David Wees is an unraveller! Visit his website and you’ll soon discover a mind that is constantly challenging the assumptions, practices and the structures that we tend to take for granted when it comes to teaching, learning, schooling and education. This is, perhaps, why I was immediately drawn to his writing, thinking and now, to EdCamp Vancouver–an unConference.
An unConference, you say? What is an unConference? Well, think back to the last professional development conference you attended. It was likely held at a hotel or convention centre. You probably needed to list your choices for a variety of workshop times. There may have been the promise of a couple of highly paid keynote speakers and, unless you had agreed ahead of time to do a workshop presentation or poster session, the only real demand that was made on you was that you show up on time and show a little restraint at the lunch hour buffet.
Sound familiar? That’s the way that most of us have experienced teacher conferences (it’s likely the same in other professions) to this point in our careers.
But wait a minute! Imagine this. You sign up to attend a conference. It takes place in a school building on a Saturday. You arrive, coffee in hand and you sit down in a room with other conference attendees. There is a display board in the room with a schedule of times and a stack of index cards. That’s really all that has been planned for you. That, and lunch.
And this brings us to the really exciting (and risky) part of an unConference. This is participant-driven professional development and registrants come prepared to do just that: drive the day. By registering for the conference, you implicitly agree to take an active role in the day by suggesting topics, leading sessions and participating in the recording and reporting of discussions.
There are a number of reasons why I find this to be an exciting concept. First, it’s likely to be smaller than most of the PD conferences that I attend.
Second, the energy level promises to be different. The adrenaline present in bringing together folks in this way trumps the need for high levels of caffeine!
Third, the unConference is unique in that it is an open space for teachers, administrators, parents…anyone that has a heart for quality education.
But, for me, the reason that I have actually lost sleep thinking about this idea is that it takes our ideas of professional development and turns them on their head! Instead of PD being something that is done to a group, the edcamp Vancouver unConference promises to transform it into something that is planned and implemented by the group. And, in this era of accountability and best practice that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.
The idea that participants can decide what is important to them, and be willing to gather on a Saturday to talk about it, represents an important step on the road to recapturing a sense of positive energy and professionalism in education.
So, on the evening of April 15th, I’ll be winging my way to Vancouver to be part of this exciting initiative. Thanks to David, the unraveller, for taking the risk. Thanks to his team of edcamp Vancouver organizers for their commitment and passion.
I, for one, hope that this is going to catch on. As of today, edcamp Montreal is the only other Canadian event being planned. But, I’m thinking that it won’t be long before the concept captures the hearts and minds of those committed to excellence in education. The edcamp unConference—an idea whose time has come!
To listen to some of David Wees’ ideas on the unConference concept and on what brings him to the teaching profession check out the Teaching Out Loud podcast over at the Canadian Education Association website.