Why Can't All Professional Development Be Like an Unconference?

This article is cross posted at the EdTech Innovations blog.

A little over two years ago myself and a small group of educational technologists in my area discussed the unconference model for professional development (PD). We all thought that it had a lot of potential and that the Edcamp unconferences cropping up around the country were really great. So, one of our group said that we should put together an unconference dealing with mobile devices, mainly tablets, that day PadCamp was born. This summer we held our second PadCamp on a beautiful August day at the Southern New Jersey shore. Over 300 educators and students, yes students, ran sessions and shared ideas and resources.

Shoot, they could have gone to the beach! It was a gorgeous sunny day and the ocean water was warm! But they didn't and that's profound. They didn't because they were "hungry" and wanted to learn and do it in a way that was productive and collaborative. So I said, "Why aren't more school districts holding their own unconferernces?" We all have gone through too many in-service days where the end result was boredom and frustration. Or, people got so "off course," due to being told what to do, that nothing productive come out of it. Many school districts have gone to the "turn key" approach to PD where a few staff members go out and get trained and then come back to train their peers. Don't get me wrong, this is can be effective, but it can be better.

Just imagine a day where the staff walks into the school cafeteria or auditorium, with a blank schedule in hand, and are asked to create a PD day that they control. I think that the thought of this makes many administrators cringe in fear. But, as professionals we have a lot to share and sharing is what it's all about. Remember, collaboration is a twenty first century skill!

The unconference model fosters sharing and collaboration. It gives a voice and platform for educators to share best practices and resources. How great would it be if the people that organize PD in school districts would take that chance? I firmly believe that people would leave feeling empowered, excited and motivated to go back and implement what they just learned. I have seen it in person and it's too obvious to not stand up and pay attention.

We are at a crossroads as educators. We are asked to teach to a test in a prescriptive manner that stifles our creativity. If we can take take come control of our professional growth and learn what we need and want, instead of going through more of the same, we can grow better professionally and our students will benefit as well. The unconference model of professional development gives you a voice and allows you to do what you do best - teach, learn and collaborate. Unconferences don't have to be technology related either, just use your imagination. So, if you haven't attended an EdCamp, PadCamp or any unconference yet please do! It's a PD experience that will be well worth your time.

Frank Pileiro is a Technology Coordinator in Southern New Jersey. He is passionate about educating with creativity and innovation, as well as imparting these skills to our students with instructional technologies. He is the author of theEdTech Innovations blog, where he writes about educational technology innovation and integration. He can be followed on Twitter @MrP_LPS or on Facebook.