by Sean Wheeler
As part of what will now have to be considered the "lost" Smackdown, Toby asked us all to take the time to reflect on the experience and share what we took away from our time together. It's now two day later, and I am just now fully appreciating what edcamp Columbus did for my growth as a teacher.
I was a bartender at a brewery before I started teaching. And in the last couple of years doing it, I would particularly dread "Staff Meeting Saturdays". Usually we'd learn about the new spring menu, or our newest recycling efforts, maybe even work in some training on "The Sullivan Nod". I would sit in those meetings and wonder what would happened if the meeting got called, the bosses didn't show up, and we could talk about how to really fix up the place. That never happened and hadn't really happened in any real sense once I became a teacher, either, until this past Saturday.
I drove down to Columbus from Cleveland because I wanted to see an edcamp in action. I wanted to see how it worked and meet the kind of people who would put something like that together. For some reason I had the sense from the start that meeting "this kind of people" was going to be a significant part of what I would eventually take away. From the time I walked in to the time I left with an over-stuffed brain hours later, I was reveling in the feeling that everyone who was there actually wanted to be there. Many had driven as far as I had. Husbands came with wives. Friends and co-workers travelled as a group. The Upper Arlington HS crew were all on hand to welcome us, show us around, and talk to us about the teaching and learning they were doing at the school. The first session I went to consisted entirely of people who had never attended an unconference before. We instinctively kept looking at the door for someone to come in and tell us how to proceed. Of course, that didn't happen. We jumped in and quickly found that we were surrounded by people who understood, cared, and were genuinely interested in the kind of stuff most of us bore our friends with when we talk about work. It was just like those daydreams on "Staff Meeting Saturday". No bosses, no directives or initiatives, no rollouts. It was brilliant.
Design interests me a great deal, and it was great to see a session offered on Human Centered Design. It was a powerful session and I think the conversation will have an impact on my work for awhile. I'm in the planning stages of doing some really cool research with my students, and it helped to be refocussed on the vital concept that students need to be central while designing the work for the upcoming project. Sometimes I get lost in how I would teach something instead of how students might want to learn it. It was cool to walk out of that session and into a discussion on Moodle in which an Upper Arlington teacher, who happened to be in the school for something else entirely unrelated to the conference, heard us talking about Moodle and joined the conversation. He got so excited he logged into his page and showed us all a few things he was doing that were really amazing. We talked for a few minutes about the way that our online spaces are designed to make them intuitively accessible for the kids. That kind of interaction really typified the day. Things just went where they went, and everyone was very open to seeing where our conversations and viewpoints would take us.
I'm going to take away how many times I heard someone note that we were all there on a Saturday, for no pay, and were walking away feeling a sense of community that most of us out on the fringes rarely get to feel. We proved that a revolution from the bottom up isn't all that difficult. We discovered how different it is to go to a conference in which you can be a participant instead of an attendee or presenter. It was like everyone else had wondered the same thing I did on those Saturday morning meetings at the brewery, and then we really did get together and start to fix things on our own.