Edcamp Leadership marked my entrance into the world of Edcamps this month, both as an attendee and an organizer. I have known most of the key players in the Edcamp Foundation for many years through traveling in the same educational circles in social media, so knowing the kinds of educators they are, it really didn’t surprise me that a) I had a blast, and b) so many attendees enjoyed it as well.
I suppose the true measure of how effective it was or was not will be determined by which of the many ideas discussed actually get implemented and lead to some improvement in the attendee’s schools. In the meantime, however, what I want to record here are my thoughts on the organizational process, the session I ran that morning, and some general overall takeaways from the day. This post will focus on my session; a subsequent post will focus more on the nuts and bolts of putting the day together.
Flipping the Faculty Meeting
This session was inspired in equal parts by this blog post by Bill Ferriter and my personal experience of sitting through twelve years of faculty meetings wondering why this information couldn’t have been better summed up in an email. When I signed up, I picked the smallest room available, figuring that if the room holds 16 and 6-8 showed up, it wouldn’t look quite so empty. Imagine my surprise when 25-30 people packed the room (srsly, check the visual; I’m on the far left in the green shirt, apparently avoiding eye contact with anyone)! Clearly, it was something these school leaders wanted to discuss.
Although I specifically asked about obstacles to flipping faculty meetings, most participants only brought them up along with ideas for how to get around them. In fact, the major stumbling block that some folks kept coming back to was union contract language. I wished we had the expertise in the room (i.e., someone much more knowledgeable about contracts than I) to explore that further, but unfortunately we did not.
Another issue to consider was how administrators can/should document that faculty members actually received the information in a flipped environment. I’m of two minds here: on one hand, it demeans us professionally to assume we won’t read some text or watch a 5-minute video as asked, but if that’s what we have to work with, I suggested a simple Google Form (which could be reproduced as needed with a few clicks) with boilerplate fields like, “Name”, “Dept./Grade Level”, “I certify that I have read/viewed X, Y, Z as requested by so-and-so”. This could be shared with staff via email. Seems a bit silly, but everyone has their bosses to please, I suppose.
Many leaders sounded just as frustrated with the traditional faculty meeting as most teachers I know, and the conversation took us beyond the idea of “flipping” or directly inverting content consumption/face-to-face time to a broader discussion. I think it was Marc Seigel who first asked the group, “What is the most effective use of our time together?” (emphasis mine); this was a common theme to which we kept coming back throughout the session. Bruce Arcurio warned us against the dangers of letting faculty meetings become “3-D memos” and, if I recall correctly, is planning on flipping his very first faculty meeting of the upcoming school year.
Another overarching theme that came out of the discussion was shared leadership (aka distributed leadership in some circles). In short, by recruiting classroom teachers in their buildings to share and model lessons, teaching strategies, technology, etc., the faculty meeting becomes less about administrivia and more about professional growth and learning. The leadership task of providing this learning experience – although orchestrated by the principal – comes directly from the ranks of local teachers, and helps to create buy-in from the staff as well as builds leadership capacity and feelings of ownership and investment in the staff (I don’t have a citation, but I swear it’s all in my dissertation lit review).
In addition to the discussion (and boy, was it a true group discussion – I think just about every participant contributed a comment or question, or otherwise helped move the discussion forward at some point), there were some unintended but wholly welcome by-products of the session. I used TodaysMeet for the session backchannel/”parking lot” for questions, and for some of the administrators in the room, this was their first exposure to the app. Many of them loved it and are planning to implement it somehow in their meetings this coming year. Also, principal-turned-assistant superintendent Patrick Larkin must have seen our TodaysMeet chatroom link advertised on Twitter, so he joined us in the backchannel from Massachusetts to contribute to the discussion.
I was beaming from all the folks who came up to me throughout the day to thank me and tell me how much they enjoyed the session and, more importantly, were planning on shifting their practice regarding faculty meetings in some way (which, we theorized in the discussion, would act as modeling for the teachers and thus influence them to think about ways to make their own face-to-face time with students more efficient or effective). As a former English teacher, conducting group discussions is nothing new to me, but to do it with a room full of school administrators put a slightly different spin on it for me. As a facilitator, I think I struck the right balance in terms of technology use – we had a backchannel and a note sheet, but even if the power had gone out that morning, we still would have had a productive, powerful discussion. I walked into the presentation with little more than three or four central questions (and really no answers, which I was honest about from the start), and, in true Edcamp fashion, the room took them and ran with them.
Overall, I was very pleased with the experience, and it has certainly given me the confidence to run sessions at two upcoming events: WilmU LeaderCamp in August (an Edcamp specifically for graduate-level education students at Wilmington University) and EdcampNJ in December. With Edcamps popping up all over the country (and in quite a few places outside the United States), it is increasingly likely that one will be coming to your area soon – why not run a session of your own?