Do we need to rethink conventions?

I’ve been following the discussion about EdCamps over the past few months – even thinking about organizing one in our area/province. The one thing I continue to be impressed with is that the people who attend make comments like

I recently went to the EdCampYEG with two fellow staff members. Well worth the 2 hr. trip. PD should always be like that – open, relevant and engaging…oh, and most enjoyable! Stephen Banks – Ed Administrators2.0

This is just one of the many comments that I’ve heard that are like this. In my discussion with others on this topic, it would seem that a great many found these events to be very useful, informative, fun and great learning experiences. In a recent twitter conversation, it was suggested that the “unconference” was really where things were at. I received the invitation for ISTE Unplugged, which use to be EdubloggerCon, which stated

each year hundreds of educators interested in social media. technology, and teaching and learning build and participate in “unplugged”-style activities as a part of their ISTE experience. All of these events are free, so come join us.

This takes place during the annual ISTE conference. Now, the conference takes place in San Diego this year and has the following topics

You’ll experience more than:

  • 300 model lessons, BYOD (bring your own device) sessions, lectures, and panels
  • 135 hands-on and seminar-demo workshops (additional fee)
  • 500 exhibiting companies, agencies, and organizations
  • 400 informal and interactive learning activities

Who wouldn’t want to go? But is this practical for a majority of teachers? And is this PD, which follows a traditional format giving the results that teachers need? Has the time come to reform our PD events in the way we are searching to reform what is happening in education? Do we need big conferences where many who are attending already are moving forward? Or is it time to change how we think about teachers’ learning – to find the local experts and develop the teachers at the local level in a less informal more highly engaged manner.

Of course, there wouldn’t be the places for the advertisers and vendors at these types of gatherings and there might not be the need to larger corporate style speakers. Instead, it would be teachers working and supporting teachers – administrators working with other administrators and teachers to develop and support one another and teachers. It would be focused on the needs of the people attending and evolve from their specific needs.

As someone who has presented to staff and at local conventions, I know that it is very powerful to work with a group of teachers to help them learn and grow. Instead of pressing my version of what education and learning should be, to work with teachers to help them build their own way. It’s no longer good enough to continue on the path we have been on. It’s time to step away from the well trodden path. There are many examples of great opportunities taking place for teachers at the local levels and we need to focus on these to a greater extent than we are at this time. Although the big conferences draw the vendors and the $, maybe, like so many other things from our past, we need to look to our experts within our own schools and trust them to help us develop the programs and schools that will reflect a 21st Century learning.


  1. Reply

    I get what you are saying. I’ve been to EdCamps and am currently helping to organize #EdCampChicago, I would suggest you do organize your own, but there is still a place for conventions.

    There is something exciting about being surrounded by thousands of people all frantically racing to learn and experience as much as they can so they can bring it home and share it with their colleagues. Yes, there is a place for that kind of excitement, but yes we can also do it better.

    • Reply

      Brendan, I think that the frantic pursuit is what may detract from conventions. Although it may be exciting, I wonder if it provides the type of learning atmosphere that is needed for lasting change to take place. If we are serious about changing education, do we need any more “sages on the stage” to tell us what many who are at the conference already know? I’m becoming more stingy with the time I’m willing to spend away from my family and school so when I go to a conference, I want it to have more than someone telling us how we need to change education and technology is the way to do it. We need to move from the telling to doing and that doesn’t come from listening to others tell us what is wrong in education or how we need to move into the 21st century, showing cool apps or other such things. We need to have discussions about how assessment, formative and summative, peer and teacher, will look; how classrooms/schools need to look at time/configurations in order to do what is best for students. I know that the excitement of a conference can be great as you meet f2f with people from you PLN – I’ve followed the tweets from many a conference. But, is that the best bang for our buck? With tight budgets, is it still feasible to send teachers to distant cities to conferences or, for far fewer dollars and maybe greater impact, can we celebrate our own “movers and shakers”, recognize our own talent and build our own capacity? The times they are a changing – do we still have the money to spend on such things when we could do as much and put those dollars directly towards students?

  2. Reply

    I’m fortunate in that I could go to ISTE if I so choose this year. And, while I’ll miss the camaraderie of many good friends, I am not going to spend the money to make the trip. I just am not seeing the value in the extra cost a place like San Diego adds to it. If it was half the price and covering new territory I have not covered before, then maybe. The featured presenters are more than likely my friends. They are people I converse with regularly. I value what they have to say, I just don’t need to head to ISTE this year to hear it. Maybe when it’s in Texas next year. For now, I’ll spend that PD money on resources for more of my staff.

    That being said, do you think the Twitter chats pick up where you are talking about? The opportunity to attend PD in many different areas on any given night for free is a pretty awesome and powerful thing.

  3. Reply

    Kelly, I must confess that I am glad that this post didn’t suggest that all PD be done from our laptops. Whereas webinars and the like have their place and are great tools, I feel that interacting with fellow professionals in person is extremely valuable. As the give and take is natural and free flowing. As an educator for 23 years, I have attended conferences in the role of high school math teacher, coach and assistant principal. The vast majority of time, the best ideas I have implemented, after attending a large conference, has been the result of conversations I have had with other attendees outside of the lecture/presentation sessions. The concept of EdCamps is compelling and makes a great deal of sense. The chemistry teachers, at my school (NW Chicago suburb), are members of an organization called ChemWest. Members take turns hosting meetings at their schools.

    • Reply


      Thanks for the comment. I don’t think that we should dismiss the power of conferences. In fact, I have a feeling that, without the face to face meetings that take place with individuals who meet on social media sites, the conversations wouldn’t grow or deepen as they do. My observations are that those who regularly attend similar conferences tend to also discuss/talk on places like twitter and it becomes even harder for non-attendees (inner circle) to enter the conversations. There are many conversations on SM sites like twitter that tend to have a group of lead individuals – many of them have also met face to face – not all – but many via conferences. What I really want is for people to think about what they say – the power of the SM – versus what plays out in these sites via those who have met f2f and those who haven’t. Does it put those who can’t/don’t meet f2f at a disadvantage? Do we need to keep this in mind as we discuss the role of PD? Just some thoughts to ponder. Thanks again for the comment!

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