Engaging school and/or district administration early in the ParentCamp discussion is vital. An unconference is still a foreign term to many of today’s school and district leaders. Be sure to explain the difference. The following comparison might serve as a guide for this discussion.
- A speaker stands and delivers a presentation.
- The audience participation is minimal.
- The typical room setup is a presentation screen with the audience seated in rows facing the speaker.
- The discussion leader sits among the group members to lead the discussion.
- The expertise and experience “of the room” is harnessed from the start of the session.
- Face-to-face perspective sharing leads to relationship-building, networking and a sense of “we’re all in this together.”
Learn more about the unconference experience in this Edcamp video:
Origin of ParentCamp
After participating in EdCamp Philly and EdCamp Leadership last year, it’s hard not to be inspired to find new ways of infusing these participant-driven professional development approaches into our own learning communities. We began by hosting an EdCamp-style, building-based professional developmentat Knapp Elementary in September and January. After the September offering, we left the “big board” of sessions up for the Home & School Meeting happening later that evening. As we shared the unique format and listed the discussions in which teachers were involved during their In-Service Day, parents imagined what they might experience discussing and learning with teachers in the same atmosphere.
With interest from our home-school team, we started the planning process to secure a manageable schedule, discussion leaders, registration, sponsors, and district and technology support. Several parents and teachers began meeting each month, both physically and virtually (using Google Docs), to organize and share the information detailed below.
Sample ParentCamp Schedule
- Registration/Breakfast: 7:30-8:30
- Welcome Session/Ground Rules: 8:30-9:15
- Session 1: 9:20-10:00
- Session 2: 10:05-10:45
- Networking Break 10:45-11:15
- Session 3: 11:20-12:00
- Closing “Smackdown” 12:05-12:30
A one-day guest wifi called “ParentCamp” was set up, allowing guests to log in from their own personal devices for Internet sharing during the conference, Skyped sessions, etc. Through the Twitter hashtag #ParentCamp, this information-sharing opportunity was used frequently by discussion leaders and attendees throughout the unconference. Our technology assistant was also on hand in case we needed emergency tech support.
We had two custodians on duty for unconference setup, unanticipated needs and breakdown afterward.
Choosing Unconference Discussion Leaders
Discussion leaders had the opportunity to submit session ideas in advance using a gForm. Typically, an unconference begins with a blank palette of sessions, but since the majority of participants and discussion leaders were new to the experience, we kept this traditional piece in place.
Attendee signups were available online using either Eventbrite or an embedded form on our Family Engagement Wiki. We also sent the form to our families via email and shared out on Twitter for local learning communities that might be interested. For families without technology access, we provided a hard-copy flyer in mailboxes and on the front office counter. Parents and teachers went door to door in our car rider line to spread the word face to face. All elementary families from our district were encouraged to send at least one parent, grandparent or other guardian to this conference. A week prior to the event, once all sessions were confirmed, we shared an online conference session sign-up using Eventzilla. Want to plan ParentCamp with another school, state or country? Share out an interest form. The more resources and perspectives being shared the better.