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DOE Digest Episode 1: Edcamps, Twitter and Beyond – Educator Professional Learning Networks - April 10, 2019


Note: The audio versions of all episodes are available on the DOE Digest webpage.

Introduction

[upbeat background music]

Dr. Lamont Repollet: I’m Dr. Lamont Repollet, New Jersey’s Commissioner of Education. Welcome to the DOE Digest, a podcast from the New Jersey Department of Education. It is a platform for information exchange, in which the Department will highlight the work being done by innovative and transformative educators around the state.

I have been working to redesign the Department of Education to what I call NJDOE 2.0. This podcast is one of the ways that we utilize our digital platform to help strengthen teaching, leading and learning and increase educational equity for the 1.4 million students across New Jersey. I hope you enjoy today’s topic.

Ken Bond: Welcome to the first episode of the DOE Digest, a podcast from the New Jersey Department of Education. I’m the host, Ken Bond. This podcast is based on the simple premise that, as educators, the greatest resource we have is each other.

One of the ways that educators are able to leverage each other as resources and grow together is through professional learning networks. We’re going to be exploring professional learning networks throughout this episode with the Commissioner as well as with teachers and educators from around the state.

New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner, Dr. Lamont Repollet, has been promoting professional learning networks since he took the helm of the New Jersey Department of Education. He finds that they’re not only helpful resources for educators and teachers, but also for leaders like him.

Dr. Lamont Repollet: I’m gonna get a little personal here. I’m gonna talk about my network of friends. So, if you look at politicians, at presidents – they have aids, they have advisors. And to me, a professional learning network is just a group of individuals that can be your advisor. Some people call them kitchen cabinets. I call it my senior advisory team. And these are individuals that I look to for guidance, for support. It’s on an equal playing field, so it’s not a mentor-mentee relationship, but it’s more of a respect level. And I have a group of individuals, Mike Salvatore is one, Sancha Gray is one, Chuck Ford is one. These individuals that I have, Tom Bistocchi. So, I’m naming a few of them. So, if I didn’t name you, I apologize in regards to not mentioning you, but it’s very important that I have these group of individuals that I can bounce ideas.

This position, like any leadership position, at times can be a lonely position. And, you know, who – who do you reach out to if you’re Commissioner of Education? Who do you reach out to if you’re a Superintendent? If you’re a teacher leader, you know? Or a principal, right?

Making a transition from superintendent to commissioner? That’s one of those transitions where, um, I think I have the tools to be successful for the job and I wasn’t concerned with that, but it was the things that I didn’t know, the unknown, I think, that was some of the challenges.

You know, and coming to the situation where in New Jersey, where we are number two ranked in the country in regards to our state educational agency. We have great educators, so why not surround myself with the top talent in the state of New Jersey – to be able to draw strength from and to draw advice from and also bounce ideas from. To make sure that the product we’re putting out as a Department, is a product that has been vetted by practitioners.

So, that’s – that’s my personal story when it comes to my own professional learning network, and, my professional learning network, it grows because I have…these advisors, but it’s important how do you leverage, right? So, not only you have your network, how do you leverage your network? And I think, as we go through this process of our office of professional learning, it’s gonna be “how do we leverage this office to ensure that 1.4 million students are getting quality education? How do we help build the capacity of our educators? How—how do we increase a—a diverse workforce, talking about cultural competency?”

Issues that happen out in the real world, in real-time. The Office of Professional Learning Network, through our PLNs, will be able to address those issues, talk about it, and have a – have a conversation. We can actually better ourselves.
So, I think on a personal level this is important to me. It has helped me get to where I am, and it’s helped me kinda maintain my, um, sanity at times when sometime things can be chaos.

Ken Bond: Professional Learning Networks can not only help educators tackle big issues in education, but they can also be a means for educators to build community together, as Dr. Repollet explains.

Dr. Lamont Repollet: I’ve always been a Maslow hierarchy needs guy. I think individuals have needs, and –and--and in time we want to reach our self-actualization. Belonging to a group of, being a sense of. And I think a professional learning network is exactly what it is. It’s a group of individuals committed to a cause. And I think when you get individuals together, an example would be a professional learning community. I think those are classic examples of groups of individuals getting together where they’re working on a specific task or a problem within their grade level – whether it’s horizontal or is it vertical articulation. It’s just a group of individuals solving problems, being innovative and being creative in their approach to instruction.

So that was the idea, I guess, the genesis behind the Professional Learning Network, is getting individuals together to be able to share ideas and to be able to have solutions that make common sense.

Ken Bond: The personal importance of professional learning networks led Dr. Repollet to create an Office of the Professional Learning Network in the Division of Field Services. His mission for this office is that it is a catalyst for connecting innovative educators who believe in the global worth of students regardless of their backgrounds.

