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A conversation about education

September 27, 2011 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 07:07 AM

Guest Blog by Steven Hurley

I've attended my fair share of professional development conferences over the course of my teaching career and, with few exceptions they have all been pretty similar in both design and effect. 

Most have been built around a theme chosen by an organizing committee. Most have featured at least one known and validated keynote voice. A pre-determined slate of workshop offerings, a substantial lunch and a robust publisher's display are also very familiar features of traditional conferences. Oh, and coffee...lots of coffee! 

It's a structure that has been in place for years and it’s a structure that most educators have come to expect when we choose to attend a conference. Until recently, that is...

There's a new kid on the block, one that's determined to change our perspective on what professional development looks like, sounds like, and, yes, even what it tastes like!

The EdCamp movement began in the spring of 2010 in Philadelphia, and over the past year other EdCamps have been organized around the U.S. This past spring, I flew to B.C. to be part of the excitement at EdCamp Vancouver, the first of these events to be held in Canada. I knew right away that this was something that I needed to help develop in the Toronto area.

The EdCamp model forces us to engage in some pretty fundamental questions about both the form and function of professional learning. One of the first questions that threatens to stare down anyone considering planning an EdCamp is "What's left?" Once you take away the expensive keynote, the fancy venue, the workshop leaders, the promise of lunch and coffee breaks, what do you have remaining? 

It's a powerful question, but the answer, I've discovered, is even more powerful. In a sense, when you strip away all the "trappings" of the traditional professional development conference, you're really just left with one thing: the voices of the participants. And when you set out to create an environment where those voices are valued and given space, what you hear emerging the sound of creativity, passion, commitment and hope. You also realize that these are voices that are anxious to be heard and even more anxious to actively participate in the work of transforming education. 

EdCamp Toronto is scheduled to take place on October 15th at York University and, whether you’re a parent, a teacher, an administrator or a community member, you’re invited. All you need to bring is a heart for public education, a question or topic that is on your mind, and a willingness to participate in the conversation.

EdCamp Toronto is participant-driven and the agenda for the day is set once people arrive and begin to talk about and listen to the questions that are brought.

You’re invited to take a closer look at the EdCamp Toronto website ( and if what you see there piques your interest, register for one of the 300 available spaces.

You probably have some questions; don’t hesitate to get in touch with me through this post, or at

We look forward to meeting you on October 15th!

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I don’t think so.
Call this anything you like, and it’s a great effort but unless this becomes something other than the usual echo chamber of pity and how bad things are I think the discussion around education has been done ad-nauseum.

What we need are guts and power to act on improvements.

How about allowing teachers to discuss how they want their union dues spent or if they too can debunk those myths about the choices that may be available to them….if in fact individual teachers HAD a voice, which we’ve been told they don’t.

Good luck with this but we’re way past the discussion phase as a province.

Posted by Chuck on 09/27 at 11:26 AM

Delighted-I am attending.
New journeys take time,we need to talk and advocate.

If we don`t agree pedagogically,even when I leave you I can continue my journey-no harm done!

Posted by Jo-Anne Gross on 09/27 at 01:01 PM

Stephen, I did some exploring on the net. EdCamp got its start in England, and than Europe, and now it is here in North America.

I found this one web page from England, explaining it all, and had videos. So, I started to watch the short videos, thinking this is boring. Until the 5th one, a history teacher showing how animation technology and the teaching of Henry the Eight would work. I picked up 5 animation sites, and quite frankly I have never heard any of the names until today. My child’s science fair project will become a lot more interesting, besides other projects that require a presentation. Thanks for getting me curious, but it was Chuck’s post that actually got me curious. I get so excited, when I find something that is really useful.

Below is a video link, made by me talking about EdCamp. I hope you do enjoy, because it came right off the top of my head, without much thinking. I think it is humorous, and the touch of the cynic in me. Two parents talking.

Put the link in the address bar. To get it published on YouTube, one needs to pay for the upgrade.

