How to Organize Your Own District Unconference or EDcamp

Every summer I work to organize and put together an unconference/ edcamp for my district. I know some districts build these into their professional learning days. This is great, and definitely a way to revamp old PD models. But there is something to be said about having one home grown, organic to your district’s needs, and … well… in the summer. Workshops can be tailored to YOUR liking, you can designate a theme that mimics a district or building goal or none at all, and it is a great way to highlight all of the great teaching that is going on in your district. The summer just makes it fun and informal (keys to some of the best professional learning). Yes- attending one isn’t out of the question either. But what if you could organize your own and make it exactly what you want it to be?

So each summer is my time to get to work and make this happen. And each year I try to “one-up” the year before. Mine is a sort of unconference meets edcamp style. I found that merging the two respective models just worked for what I was trying to accomplish. So tip #1 is easy…

1. Find what works for you.

There are so many ways for you to go about getting started, and you can spend all day starting from scratch. Don’t be afraid to find what is out there and utilize elements from different models. Generally, an unconference is just the informal meetup of respective educators as a means of exchanging information and ideas usually with some form of agenda created beforehand. An edcamp is usually left open to where the schedule/agenda is built the day of. I wanted to merge the two. Why? Because I wanted to offer PD hours for teachers to prep their material but I also wanted to give people the opportunity to decide to present the day of on something that they felt impelled to share. By offering both options I’m ideally connected to both types of educators that I work with.

2. Make Time.

Putting together a day like this isn’t something you want to do last minute. It takes time. Give yourself enough to brainstorm and draft ideas, to create necessary documents, to phone tag people. If you wanted to know what it would be like to be an event planner, give this a shot. Having worked as both the assistant and director of a high school marching band, I think I just had a knack for coordinating events, and creating schedules. Next time you see the music teacher in your district, shake their hand. Man do these people do a lot of coordinating and man are they good at what they do!

3. Crowdsource.

What I mean by this is to invite others into the planning. In the beginning I did it all on my own (manageable, but so much more fun when you can include others). So now I have help. There is more than enough for everyone to do. A few players to help you out and things will go so much more smoothly. So create a Google Doc and share it out with everyone. Jot all of your ideas down and work to come up with the schedule for the day. Is there a theme? How many sessions will you run and how long per session? What time frame? How many presenters will you need to fill these sessions? Will there be food? (not for nothing, this is usually the most time consuming and important aspect to get right. Everyone likes food.) Do you need to create certificates for attending? Will there be a raffle or giveaway? Find the perfect mix for your team and designate people to complete these tasks and answer these questions.

4. Have clear expectations.

You’re doing well revamping your PD model and planning an unconference/edcamp day. So be careful not to just fill it with sit-and-get presentations. If at all, make it a point to mention to those who plan to present to make it interactive. Hands-on or collaborative in nature is better than just “sit and listen to me speak”. So have clear and concise rules and expectations. This is one of the reasons I liked creating a schedule for the day and offering PD prep time to those who wanted to submit a presentation proposal beforehand. This gave me an opportunity to gauge what their workshop would be like and whether or not they incorporated some form of interaction. So create a Google Form, list everything you need in there and then send it out to your district asking for proposals. This way, they will get a feel for what you intend this day to be and what you hope they will leave the day having experienced.

5. Promote. Promote. Promote!

This is important and usually the crux. If no one knows about it, how will they attend it? Take advantage of tools like Canva and create a digital campaign for your event. Flyers, posters, etc. Send out weekly emails to your teachers and embed these digital pieces within. Less clicking and more visual impact goes a long way. Be creative. I always like my flyer design to have the main information on page one (like event name, date, time, place) and then a second page with some quick bullets highlighting what they should expect followed by a link to a webpage with more information. Then, create the webpage for teachers to go to get more information or submit a proposal.

6. Make it fun.

There is just something to be said for when things are fun. Find ways to entice people to come while also enhancing the overall day. Design fun and engaging flyers. Include a breakfast. Schedule an outside presenter or two to attend (this is also a great way to meet the needs of specific departments that might not be represented, like guidance, nurses, or student personnel). These are usually difficult areas to offer PD in, so get someone to come in and fill that void. This year I have an ice cream truck scheduled to be at our event during the lunch hour. Just another element to our fun-filled and informative day. Make it informal, build in collaborative time, and they will walk away fulfilled.

Some ways to make it fun:

  • Food trucks
  • Raffle / giveaway
  • A breakfast for mingling
  • A lunchtime round table
  • Demos / interactive elements
  • A hashtag for the event

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Where will you create your schedule and session agenda for the day? I’ve used both Google Sheets and Guidebook in the past. Both work well. Guidebook is fun since it’s also an interactive mobile app and good if you know who is presenting beforehand but Google Sheets is simple and better for an edcamp on the fly style.
  • How will you handle food/lunch? Think this one through. If you designate a break for lunch will people come back if you have an afternoon session or two?
  • How will you take care of attendance? If you need to track this for your district or to award PD hours you’ll need a way to verify attendance at the various sessions.

Overall, I think organizing a day like this goes a long way in making your PD plan truly effective. It adds an entirely new element that a majority of your district might not know  about or have attended. Keeping it home grown let’s them experience a conference tailored specifically to their needs in the comfort of their own home (district). Once it comes together, take time to reflect and evaluate the day. Ask for feedback. At the end of the day, most of my staff who have attended have mentioned that this day was one of the highlights during their year of PD and enjoyed the experience. Now it’s your turn!

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