The energy at the end of the day was infectious. To hear Emily Davis from the U.S. Department of Education speak with such passion about what had occurred at ED that day was both encouraging and inspiring. In lieu of the traditional Edcamp smackdown to wrap up the day, 100 educators from around the nation discussed the day’s impact of the first ever EdCamp USA. In reflecting on my time at the department on June 6, and having co-facilitated four sessions throughout the day, I left with the following five main takeaways:
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1. Relationships and Culture Matter at ALL Levels – Throughout each of the four sessions I was a part of and regardless if we were discussing digital leadership, being connected, or a tool such as Voxer, educators continuously shared how relationships and school culture are a difference maker. Personally, how will I foster relationships with those at the ED, those in Congress and the Senate, State Departments of Ed, so that we can collectively work to provide students with the access they need and staff with the professional learning needed to effectively shift instructional pedagogy? What tools can we use to form bonds with other educators both near and far? How can I encourage other educators to do the same?
2. Connected Educators are My Educational Family – Prior to being connected with educators around the world on Twitter, I felt like a man on an educational island. The role of the principal was one that was often professionally lonely and challenging. After becoming connected on Twitter with some of education’s best and brightest, I became encouraged, inspired, and professionally challenged to be better for kids. Over time these relationships have fostered incredible friendships. Being able to spend quality time with educators I may see only a few times a year reminds me that these high quality relationships are not just part of my professional learning network, but my educational family. A special thank you to Joe Mazza, Steven Anderson, Adam Bellow, Susan Bearden, Katrina Stevens, Tom Whitby, Erin Klein, Bob Dillon, Jerry Switak, Patrick Larkin and Kristen Swanson, who were all at #edcampusa, for this reminder and for pushing me to be better for the kids we serve, all while having an incredible amount of fun in the process.
3. It’s not about the technology; It’s about the learning – During session 4, Joe Mazza (@joe_mazza) and I co-facilitated a session entitled, “From DM to Voxer”. In using this tool, we reached out to and received feedback from about 15 educators across the world (including Australia) regarding how the use of such tools can connect educators to help problem solve, form relationships, discuss topics and trends, etc. Although it could appear that such a session would be tool focused, it’s about the end game; the learning and connecting that come from its use that’s ultimately most important.
4. Personalized PD is Essential - Session after session, the topic of high quality professional development was discussed or brought up by someone in each group. Simply put, the traditional, top-down, one-size fits all approach to PD is outdated and a waste of time. It must be replaced with a model that is meaningful, engaging and relevant, where teacher voice is an important part of the process and owership is shared by all. There is little arugment to the fact that professional development is a key to moving our students to higher levels of achievement.
5. We have a Leadership Crisis Upon Us – Similar to professional development, many identified issues throughout the day, seem to come back to one key area; the need for high-octane educational leaders who create environments that promote risk-taking and innovation in their schools, who focus on the whole child not just state test scores, and who are models for the staff and students they serve.
Like any professional learning experience, what matters most is what happens from this point forward. So I will personally and publically commit to the following:
Continue to work to develop high quality relationships with those in State Departments and Districts across the nation.
Remain connected with educators from around the world and engage with them. I commit to continuing to share my learning, push the thinking of others, allow my own points of view to be challenged, and to help others get connected and see the value in learning alongside others.
Continue to keep my focus on the learning, and not on devices, tools, and the latest tech fad.
Continue to work with state leaders in my new role as the State and District Digital Learning Director, helping them transform professional learning at their levels, so that educators are engaged and the time is well spent.
Find ways to cultivate leaders around our nation. Our children need incredible educational leaders serving them at all levels.
I want to commend Secretary Arne Duncan, Director of the Office of Educational Technology Richard Culatta, and Teacher Ambassador Emily Davis, all from the US Department of Education, for their work to make the first EdCamp at the Department a huge success. The kids of our nation will benefit from this opportunity. Thank you.
To those that I learned alongside of at the ED, what is it that you’ll publicly commit to as well? Leave a comment in the section below. Don’t let this past Friday be just another day day of PD. Let it be a difference maker for those that we serve.
We can do this!
Tom Murray is the State and District Digital Learning Policy & Advocacy Director for the Alliance for Excellent Education in Washington, D.C.