Innovation Through Student Ed Camps

When we talk about transformative leadership and how that applies to what we do within our school, innovative practices are where we look.  I had the honor of being selected to work on the commissioner’s AK Education Challenge over the course of the past year and the comment that stuck with me throughout my time was the focus on “transformative ideas.”  These are ideas that have the potential to transform how we run our schools, districts and entire statewide educational systems into the future.  We saw pictures and ideas from past task forces and committees that have simply been revisited throughout the years, just re-packaged with many of the same unconvincing results.

Fast forward to this year and I find myself asking the same questions on what we can do to transform practices in what I can control the most – my own school.  Since the Ed Camp model has already been very successful at our district administrator meetings and then again at my school level with staff Ed Camps, we figured the next logical step would be to move forward with Student led Ed Camps.  Student led Ed Camps makes learning student-centered and provides students with an opportunity to determine what, why and how they learn.  These characteristics are the fundamental building blocks of our district’s and state’s emphasis on personalized learning.

One caveat to mention here is that this was not the most comfortable direction to be heading.  We essentially turned over all the power of a school day, early release mind you, to the students to do with as they please.  The staff did not dictate the direction and it was basically students teaching students something they were interested in or learning about it together.  It is the same way our district leadership felt when the agenda of the admin meeting was determined by the school administrators or how I felt when I turned over the direction of professional development days to my staff.  Bottom line for my school is that we ingrained Ed Camps into the culture of our school and felt the culture should permeate through to our students as well.  We prepared ourselves for this next step with students by actually experiencing it ourselves.  I truly believe that without this preliminary work with the entire staff, the buy in and ownership of Ed Camps would not have been as strong and possibly could have been a failure without the understanding of what an Ed Camp is and the experience of working through multiple staff led Ed Camps.

We have now gone through a total of three different Student led Ed Camps over the course of the end of last year and into this year.  There has been a couple of different formats and we continue to debrief as a staff to determine what was successful, what was a challenge and what can be changed for next time.  Currently, we have plans in place for three more Student led Ed Camps this school year.  Every time we schedule one or one is looming on the horizon, I continue to be nervous about it because I have very limited control over what happens.  Then I realize we are truly growing as a school because my entire staff has embraced the Ed Camp philosophy and chooses to reside outside of their comfort zones.  Which I hope will make them continue to be risk takers and innovators to do our very best for our kids.

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