Posted by Nancy on 09/27 at 03:15 PM

It will be great to meet you Joanne!

Posted by Stephen Hurley on 09/27 at 09:16 PM

Cheers Stephen!

It’s about time that PD took a new direction.  I truly hope that this the powers that be will take notice.  Wish I could be there!.

Posted by Wayne Scott Ng on 09/27 at 11:09 PM

Nancy, a wonderfully amusing video. Wow!!!! Thanks for taking the time to create and share…

We’re hoping that it’s not just teachers chatting with teachers!

See you there?

Posted by Stephen Hurley on 09/28 at 12:02 AM

Nah, live in another province. I have some information from the research yesterday. Very hard to find videos, except in England. Some of the them are gold, for good information for parents, or anyone learning to work a new piece of software on their home computers. Or find new sites, for their children, to help with homework or for projects to make them extra special. Also on the videos, it is an insight for parents seeing teachers work in an informal setting. They appear much more nervous with their peers than they would in front of the classroom. Sounds to me that teachers are not used to it, since PD days, the formal type, tells the teachers to sit and be quiet. Perhaps, this is the reason some of the real bad practices end up in the schools. My point, in the future video tape them, and just let it hang in the net, without support from the unions, or the school boards. It appears this way, from the England videos. since I only search under the term EdCamp.

Glad you like my short video.

Posted by Nancy on 09/28 at 06:46 AM

I was trying to find evidence of the edCamp movement in England as well. Is it called EdCamp or something else.

We have a group coming to document the day for us, and we will receive video releases so that we can produce a record of this. There is also talk of live streaming, but this is something that will likely take place for EdCamp II…

Loved the video. What was used to create this!

Posted by Stephen Hurley on 09/28 at 08:57 AM

Your Google is not as smart as mine. Wikipedia told me, which was the first link. TeachMeet and in NA is EdCamp. Sometimes they are called unconferencing.

It took me a while, to find the last page I was on, where I was viewing videos.

Two more links -

The last two links gives background information, which led me to locate video pages.

Here are the animation sites. By the way, it is the 5th video on the teachersmonthly site. I watch the whole thing.

The one that I did the video on is Go Animate

The rest are below, and all have applications and are useful for classroom.





Posted by Nancy on 09/28 at 09:52 AM

Ok, I did find the TeachMeet link.

Most of the EdCamps in the States have involved educators, but I found that the parent participants in Vancouver were particularly powerful and poignant in what they had to say.

In Toronto, we have a wide variety of folks, other than teachers, on the planning committee, which has created a very rich environment.

Thanks for the other resources. I’ve used VoiceThread and Prezi, but will check out the others!

Posted by Stephen Hurley on 09/28 at 09:55 AM

Having had children in the education system for 16 years it doesn’t surprise me at all that parents like Nancy jump at the crumbs being tossed to them by educators who have somehow found religion and now see parents as being important in the whole education discussion.

What surprises me is that as a parent I attended many conferences and meetings set up just like this one.
Call it anything you want but I call it more smoke and mirrors.

We’re beyond discussion where improving education is concerned.

I mean contributors here like Nancy, Joanne and Wayne all have identified clearly what’s wrong.

I chalk of EdCamp as more of the same type of echo chambers and feel good events that were the rage 20 years ago when we were promised a shift in responsibilities and accountability within public education.

Nothing changed then, and it’s not going to change now,.

Sorry Stephen but perhaps after the event you could come back and tell us specifically what actions taken will result in better educated children?

Posted by Chucker on 09/30 at 08:11 AM

Fair comments, Chucker.

In posting an invitation here, I certainly wasn’t tossing crumbs; instead, I was working to make sure that all voices had the opportunity to participate. That’s all.

I don’t think that we’ll ever be beyond discussion, but I take your point.

Thanks for weighing in!


Posted by Stephen Hurley on 09/30 at 09:02 AM

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