Unconferences: Constructive time for the big kids

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on August 8, 2015

We’ve all been there. Conference after conference. Training after training. Receive the agenda ahead of time and peruse for breaks and down time. Is it lecture after lecture? And yes, I’ve hosted many of just those types of trainings with panel discussions, dynamic speakers (well, some not so much), and agendas that have packed in too much, leaving participants exhausted and overwhelmed.

Those experiences may become a thing of the past if the “unconference” movement continues to grow. For the sake of our own learning, let’s hope so!

The unconference gets underway.
The unconference gets underway.

I recently attended my first unconference, hosted by EdCampLeader and Remind101. What a relaxed day of learning, discussions, and brainstorming.

The approach is fairly simple. Get a group of people together, have no preassigned topics in mind, invite no keynotes, but do plan breaks and meals. Got it!

But wait! Attend a conference with no agenda? It works. It really does. Imagine joining productive conversations that go where you drive them. In an era of so much structure and hands ticking on a clock, you relax into the informality. You’re real with yourself and your needs while at a conference!

Edcamp attendees immersed in discussion.
Edcampers immersed in topic.

Our unconference was the EdCampLdr (aka Ed Camp Leader) held in San Francisco, thanks to Remind (aka Remind 101) co-hosting. We were one of 13+ locations in the nation simultaneously unconferencing their way through the day. Our day began with an overview of the rules:

  • Everyone participates in the brainstorming topics.
  • Topics are winnowed for similarity.
  • We follow the “Law of Two Feet”—i.e. if you are not learning or contributing to a talk or discussion it is your responsibility to find somewhere where you can contribute or learn.

The first round had us engage in 45 minute long conversations. The topic of the first breakout I joined was “Mindset.” Get ready…talk. Those who were present raised questions, shared their work, and ultimately expanded my thinking in a way that I’m not able to do at a conference. Here are just a few of the topics we covered:

  • Bringing data back from implementations to move to growth mindset iterations
  • Must provide time to reflect and revisit
  • How to use data to build growth mindset
  • Build framework as a school leader
  • What is the common vision of the student we are trying to build as a school?
  • Need to move teachers out of isolation and silos.
  • How do you build it in a school staff that is at a very high performing school?
  • Must create an ecosystem that supports team-taught classes?
  • How might we use strategies that we already have in place to build growth mindset
  • Check out instructional rounds
  • What kind of pressures do our staffs, students, families face?
  • Six seconds for social emotional needs
  • Assessment of Learning vs. for learning
  • How do we build mindfulness in all stakeholders?

Get the idea? The best part is that we were empowered to do more than share our expertise but also to look at how we can add, change, or support programs we have in place. While I gave a great deal, the focus on give and take certainly meant that I took more ideas than I gave today.

Happy edcampers!
Happy edcampers!

A day built around conferences. That is an unconference. That is EdCamp. Check it out and attend one.