To set the stage for this post, mentally think about the Beastie Boys song ‘You gotta fight for your right to [PD].’ Except the fight is more of a defensive stance than an attack. Here are some of the excuses that I’ve heard for why teachers do not attend edcamp and my responses to why they are making a mistake.
- It’s not a real conference. I love this about edcamp. There is no schedule set months ahead of time. Topics that are of importance to people attending on that day set the schedule. There are no vendors hawking their goods and distracting you from learning from other teachers. There is no obligation to sit through sessions that are not valuable to you. The ‘Rule of Two Feet’ encourages you to change sessions if something else would be a better fit. Try walking out of a session at a real conference and see the glares you get. However, after attending edcamps, it feels stifling to be trapped in boring sessions.
- The state won’t give me credit for attending. Since when do teachers care about the state? It is extremely rare that they [state decision makers] make decisions that are of educational value to students and/or teachers. If the bureaucracy got involved and tried to regulate the unconference experience, it would squelch the spirit and authentic learning. Leave the state out of it and do it for the sake of reigniting the spark in your teaching.
- It’s too far away. Define too far away. People travel for hours to do things they want to do. Most places in the United States have an edcamp within an easy driving distance. Every year more edcamps are added. There have already been 500 edcamps globally. This map shows the current dispersion of edcamps – with a full schedule of upcoming edcamps on the edcamp wiki. If there is not one near you, you could always join with other passionate teachers to organize your own. The wiki also provides guides for organizers.
- My district won’t pay for me to attend. True, but you also will not pay to attend. Edcamps by definition are free. We did not get into teaching for the big paychecks, so I’m not sure where the expectation of making money comes from.
- What’s in it for me? I suppose if you have to feel like it is “worth your time,” the swag and chances to win sponsor raffles are pretty exciting. To some people they might just be pens, highlighters, and post-it notes, but to teachers, the supplies are cute ‘thank you’ notes from companies that support education. I’ve been lucky and earned some great tools for my classroom, like a subscription to Flocabulary. Many edcamps also have food, so you can have great, informal, educational discussions over yummy food and coffee.
- I don’t want to present. The presentation dilemma is a non-issue. People are not supposed to present at edcamp anyway; you sign up to facilitate a discussion. Some people may have more expertise and contribute more, but you don’t spend hours ahead of time prepping for edcamp. Instead of preparing a presentation, prepare a few questions that you want answered about something education related. During the course of the day, make the effort to ask the questions in a relevant session. Ten minds combined are more powerful than a single mind, which is a benefit of crowdsourcing.
- Nothing will interest me. This is your own fault. You either do not want to propose a topic or you are so disenchanted with teaching that nothing can interest you. Edcamps sessions are not approved by a panel of organizers; edcamp sessions are written on post-it notes (or a similar strategy) by the people who are attending that day. The educational topic potential is endless. So think of something, anything, that interests you, and find another interested person to have that dialogue or healthy debate.
- I don’t like technology. This has a two pronged response. See above for the first part. Maybe the reason you don’t like technology is you have been overwhelmed by mandatory trainings in your district. When the forced element is removed, and you have choice, it is easier to see positives. Also, sessions might not focus on technology but general best practice or skills. Often teachers share a technology tool they use to accomplish that. When framed in that light instead of focusing on the tool (like PowerPoint part VI), it is easier to envision how it could apply to your classroom.
- It’s on a Saturday. This is the perfect day of the week. It means I do not have to write extensive substitute plans because I will not be missing school. It gives me a day to process all of the ideas and strategies, and figure out the logistics of the activities, yet I can still go into the classroom on Monday and apply the best of what I learned. What do you do over the weekend that actually makes you excited for a Monday?
- I won’t know anyone. Why is this a bad thing? Most districts have the same discussions over-and-over. Get out of the conversation rut by hearing fresh new ideas. It gives you the chance to expand your PLN; a great example of this is Twitter walls of the attendees (we did this last year at EdcampHBG, and now I’ve seen lots of other examples). Learning is social. People who decide to attend edcamp on their own time tend to be the friendliest. Everyone is welcoming. There is not the tension of some state conferences where the upper echelon takes offense to the enlightened newcomers who encroach on their territory. Everyone is there to learn, not to maintain social stratification.
Honestly, I might be slightly biased. I have attended 12 edcamps. I also help organize Edcamp Harrisburg. I generally exhibit high levels of #edcamplove. So I might be biased, but that does not mean I am not also correct. Just like most things in life, you will get out of an edcamp opportunity what you put into it. So don’t make excuses why you shouldn’t attend edcamp, instead make plans to attend a local, teacher organized, day of professional development.