Dr. Lamont Repollet: I’ve always talked about New Jersey having great educators across the board. But more importantly, though, educators share in the learning for one another. I talk about “for us, by us.” I mention F.U.B.U at times. But it’s “for us, by us.” So, education for New Jersey, by New Jersey. And I think it’s very important we actually have an office that supports that mission of for education, for us, by us.

So now, what is the Office of Professional Network? That’s facilitating things such as this--this DOE Digest, right? Going out there working with individuals on – in a digital space. I think it’s important to recognize that this Office will be a digital platform type of office.

Alright, we might have boots on the ground at times, whether it’s EdCamp. But more so we’d be working in—in a space that’s digital. And, uh, you notice a lot of our…PLNs are digital right now. We have some very successful, whether it’s a SatChat on—on weekends, where it’s an EdCamp, um, so you know, these are the ideas that I wanted to kind of bring, right? Become relevant to today’s times.

Um, I went to my first EdCamp in New Brunswick and it was amazing. When I saw the educators coming together about 400, on a Saturday, to come together. Which topics that they created, they wanted to hear for themselves. To me that was an example of a professional learning network, so I wanted to create an Office that would help facilitate that throughout the state. Get those experts, or those individuals operating in that space, together. And we start having con—conversations, we dialogue and we engage one another. So, I kind of wanted to make this office that’s indicative of—of an adaptive environment, make it organic.

And I’m excited by the fact that we’re having Ken, our Director of the Office of Professional Learning Network, Ken. I’m looking forward to seeing the work that you’re doing. I really, just honestly, taking our mission out there in regards to being a stronger and fairer educational system.
[upbeat music]

Ken Bond: When I was teaching, for a time, I was the only English as a Second Language teacher in my district. We had a number of students come in to my district who had interrupted formal education and were grade levels behind those other students who had been in the district since they started school.

The professional learning in my district was great on training folks in English Language Arts curriculum and Math and all the different aspects of the school contexts. But it didn’t really address what I needed in terms of serving this new student population that had entered the district.

There were also challenges specific to my job that other teachers really weren’t thinking about in terms of helping students with their language acquisition in a holistic way through ESL services.

I realized this, and I started to seek out colleagues at conferences, like NJTESOL-NJBE, at NJDOE model programs that focused in on ESL and bilingual best practices, and also making connections with nearby educators who were working with students of similar demographics. In doing so, I built out a professional learning network that helped me become a better educator and really reach these students in ways that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

 

There are curriculum resources, community advocacy resources, and a bunch of other things that I learned that I wouldn’t have had I not sought out these colleagues.

In the book Transformative Teachers, Kira Baker-Doyle, explains that truly innovative professional learning networks follow these four tenets:

      1. They are educator-led and informed by practice on the ground;
      2. They’re open to all educators when it comes to participation and leadership;
      3. They leverage technology as a platform to spread the word about the networks and to make connections with new people; and
      4. They apply an equity and social justice lens, so that professional learning networks aren’t just about doing a great job in the classroom, but truly making a difference in the world.

Professional learning networks can still include conferences, model programs, and making connections with educators in nearby districts.

Since I stopped teaching though, there have been a lot of other ways to get involved that weren’t available to me. One of those ways is through Twitter chats and hashtag culture.

On Twitter, there are many educators using different hashtags on different nights of the week to talk about topics in education. If you get on Twitter and start to follow people that you know, you may find that some of those chats are just the right thing for you to be able to explore things with people around the state.
Here’s Dr. Repollet with the importance of this idea from a state-wide level.

Dr. Lamont Repollet: So, I think it’s important that we become an organic office that—that can [be] ready to respond. And using our platforms, I think is very important that we continue to use our digital platform.

      So digital leadership is one of those components that people don’t think as is as important, but digital leadership allows you to set the tone and be on the offense and kind of define your message. And I think the work we did at Asbury Park, I did Asbury Park as Superintendent on my team, has really harnessed the power of social media and to tell our story. And I think the Department of Education, uh, we don’t have to tell our story, but we’re going to tell the stories of our students. We’re gonna tell the stories of our educators. Tell the stories of our districts and our leaders. And say that we are a great state and we have great educators. And it’s our job to make sure that we, um, tell their story so our kids can benefit. [transitional music]

 

Ken Bond: EdCamps are another way to build your professional learning network. You can attend one of these conferences that are educator-led and happening all around the world, including, oftentimes, here in New Jersey. They’re free and open to all. They’re participant-driven. They value experience in the classroom over the “experts.” And they always follow the rule of two feet, which means that if a conference session is not working for you, you can get up and walk out, and check out something else without anybody’s feelings being hurt.

At their beginning, EdCamps were modeled after hackathons, in which computer hackers got together and worked collaboratively to solve an issue through computer science. Instead of using Computer Science to work on a specific issue, EdCamps seek to affect change through education.

