Author: Karen Copeland
Ahhhh #EdCamp35 2015. This amazing day of learning, connecting, sharing and laughing. Meeting new friends and re-connecting with people I met at last year’s unconference. The feeling really is indescribable. I originally was not going to be able to attend this day because of another commitment, but when my plans changed, I immediately registered to attend. This event has that much hold on me.
I have reflected on this quite a bit over the past week, being curious about why I get so excited about this day of learning. I discovered a number of reasons.
First, there are not a lot of opportunities for parents and educators to come together to have conversations about learning. I’ve written about this previously a few different times. It says a great deal that parents and students are specifically included in the invitation to this event, for me it not only demonstrates a commitment to parent and student engagement, but also makes a statement – “We value and trust our parents and students enough to actively include them in these conversations about learning.” We are not invited to attend simply as observers. We are full participants in the process.
Second reason. The sessions. It is always so hard to choose from so many interesting topics!
Everyone is cramming in, deciding on their topics, wondering where they will end up on the session board, and hoping that the three sessions you have picked don’t end up all being at the same time. Fortunately, everything aligned for me and I was able to attend the three sessions I was most interested in.
The first session I attended was facilitated by Chris Wejr and it was all about recognizing and utilizing student strengths. As soon as I saw what room this session was in, I made a beeline for it to save my seat. I knew what would happen, and I was right. This is what happens when you arrive on time for a session with Chris.
Standing room only, with at least 15 people waiting outside the door. (I have to admit, it was kind of fun pushing past two of my educator friends with the comment “excuse me, I am just going to go take my seat right.over.there.”)
There were so many people in the session, we broke off into smaller groups to have a discussion, and each group had it’s own facilitator who recorded the conversations that were happening. And guess what? All of those thoughts and ideas have been posted online to be shared out with others! You can read about the session here.
Here’s another great thing about EdCamp. You are encouraged to vote with your feet, meaning if a session doesn’t turn out to be what you were hoping for, you can leave with no regrets or feeling like you are hurting someone by walking out. You just go and everyone is okay with that. You are also highly encouraged to use your device. So when I saw some tweets about another discussion that made me curious to know more, I went and joined their conversation.
The next session I attended was facilitated by Michelle Hiebert and Tracey Cramer on using e-portfolios to share student learning, more specifically about the FreshGrade platform. My fascination with FreshGrade goes back to when I first started connecting with Ian Landy, an administrator in Sorrento BC, who has implemented this platform school wide. I was looking forward to learning more about it in this session, and I wasn’t the only one. About half way through the session, a group of us broke off and went to another room to discuss this further. Here’s one thing that stands out for me from that conversation. An educator in the group put out the question about how to get parents on board with using something like this – and the great thing was, there was a parent in the room (me!) who was able to provide that lens and some suggestions. We talked about the importance of giving parents some training on how to use the platform, to lessen confusion. We also talked about connecting with parents and finding out what kind of information they hoped would be shared in their child’s e-portfolio. I spoke about my thoughts that utilizing a platform such as this would give me a window into my child’s school day. I noted that even though my struggling learner was now at home, this would have been a perfect option for sharing his learning when he was in school, because his learning could not be captured in a traditional report card format.
I checked #EdCamp35 on twitter to see if there were any overall themes emerging from the day and the one that stood out the most was the importance of relationships. That pretty much everything we do starts with relationship. It was a great lead in to the next session I attended: Student Mental Health. Incredible conversations and sharing happened in that room that afternoon. We were learning from and with each other – there was no fear, only respect and curiousity.
So, back to my original question about the power that EdCamp has over me. I think I have figured out my critical “why?”.
What happens when stakeholders begin connecting with each other when there is no investment other than an desire to learn? How do these informal opportunities like EdCamp offer a pathway to relationship development between parents, students and educators?
As parents at EdCamp, we are not put in a position where we have to advocate directly for our child, we can actually be ourselves without all the emotional baggage that comes along with advocacy. As Tammy Music pointed out in the student mental health session, “You are not seeing a parent at their best during meetings with the school. Ever.” We may be seen in a new light. As contributors, educators and thinkers, not just “that” parent. We are not singled out (ie. “parents, your session is over here”), instead we are included as equals, welcomed into the conversation.
We also then have the opportunity to connect with educators who are not trying to negotiate and manage policies and procedures or other factors to support our children. They are not having to respond to our requests or problem solve challenges that may arise.
We get to know one another as whole human beings, not just limit ourselves to what we see in the school environment. The power differential is almost balanced. We definitely learn from the sessions we attend throughout the day, but more importantly we learn about each other.
How does this influence our perceptions of each other? How does this potentially change how we view each other when a difficult or challenging situation arises? Can we draw from these informal interactions and recall the vulnerability we have shared with each other and look at future challenges or successes from a different perspective?
I would suggest yes. In fact, I would even go so far as to recommend the following:
If you are an educator, service provider or other professional, and you are wondering how you can connect with parents in your practice, seek out these opportunities for informal connections and conversations where there are no pre-determined expectations that can put up walls. Be curious in those moments.
If you are a parent, I recommend doing the same. When we start to know people and understand them for who they are, not their role, our perspectives start to change.
Setting aside our assumptions, being curious, and taking it back to where my day started with Chris, recognizing that we all have strengths – how do we discover these and honour them in our relationships with each other?
Are you an educator? I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Does the opportunity to connect informally with parents shift your perception of parents in your broader school community?
Many thanks to the organizing team and the Langley School District for hosting this annual event. When registration for EdCamp35 2016 gets posted, you better believe I will be registering to attend!
For more information about EdCamp35, please visit http://www.edcamp35.com/