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Happy third birthday, Edcamp!

4 min read


Take the spark of a great idea, toss it out to a group of passionate, slightly crazy educators and watch out — a movement might just be born. That is what happened with Edcamp.

Three years ago, the first Edcamp was held in Philadelphia as the brainchild of 10 teachers who wanted to revolutionize the way that educators learn and grow. They wanted to put it into the hands of the teachers themselves, empowering them to enhance their practice and share their learning together. Professional development had been something that happened to teachers, rather than something that they created and led. That was about to change.

The Philadelphia Edcamp organizers wanted to take the learning that they were experiencing on Twitter through their professional learning networks and make it happen in person. They wanted to provide a time and space for the kind of sharing that was going on digitally to happen face to face.  So they set about making it happen.

The first one, where the entire day had to be organized and planned from scratch, took a sincere commitment. There were so many questions that had to be answered:

  • Would teachers be willing to share their expertise?
  • Where could it be held?
  • How will it be advertised?
  • How much will it cost?
  • Do we need insurance?
  • Should we have T-shirts like other conferences?
  • Do we need a program?

Sponsors were recruited. A student created the logo. A wiki was built. The pieces started being put together. It was all a marvelous and slightly terrifying adventure with the main question being, “What if no one comes to share their ideas?”.

But that didn’t happen. (In fact, after 250 events, that has NEVER happened.) An unconference for passionate educators willing to give up a Saturday to be together and learn drew the exact audience that was the goal. Teachers who care deeply for the students in their classrooms and want the best for them showed up. They learned about it on Twitter and wanted to be part of it. Over 100 teachers were willing to take time to enhance their practice.

There was no keynote speaker. There were four sessions that teachers signed up to lead on the day of the event. They shared best practices; they asked questions and led conversations. Whatever they wanted to investigate, they posed to whomever showed up for their session. If it was one person, then it was a dialogue; if it was a roomful, then it was a larger conversation. The goal for all of it was learning and growing.

The Rule of Two Feet was embraced. If a teacher was in a session that didn’t meet his or her needs, then they needed to apply the rule and find a session that did. It wasn’t about being rude; it was about finding the place where each teacher could learn.

By the end of the day it was clear that magic had been created. Teachers teaching teachers were about to set the world on fire. There are no more passionate and hard-working people than teachers. Put them together, give them a voice, and change happens.

Three years and 250 events later, Edcamp is still going strong.

So happy birthday, Edcamp!

Hadley Ferguson is a middle-school history teacher at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia. Ferguson is co-founder of Edcamp Philly and a board member of the Edcamp Foundation. Read her blog, and follow her on Twitter @hadleyjf.

Kristen Swanson (@kristenswanson) is a learner, leader and teacher. She is a consultant for Authentic Education and an Edcamp organizer. Swanson is also a Google Certified Teacher, a Twitter teacher and an Edublog Award nominee.