Taking the EdCamp Idea & Merging it for Professional Development to Create Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) Professional Development for Staff

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Whew!  That’s a really high brow-ish (and super long) name for what really means “we try to use EdCamp for PD in house”.  Before I get into the specifics of how we’ve built this, let me fill you in on some background info.

Background info

First, Broken Arrow’s CYOA was not my first venture into this model – the district I came from just outside St. Louis, MO began this concept a few years before I left.  So I was able to help with some ofthe trouble-shooting during the early stages of Broken Arrow developing this.

Second, this wasn’t my “baby” in either district.  I was a teacher who had some experience & was brought into a few of the meetings as more of a consultant/trouble-shooter. So, while I had an active role, I was not the face, nor the force behind the movement.  More along the lines of tossing out the suggestion & then having VIP clearance and a back stage pass ;).

Third, Broken Arrow is a large district.  We’re currently serving roughly 22,000 students. We have a single high school at the moment, so we have a large site on hand (our high school) to use for those roughly 1,000 staff members to gather.

And finally, this is not full-on EdCamp.  It’s a required Professional Development Day where attendance is mandatory.  Some folks have required sessions to attend & everyone is expected to participate the entire day.  So some of the EdCamp freedoms aren’t in play.  However, the goal was to allow for choice & movement along with an organic shift to what teachers and staff wanted to learn about instead of just the traditional top-down implementation. 
How did things get started?

Staff were grumbling about getting all of this required PD that they clearly had either had before, or felt didn’t apply to them.  There was a real call for more differentiated opportunities & staff getting say in what they were learning about.

For me, I had moved to the area near the end of the previous term and had had a few conversations with my supervising Administrator about EdCamps, my previous district’s ventures with Professional Development, and how we might try that model in-house.  I understand he continued those conversations with folks on up the latter of authority until a green light was given to try it.

Over the summer break, there were several meetings of various authorities to hash out a survey to send out to staff that would include areas to suggest/request PD needs & desires, to mine for inhouse talent to lead sessions, & try to trouble-shoot things like what to do if sessions were filling up too quickly (we purposely left an empty room nearby for spill over), how to/if we will take attendance that day (year one we did, after that I don’t think we did), etc. 
Typical s\Set-Up

There were spreadsheets created of requested sessions generated by a survey that was cross-referenced with possible teachers to guide those sessions.  Some teachers were specifically approached to guide a session as they were known to be knowledgeable on the topic.  Others volunteered in the survey to lead sessions.

The High School campus was mapped out with sessions placed at best-guess places – example: it was pretty well predicted that the student-led Q&A sessions would be popular, so they were placed in larger rooms.  Also, certain rooms were intentionally left empty so that spill-over or pop-up sessions might have a place to be (I personally was pretty adamant on allowing for legitimate pop-up sessions being allowed.  MOstly because these are where some of my best EdCamp learning happened).

Note: getting staff responses to that early questionnaire was KEY.  When only a small portion of staff responds with suggestions or requests, it is hard to offer the variety that the large group wants.  In that same vein, often it worked out that suggestions that were similar would be put together under a broader name (this was more practical, but later feedback suggested that some folks were really wanting to see the more specified groups).

The CYOA Experience

Staff arrived around 8:00am and gathered in the main Gym.  The district winners of some various competitions were announced so all could cheer.  Admin explained how the day would progress, QR codes and Bit.ly links were offered so staff could pull up the Google Sheet with the day’s offerings (this is where we deviated from the typical EdCamp experience – sessions were largely decided a week ahead of time based on that survey sent out so that a schedule could be ready that morning before everyone arrived).  Specific groups – like new teachers to the district – were informed of any required sessions they were expected to attend.

Cheer and Student Council led some “get everyone excited” quick activities & then staff were cut loose to their first session choices. 

There was a 1 1/2 hour lunch break at a specified time (NOTE: feedback from after the CYOA day has led to a discussion of bringing in food trucks so that folks have the option of staying on campus to reduce the traffic of everyone leaving & returning at once). 

Feedback

Gathering feedback after the experience is always key to the perceived success of that event & to better the experience of the next one.  In looking at the responses to the 2017 CYOA, all but 58 of the 379 responses stated they preferred the CYOA format & the three most common suggestions were some form of request for larger venues for the more popular sessions, a request that the CYOA PD days be moved later in the school year (we hold it during the early required PD days about two weeks into the school term), or more options by differentiating skill levels with some of the combined sessions. 

Overall Thoughts 

Overall, I hope to see more of the CYOA and I hope to see it grow.  However, I know that just like EdCamps, the crux of CYOA succeeding falls into the hands of the participants.  Getting under 400 responses to both the pre and post-event surveys limits what info the organizers have to work with for session availability and improvements for future events.  This is probably where my Midwesterner upbringing gets into my own way – my first response to a complainer is to ask if they answered either survey.  If they answer “no”, then I dismiss their complaint as I take the “it’s as good as YOU make it & you didn’t engage” stance. I know, not always the best, but I’m trying to be honest 🙂

Advice for those considering CYOA PD

Start planning early!   The spreadsheets and organization is huge here!  It can be a real time sucker to plan this thing out…but it’s worth it!

Getting sponsors for prizes takes time – give yourselves plenty of this & know that it’s optional (and hey, raffeling off a sub would be a HUGE prize for my crew).

Send out a short intro video to your staff a few days prior that explains the EdCamp concept and how you are using this for PD.  Many of your staff have heard of it, but have never experienced it…and the format will confuse them and create anxiety. Many will be uncomfortable with the “rule of two feet” and the idea that the guide is just a guide & not the “sage on the stage”.  An early explanation and some time to let it marinate will be helpful.

Let your staff tell you what it is they need/want!!!!!  This is the whole point of CYOA! You may not realize that some of your staff wants that gradebook tutorial again, but let ’em have it if they want it.  

Thoughts?  Suggestions? Further questions?  Feel free to comment here or send me a tweet @STLinOK

Chicken Little Out

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