Monday, October 28, 2013

The Power of Choice

We are 2 weeks removed from our Edcamp style PD opportunity for 7 districts (known as Cluster A) in northwest Wisconsin.  Just under 450 people showed up ready…and mostly willing to be part of what we did that day. I say mostly only because it was a required day for staff.  Usually an Edcamp involves individuals who choose to spend a Saturday learning and growing.  Though this day was required, I think the experience was beneficial and made people think about professional development in a different way.  Here are a few things that led to the success of the day:

Planning and Preparation
We asked Superintendents from all 7 schools to choose two people to serve on the Cluster PD committee.  The only requirement, in terms of choosing people, was to ensure we brought individuals to the table who were interested in providing a new opportunity for growth.  New ideas…new format…new energy…we wanted this group to look at the importance of modeling growth and learning.  We spent our first meeting last year discussing how adults learn and what we could do to provide the opportunity for growth in the context of an already full school schedule.  The conversations were great!  Ideas were challenged, we ended in a much different place than we started, and the dialogue left us wanting more when it came to providing a better opportunity for our staff members.  The Edcamp format is organic in that the sessions are built by people who attend on that day.  We had to modify that piece a bit because we felt getting 450 people into a room who have not been to an Edcamp before could have led to only a few sessions.  So we began to ask our staff members to facilitate sessions…an open document was sent out to everyone in the 7 schools, some members of the committee connected with people in their building and encouraged them to provide a session, and we ended up with over 60 sessions for our group.  The concept of learning from colleagues was at the heart of what we were trying to do…and the number of sessions really helped with the choice for our staff.  We then created tracks so there was a variety of choice for each level (Elementary, Middle, HS) and the technology options (Moodle, Twitter, Camtasia…) were spread throughout the day.

Introduce the Day
We took a few minutes at the beginning of the day to introduce the format and the schedule.  A few minutes is the operative term…providing an hour keynote wasn’t the way we wanted to go.  We felt like that would put us back in the same format we have used in the past so a quick 15 minute introduction to the day and a few words about owning the learning were shared…then we moved on.  The morning was spent with grade levels or departments and the afternoon was dedicated to the Edcamp format.  It was really important for both facilitators and staff members to mention that the premise of the day was to meet the needs of all staff members through choice.  We asked people to vote with their feet…if a session did not meet their needs, they should go somewhere else.  If there were no sessions that met their need and they wanted to connect with a colleague in an open space…do it!  We didn’t want facilitators to feel slighted if people left their session, but also didn’t want people to sit in an offering for an hour and get nothing from the time in that space.

Provide food.  Done.

We asked all facilitators to video their session.  This was met with some resistance, but had more to do with uncertainty about running the video than actually recording the session.  Of the 60 sessions we were able to capture over 30.  This is a great start!  The opportunity to learn something new or go back and review the session you attended was important to us.

All 7 schools brought raffle prizes for staff members and we gave away some Cluster A shirts…not essential, but a cool thing to have throughout the day.

Continuing Discussion
The idea of Event PD has been around forever.  We go somewhere…get inspired…leave…and repeat the following year.  Our group wanted to continue the discussion so we have added a few things.  Email distribution lists helped our groups connect through department or grade level.  Together we are better for kids…it’s really that simple.  There are amazing things happening in this part of the state…but they are happening in pockets.  Being able to connect outside of our district is important in finding those pockets and improving all programming for students.  We are also offering mini session offerings specific to levels in November and January before we get together again in February for another Edcamp as a group.  The mini session offerings are optional and will rotate between the 7 schools in the area.  If the discussion doesn’t continue then we are just putting a fancy bow on something we have done for years and our Edcamp turns into another Event PD that doesn’t allow for growth.

Get Feedback…on the day
Surveys through email are great…but we wanted to get the immediate feedback from our staff so it was reflective of what they had just done.  We asked staff members 2 questions…what did you like and what do you need?  That’s it.

As I reflect on the opportunity it provided for staff it made me think about the importance of choice in our schools. I was incredibly proud of the group that put this together.  The discussion about what it could look like was fantastic.  The idea that we couldn’t make it work was never an option.  The day was a success because of a few things.  First and foremost, we had colleagues willing to facilitate discussions.  If we had 450 people show up with a small number of sessions to attend, the day would have been compromised.  To have 60 people step up and facilitate speaks volumes about our group.  Secondly, our PD group did an incredible job of selling the day.  This day was about our staff…and that was clear when anyone talked to our PD group…they were spectacular.  Next, the staff in all 7 schools…they did not have to buy into this day.  They did…and that is a credit to them.  Finally, the leadership in the 7 districts was willing to give up 2 days that could be spent doing things within their district.  Huge shift and the trust they showed in the process was outstanding.

The feedback from the day has been wonderful.  The adjustments people wanted had more to do with logistics (more snacks and better parking) than it did programming.  I received a number of emails praising the work the committee did in planning, but a few stood out…here are some excerpts:

  • "In my 34 years of teaching I have never walked away feeling more excited about teaching" 
  • "I enjoyed it much more than I anticipated!!" 
  • "It was the most productive inservice day I've been part of in 21 years"

People want the connection to their colleagues and need the choice to drive their learning.  We provided the opportunity and 450 people ran with it…I am so proud to be part of a group that is giving ownership of learning to staff members…growth is inevitable…and when we can give that same opportunity to  Go Crickets.


  1. Thanks for sharing your powerful experience. You and I have discussed the pockets of excellence that we see in our schools and you found a way for staff to share. That is amazing. Cluster A provided an opportunity for teacher leaders to step forward and they did! Support for this risk taking will help each of the schools in Cluster A continue to better meet the needs of their students.
    Way to go!

    1. Thanks, Jay! Appreciate the response. It was a great time and I think our staff really liked the opportunity to choose.