The daily grind in the world of education is not an easy one. Too much time spent on technical details, not always enough time spent giving each student the attention that he deserves. Too much effort spent with parents upset that their child got a B+ and not an A-, and not enough effort spent collaborating with those parents on how to bring out the best in that child. Too many professional development hours spent listening to "gurus" who dazzle on stage but do not stick around to follow up, too few professional development hours spent having heartfelt and meaningful discussions among practitioners about the struggles that they face every day and ideas for growing as professionals.
JedcampNJNY, held today at Yavneh Academy in Paramus, NJ, provided an escape from that daily grind, and provided not only an amazing experience for those who were involved, but also an amazing snapshot of the fantastic educators that are currently working within the field of Jewish education.
I already described the basics of Jedcamp in this post back in February when we first announced that this "unconference" would take place. But that basic outline could not possibly capture the energy that kept JedcampNJNY humming for six hours today. That's right - over 70 educators gave up a significant part of a beautiful Sunday in April to attend a conference about, um, wait - what was this conference about?
Anything. That's right, anything at all. When the day began at 9am, the session board was blank. By about 9:15, almost all of the twenty session slots had been claimed by people ready to lead discussions or make presentations, and some of the early feedback has been that we should have opened up ANOTHER room so that more people could present. What dedication! Here is a conference where people are upset that they could not present (and no one was getting paid to present!)!
Of course, people were upset for good reason. Who would not want to present to a room of similarly devoted and motivated educators, all of whom were ready to contribute their thoughts, ideas, and experiences, and all of whom were ready and willing to challenge their own thinking to help themselves grow as educators? We had teachers in their first five years of teaching sitting with thirty year veterans, teachers with administrators, formal educators with people from NCSY and the camp world - and all that mattered was that you brought your open mind and your willingness to contribute.
Going into the conference, one of our many concerns was that this would turn into an edtech conference - a concern since we knew that there were many attendees who were not looking for that type of confab. Not to worry. While there was an ample supply of tech-related sessions, other sessions ran the gamut from psychology to teacher/administration relationships to using motion in the classroom to the benefits of humor (a session led by New York's funniest Rabbi). Throughout the day, people were emerging from sessions wishing that the sessions could have continued, and people were generally surprised and disappointed that the 45 minutes allotted to each session had run out so quickly. How often does that happen in a professional conference?
And the excitement and energy continued beyond the walls of Yavneh. While we have not yet worked out a way to bring people in via skype to a Jedcamp, while we were meeting, Twitter was abuzz with planning for upcoming Jedcamps in Maryland and Los Angeles in the coming months. People at Jedcamp were asking how they can be involved in the next one, and we may very well have to separate the NJ and the NY next time to accommodate the anticipated larger crowds once word of the success of today really begins to spread. Blogposts of today's action have already gone up (here, here, here, and here) and more are sure to follow.
Hopefully, the excitement generated by today's unconference will have two major effects:
- The attendees will bring some of what they learned back to their classrooms and their colleagues.
- Future Jedcamps, both locally and across the globe, will take form, allowing other educators to engage in these productive conversations while widening their circles of who they consider to be their colleagues.