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Edcamp: Where teachers teach themselves

When it comes to effective professional development, teachers agree: Execution is key.

While classroom educators appreciate what good professional development can do for them—and, ultimately, for their students—the reality is that most programs fall short. According to a study conducted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, less than 30 percent of teachers are highly satisfied with their current professional development.

That’s not good, especially when you consider that school districts drop an estimated $18 billion a year on teacher training. So what does the ideal professional development experience look like?

The Gates study revealed several items on most teacher PD wish lists. Among them: Training must be relevant as well as interactive; forget yearly one-off sessions, most teachers want sustained programs throughout the year; teachers want to be treated like professionals and not talked down to; and, finally, teachers want the lion’s share of lessons and experiences delivered by fellow teachers.

The train-the-trainer model—or, in this case, the teach-the-teacher model—is the driving force behind Edcamp, a teacher professional development program launched in Philadelphia in 2010 that is catching on nationwide.

Giving teachers choice and voice
Writing for Edutopia, Mary Beth Hertz, an organizer of the original Edcamp, says Edcamp professional development was created as an alternative to more traditional professional development activities—conferences, for example.

The idea: Bring teachers together with other teachers to hash out common solutions to the problems they face in their classrooms.

Why Edcamp? A few reasons:

  • Edcamp is free. More teachers are able to attend without having to get approval from their districts.
  • Edcamp is noncommercial. Vendors and sales people are prohibited from Edcamp.
  • Edcamp is open. Anyone can attend or lead a session.
  • Edcamp is immediate. The agenda for the meeting is not created until the day of, by participants. This makes lessons applicable to the issues facing participants at that exact moment.

Says Hertz: “People are eager to learn and listen rather than be a talking head. What teachers want are the things that we always say we want to give our students: choice and voice.”

Making the most of teachers’ time
Edcamp participants develop an agenda board that covers hot topics. These topics are then divided into sessions. Presenters and audience members are encouraged to participate, speak-up, and modify the discussion if and when they have something to add.

All participants are encouraged to follow the “rule of two feet,” meaning they agree to move on to another session if the current session fails to meet their needs.

The approach is catching on. In the six years since the first Edcamp, dozens of Edcamps have popped up throughout the United States. Even the U.S. Department of Education offers an Edcamp.

Have teachers in your district participated in an Edcamp? Do you give teachers a choice and a voice in their professional training? Tell us in the comments.

Looking for a better way to get teacher feedback on training programs? Ask your teachers what they think.