Infusing the Edcamp Spirit in Professional Development

Ignite professional learning by unlearning traditional formats and roles.

December 2015, Volume 39, Issue 4

For a school working on revitalizing its adult learning culture, unconferences—also called Edcamps—hold great promise. At an Edcamp, participants brainstorm topics they would like to learn about or are interested in presenting about, write the ideas on Post-its, and place them on a blank matrix with time slots of 30 minutes or an hour. Many Edcamps also create a digital version of the schedule (via Google Docs, for instance), and have a hashtag for attendees to share reflections on Twitter. Sessions are discussion-based, led by any participant (expert on the topic or not), and attendees can exercise the “law of two feet”: they are free to (respectfully) leave a session if it isn’t meeting their needs. Many Edcamps wrap up by gathering participants in the same room and inviting them to briefly share a resource, idea, or tool in a “resource smackdown.”

According to How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, the seminal education psychology handbook on learning, learning environments (for teachers and students alike) should be learner-centered, knowledge-centered, and assessment/feedback-centered. Edcamps and unconferences are much more learner-focused than traditional professional development: they build on the strengths, interests, and needs of individuals.


But Edcamps should supplement, rather than replace all, professional development opportunities. A learning environment that is knowledge-centered matches the information that needs to be learned with the best delivery strategy to help learners understand it. Think of unconferences as a tool in a principal’s repertoire that can be used alongside other learning strategies— such as presentations, learning walks, book or film studies, or site visits at other schools—that can illuminate new techniques for teachers.

Ultimately, though, the principles that make an unconference so powerful can be infused into any professional development activity. Principals can reinvigorate any staff learning opportunity by making it:

  • Aligned with teachers’ interests. An unconference’s wide-open schedule is the ultimate opportunity for personalized learning.
  • Collaborative and ongoing. Edcamps’ collaborative spirit fosters communities of practice—both through in-person discussion and online connections after the event.
  • Interactive. Teachers benefit from engaging, interactive learning experiences just as students do.

The New Un-Leader?
An Edcamp—with its open agenda, rich with possibility—begins with an invitation for educators to contribute and connect. But that blank session board also represents an interesting, potentially challenging, shift for principals: at an Edcamp-style event, everyone is in charge.

Interested in holding an Edcamp at your school? Follow these steps. Or better yet, attend NAESP’s first Edcamp July 5 at its Best Practices for Better Schools Conference at the National Harbor, Maryland.

Adapted from “Edcamps & Unconferences,” by Meredith Barnett. Read the full version here.

Copyright © 2015. National Association of Elementary School Principals. No part of the articles in NAESP magazines, newsletters, or website may be reproduced in any medium without the permission of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. For more information, view NAESP’s reprint policy.