Professional Learning Unconference – Right Fit, Right Time, and Right Energy

Today’s Contributor: My name is Becca L-A-K and I am in my 13th year as a self-proclaimed revolutionary Physical Educator in Austin ISD and a first year Campus Innovation Connector at Maplewood Elementary.

At Maplewood Elementary, we are an amazing group of educators that do all that we can to serve our students to the best of our abilities. Like many other educators we work so hard, over fill our plates, and don’t have time to invest in our professional development that sometimes is not the right fit, right time, or right energy for us.

This year we experimented with revamping a Professional Development day to provide the right time, right resources, and opportunity for all of us. We did this by utilizing the unconference or EdCamp style workshop. In this workshop we had the students become the teachers asking the staff to provide on sticky notes what they wanted to learn or share around some general topics and then created a multi-room schedule to facilitate small 20 minute discussions/sharing/learning. This professional development brought more energy, local control, and uplifting of the talent within our ranks than we typically experience. It provided a great structure for us to increase capacity of innovator leadership on our campus. I would highly recommend it!

In preparation –

  1. We surveyed the campus on what topics they would most like support on this year.
  2. We utilized the results of the survey to come up with 5 table topics and wrote them on a piece of paper spread out on tables in our library at the beginning of our time together
  3.  We provided sticky notes for questions/ideas to share.

At the beginning –

  1. We invited staff to gallery walk the topics and add sticky notes with their questions or ideas to share around those topics
  2. We collated the information while explaining the concept of the unconference/EdCamp Style to pick the topics for each of our rooms
  3. We outlined the schedule of 20minutes in each discussion and 5 minute transition time

Collaboration –

  1. In each room we had a topic facilitator that helped take notes and facilitate discussion but no one had to sign up as an ultimate content expert and we supported being able to draw from each of our own experiences
  2. This was a time of discussion and sharing real world practical experiences in the room that relate to our day to day teaching, learning, and professional organization.
  3. We had jamboards for each room topic/ so we could take collaborative notes and have a reference point to share when we got back together.

Reconnecting –
After the breakout discussions we came back together and reviewed the jamboards sharing out from each group what they’re favorite takeaways were

Application –
We finished our professional development time with practical application time to explore and try the tips that we learned so you wouldn’t forget them and could ask questions of each other as you work through using the tips or exploring something new.

While the benefits of this style of professional development are many and we felt great success and ideas shared here are some highlights of the best parts.

  • Staff members who didn’t self-identify as leaders had something to share and teach others, building their confidence in their knowledge and abilities and increasing campus leadership capacity.
  • Staff members were given an opportunity to learn and practice during the PD

As with all learning experiences we learned some things along the way.

  • We should have introduced Jamboards and how to use them before we started the breakout sessions so we could more fully engage in collaborative note taking
  • We needed that transition time to get to the next room but also reminders of the timings to help move people along because the discussions were rich and full and could easily have continued longer.
  • We should have created a post survey to get participant feedback and collect next steps to return to them later to help keep them accountable for implementing goals or strategies they learned.

Overall this was a great learning experience and way to provide professional development for each other from each other! We highly recommend it.

Big thanks to Tech Design Team members Chris Lairscey and Laurie Beaman for helping support us in this endeavor!

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