A few years ago I wrote a blog post about the idea that we as district leaders had to find a way to come together and learn as a group. We lead learning organizations...therefore, we should lead the learning in those organizations. Over the course of the last four years I have seen our Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators (WASDA) take some great strides in bringing our members together to learn as a group.

As Ed Reform movement tends to move glacially, sometimes we need an event to start a new conversation and get people thinking about learning in a different way. I truly believe Edcamp has done that for teachers, and after taking on the first Edcamp in WI dedicated to Superintendents, I wholeheartedly think it could have the same impact on district leaders.

Last year, prior to the start of the Fall Superintendent Conference in Wisconsin, I was asked to organize a Social Media Lounge for Superintendents to b
ecome more familiar with digital tools to help their learning and tell the story of their district. The session was good...we had about 20 people show up and had really solid conversations about social media. I don’t know if anything new was learned that day. We knew it could be a powerful tool before we got in the room. We knew it would take away from other things we do. We knew that there were inherent risks in adding social media to your district, but those risks didn’t outweigh the benefit to kids. People left that session with a better understanding, but I don’t know if any new knowledge was gained.

This year, when asked to run the Social Media Lounge again, I asked if it would be ok to run an EdcampWASDA instead. Full credit to WASDA here...they may not have known anything about Edcamp, but they trusted, gave us 4 rooms, and helped promote the opportunity to everyone. I was not surprised at all...they have been incredibly supportive of Superintendents in our state.

Based on the size of the rooms, we had to cap the number at 75 total participants. Though we didn’t sell out, we had 67 people sign up to join us prior to the preconference sessions. With a free opportunity, the likelihood of retaining all of those participants can be low, but we counted 62 of the 67 Supts in the opening session!
We explained what Edcamp was, talked about how we needed to trust the process, and then built a fantastic board for the day!  Last year during the Social Media Lounge we talked about Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Though those topics came up this year, look at the other opportunities for Superintendents to choose. So good! No sessions were pre planned...these ideas all came from the Supts in the room and that ownership was absolutely huge. They invested, trusted, and engaged for a few hours in a way that I have not seen before. It was fantastic.

I loved the conversations, and the idea that it was a relaxed atmosphere where learning could take place. People were on their phones, but they were on their phones tweeting or looking for a resource, not thinking about what was going on back in the district. Our State Superintendent, Tony Evers was there...participating in conversations with district leaders. Leaders from schools with populations of 10,000 were having conversations with leaders from schools with populations of 300...all in this together and all in this for kids.
The best part for me was the 2:40 session where we debriefed at talked about what it could look like for our organization, but more importantly, what would this look like in your district. If we allow our staff to own their learning process they will see the value in allowing students to own it was well. We have to believe and trust that ownership leads to engagement, and that process allows our kids to have more voice and choice in their education.

I could not be more proud of our organization. As is always the case, this could not have been done without the help of many. Kaye Hendrickson took care of all the logistical stuff, so we we could concentrate on the process...she was amazing. Brad Saron, Paul Fisher, Colleen Timm, Joann Sternke, Deb Kerr, and John Pederson were all there to help build the board and answer questions. WASDA Director Jon Bales trusted the process and Nancy Lund and Jessica Schwedrsky made the room arrangements a reality and pushed the message.

Moving forward I am excited, and a little nervous, about what EdcampWASDA can become. I’m excited for the opportunity to grow our circles of influence and get more people involved. WASDA has expressed interest in making this part of our regular conference. That is awesome...and a little nerve wracking. The thing that made EdcampWASDA so great was that everyone in that room CHOSE to be there. They left their district early and made a conscious choice to be part of something new. My ONLY fear in making it part of the regular conference is that we can’t mandate learning. We can provide the opportunity, but it is about the learner and when the learner chooses, we all win. This is absolutely no different in the classroom...when the learner chooses, they invest. When they invest, they grow. EdcampWASDA was successful because over 60 people trusted the process and allowed themselves to take a risk. Just think what that that concept could do for schools districts, schools, and most importantly...kids. Go Crickets.
AuthorJoe Sanfelippo