have been working on this for many months. Their efforts and vision culminated in an energizing day of PD for participants from across Ontario.
I first heard about EdCamp last June when I started following my new colleagues on Twitter. I had no idea what it involved and was happy to see a ‘What is an EdCamp?’ link on the event website. My personal preference is that events in my life proceed in a predictable and reliable fashion. I prefer to have a concrete home and work schedule. I do not like making last-minute plans for dinner parties. When I go to conferences I always carefully read the programme and make decisions in advance about which sessions I want to attend. As a result, my mind was baffled by the organic, crowd-sourced, open-ended nature of an ‘unconference.’ I wasn’t sure what to expect, and had no choice but to be at peace with that.
EdCamp Barrie took place on what I consider to be home turf. It wasn’t only that it was happening in my city; it was taking place in the school I have taught in for over 10 years. That, coupled with the familiar faces of the organizers, made me feel at home from the start. (Definitely a good starting point for an introvert.) Our keynote address was given by two local elementary students, and was a great catalyst to focus our attention on our most important ‘Why?’: our students. The keynote speakers and student volunteers were surprised and pleased to see so many teachers participating in an activity like this on such a beautiful fall day. I suppose students are accustomed to seeing teachers put in extra time in gyms or music classrooms but hadn’t often (or ever) considered the extra time many of us commit to professional development. Perhaps more of us should share our professional learning activities openly with our students so that they can understand that we are all lifelong learners.
Watching the schedule for the day come together from attendees’ suggestions was really neat. Reading a description of this process does not do justice to the flurry of activity (reading/comparing/grouping) that actually takes place as organizers do their best to group similar questions from the hundreds that we generated. The resulting schedule was beautiful to behold and elicited a sense of pride in the group before we had attended a single session. Our collaborative session notes allowed the conversation to continue after EdCamp, when we could revisit shared resources and questions and take advantage of new relationships to embark on formal and informal collaborations.
Being relatively new to the Twitterverse, EdCamp was the first time that I found myself looking into the face of someone who I had known previously only as ‘@--- that tweets about widgets’ or ‘@--- whose class is learning coding this week.’ It was really neat to make a personal connection with some of these people who have unknowingly been teaching me so much these last weeks. The value of face-to-face is evident during EdCamp sessions. Live conversation takes on a depth and urgency that cannot be replicated in a Twitter conversation. At EdCamp you can ask a question and get five completely different answers, each backed up by rich experience and insight. Within sessions the generosity of those sharing their ideas and experiences was only matched by the honesty of the ignorant. I had the opportunity to be one of the generous contributors in a GAFE session and then admit complete ignorance in a coding session. I found myself wondering what was a bigger influence on participants’ amazing attitudes: that EdCamp attracts individuals who are this way, or that EdCamp by design brings out the best in everyone. I’m guessing that nature and nurture play equal roles in this.
Early in September I had begun tweeting back-and-forth with a friend from my days in the Faculty of Education at Brock University. She indicated an interest in attending EdCamp Barrie and was successful in convincing her husband (also our classmate at Brock) that they should come to Barrie and be guests at the home I share with my husband (yet another Brock classmate) and my daughters. Considering the location of their current home - Manitoulin Island - I crossed my fingers that the Barrie event would be a success and that the 10-hour return trip would be worth their while. I hadn’t seen my classmates for 12 years and wanted our reunion to be a success. It was. We attended EdCamp together (scoring this reunion photo in the process) and reminisced long into the evening, waxing poetic about everything from education to home improvement. I look forward to visiting Manitoulin this summer so we can continue these conversations.
*This portmanteau is brought to you by ‘Look Around You.’