Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Using EDCAMP for Professional Development for All Teachers

I attended my first EdCamp, called JEDCampNYNJ and on a Sunday last spring.  It was a life changing experience for me on several levels.  I have to thank Josh Bierman for the final push to attend.  Located at Yavneh, a school that I have a strong affinity towards because of my brother's incredibly positive experience attending, I attended then as a public school and Hebrew school teacher.  I took off the day from Hebrew school because I thought it was an important learning experience that would be rewarding for both myself and my students.  (On a side note, I might suggest a yearly JEDCamp be established for Hebrew school teachers where Hebrew school does not meet and teachers use that time to learn together yearly with others in the area since their needs are very specific and different from Jewish Day Schools.)  I was fortunate enough to attend incredible sessions and meet some very passionate educators.  The conversations I had during the event were informative and incredibly helpful.  I was able to bounce off ideas about scheduling, curricular development, mission statements, and much more.

The connections with educators with expertise in various fields was particularly useful.  I met Principals, Vice Principals, Ed Tech Directors, Bible teachers, Math teachers, Curriculum Developments, and many more.  I was also fortunate enough to meet Abe Tawil, an incredibly gifted and brilliant educator who literally talked me into working at a yeshiva in Brooklyn, something that was not even on my radar upon attending the event.

You may be thinking, what makes this type of conference different than any other professional development conference I may have attended in the past?  First, it is free!  Yes, absolutely free.  This is a crucial factor in the post 2008 era education where budgets for school districts and even private schools have been severely restricted due to economic considerations.  There is no limit on the number of staff who can attend from one school.  

Second, there are no "speeches."  As someone who grew up in a household that greatly respected the 5 minute rule and who has a Dad who refuses to give long speeches ever no matter what, I got this.  How often are you stuck at a conference with a less than inspiring speaker or a speaker who is inspiring but impractical (think the explosion of "Tony Robbinses" in education w/ TED) who goes on and on and on.  I had this happen to me at ISTE's opening keynote, which I confess I really disliked, and I definitely find this a plus.  Instead educators come to the conference and get to create whatever sessions they like to attend choosing from a quickly evolving then created schedule.  There are slots, say 5-8 per time frame.  Educators can choose what to attend when.  They can even choose to create one if they do not see that any conference participants have yet to create a seminar session on that topic.  Some of the topical sessions have presentations complete with a powerpoint or prezi, or whatever the latest presentation software is that month, but others are simply discussions, often rather heated about issues in education and practical solutions the group tries to seek for implementation.  I vastly preferred the latter.  Either way though, you vote with your feet.  So, instead of being held hostage or suffering from horrible looks from conference participants because you left a room when a presentation or discussion is going on.  At EdCamps, this is a given.  If you like a session you stay.  No harm either way.  

So what makes a conference a JEDCamp rather than an EDCamp?  A JEDCamp is just a Sunday or non Saturday EdCamp for any educators who teach or work or are involved in a significant way (send your kids, are on a board, interested in Jewish Education, etc) in Jewish Day Schools.  

This year, Magen David will be hosting its own NYNJ JEDCamp on Sunday October 20th.  I am extremely excited that our school will be opening its doors to fantastic and motivated educators from the tri-state area.  For space reasons, we will be capping the number of people who attend, so I would encourage all educators to sign up quickly.  Here is our eventbrite site where you can sign up.