Unconference option at MTA Summer Conference

There will be no keynote speaker, no plenary session. No requests for proposals and no poster presentations. Workbooks and handouts? No and no. There will not be a schedule of workshops.

But when educators gather for the “Unconference” at the MTA’s Summer Conference in Williamstown, organizers promise a unique professional development experience. Based on the popular EdCamp model, MTA’s Unconference will take place on Tuesday, Aug. 7.

Participants will gather in the morning to brainstorm over topics for the day and to build a schedule based on shared interests. (Picture a bulletin board with a timeslot grid and lots of sticky note ideas.)

If you choose a session that does not meet your needs, the EdCamp philosophy says it’s OK to leave and look for another conversation. People used to “sit and git” professional development may need to make some adjustments, said Dan Callahan, an instructional technology specialist at Burlington’s Pine Glen Elementary School and a member of a group of Philadelphia educators who came up with the EdCamp idea in 2010. From that seed, 21 EdCamps sprouted in 2011.

By May 2012, 102 will have been held, according to the newly formed EdCamp Foundation, which Callahan chairs. The movement is now international, with EdCamps held or planned for Santiago, Dubai, Hong Kong, Stockholm and many other U.S. and global locations.

At EdCamp, you need to step up and take charge, Callahan explained. It’s an empowering experience for the
educators formerly known as the PD audience.

“I’m really proud that EdCamp is some people’s first experience presenting at a conference,” he said.

“Even after a decade in education,I know I still have a lot of room to grow as a teacher,” Callahan wrote in a recent blog post. “The unfortunate reality, though, is that most of the state- or district-provided professional development has been woefully inadequate at actually helping me to improve my practice. I know better than most what I need to work on and the things I need to learn about. I don’t think it’s too much to demand opportunities for the kind of professional development that will actually lead to that.”

“EdCamp is organized,” said Laura D’Elia, librarian at Pine Glen and a coordinator of the MTA Unconference as well as EdCamp Boston. “It’s organized around your passion! Keeping that alive is important to your career. We’re about what you’re about.”

“I think the biggest difference with an unconference is that people are there voluntarily,” said Diana Marcus, a fifth-grade teacher at Pine Glen, president of the Burlington local and the third member of the MTA Unconference coordinating team.

She likens the unconference experience to those unscheduled and unscripted moments that occur whenever educators get together — the deep conversations and networking that often add up to the best takeaway from a traditional conference or professional development day.

“It’s an opportunity to share ideas, trade experiences and delve into a subject that really interests you,” Marcus said. “The connections you make with people who have similar interests are one of the most valuable assets of going to an unconference.”

As chairman of the EdCamp Foundation Board, Callahan spends a lot of time on the road visiting new programs. New organizers will sometimes ask him if he’d like to speak and maybe officially open the event. But he stays true to the EdCamp philosophy and tells them: “This is your EdCamp and we’re all equals here.”

The Unconference will be offered as a full- or half-day option during MTA’s Summer Conference and is open to any conference registrant from any level of education.

More on MTA Summer Conference and Online Registration

EdCamp Organizers