      I was able to attend EdCamp Newark, an EdCamp focused on student equity. The energy in the main session and also in all of the breakout rooms was just electric. The educators who attended were so excited about spreading ideas of what was working in their classrooms and in the communities where they worked, to really promote equity and see students succeed no matter what their backgrounds.

 

      I left feeling energized and renewed, and I’m excited to be able to share some of the educator voices from EdCamp Newark.

 

      [transitional music]

 

Julianne Benjamin: My name is Julianne Benjamin. I’m the founder of EdCamp of Newark, New Jersey. I’m also the founder of EdCamp Brooklyn in New York City. I am a veteran educator. I’ve taught in the English Language Arts cont—content area for many, many years.

I’m happy to be in a space now where I’ve brought EdCamp into my home state of New Jersey, and we’re looking for, you know, even bigger and better things going on.

      Being a teacher myself, and there was no EdCamp when I was working and when I was a new teacher in 1998, nothing like this existed. And I went, you know, probably a good decade of my career having to queue up and sort of hope, pray, cross fingers and wait to see if I could possibly make it to one conference. Forget about it if it was an external conference and someone had to pay for, that was, that never happened.

 

      So, anything that we could have done after school or any kind of meet-up then, in 1998 or 2005, was—was innovative at the time. Now when we’re talking about what’s going on now, it’s—it’s really a space where I feel at home and I feel it’s a purposeful space where teachers get it. And the ones that are here are the right ones to be here and the ones that are here and show up on a Saturday morning, they know what they’re here for. They feel joy that “I’m finally in a place where somebody wants to listen to me. Somebody wants to hear what I can teach. Someone can teach me something that I need help with.”

 

      Again, we can, um, speak about research – any action research that’s going on. We are building our community. And then, also, just the innovative and iterative spirit of EdCamp that you’re learning things that you had no idea about.

 

 

You might see a first-time EdCamper sort of—sort of in the background, kind of watching what’s going on because there are a lot of moving parts. There’s a session board building, right? And there’s the networking. There are teachers who come to camp and they’ve formed relationships and they’ve formed really professional, uh, learning groups. And there are—there are people that come to camp that are in professional learning communities and they come to camp to continue their work in their PLC

So, a new-timer will kind of not, maybe, understand what’s going on, if they’re watching that. But a new-timer at EdCamp will be immediately welcomed into the fold and we—we want to extend our self in a space where we—we say, “Come in. Welcome in.” You know, “We’re waiting for you.”

Um, more than anything though, you will feel a really great, energetic, uh, spirit of “all these people are in the same place for the same thing.” They all want their voices heard and they know that they’re—this is the space that they can really, actually sit down and say, “Okay, I’m having this issue in my classroom.” And somebody saying, “Hey, I had that issue a year ago! Let me help you with that.”

So, they will—a myriad of things they’ll see and hear, but those kinds of things are probably the most important that kind of pops out at you when you—when you walk into the room.
The teacher who wants to speak about, learn about, or get educated on something that they—that they need actual help with across their pedagogical spaces. If that’s not being addressed by the school or the district, they come to an EdCamp and they get that immediate learning.

      So EdCamp is democratized. So, you’re going to the session board and you’re choosing where you’re going to learn based on what you need to learn. That ultimately helps and impacts students because the 

teacher

       is getting the knowledge that the 

teacher

       needs to help the student in that teacher’s classroom. So, it’s cyclical, it’s purposeful, it’s positioned well and it’s intentional.

 

 


Ken Bond: In addition to getting to speak with Julianne Benjamin about EdCamps, I talked to educators specifically about why they chose to attend EdCamps.


Jorge: My name is Jorge. I am from Newark Public Schools. I teach eighth grade mathematics at the South Street School and I am here, at EdCamp, to…well, I have successfully found a safe place for my thoughts and my philosophy on—on modern education.


Sheila: My name is Sheila. I work at Newark Public Schools. This is my third meeting at EdCamps and I come here because I feel that EdCamps is a meeting of the mind[s], so to speak. And this is a great place to grow, to receive new ideas and knowledge that will help—that you can bring back to your school and others so that you will be able to make sure that the students can get what they need in order to grow.


Joy: Hi, I’m Joy. I am from the Princeton Public Schools where I am a STEM educator and Sociology educator, teacher-trainer. Um, this is my first EdCamp Newark, and I am here to actually promote equity as the fourth dimension of STEM education standards.


Barbara: My name is Barbara. I am an educator from Paterson Public Schools and I’m here to learn from my fellow colleagues.


John: Hi, my name is John. I’m a seventh and eighth grade Social Studies teacher with Newark Public Schools. I love coming to EdCamps, this is my third one, because you get to not only share, but learn best practices and strategies to use in the classroom with fellow educators, um, administrators, teachers, in a very, uh, collaborative, fun environment. And you get to have really genuine discussions.


Bibianna: Hi, my name is Bibianna. I am from, uh, West New York, New Jersey. I am a librarian. Uh, I am co-founder of EdCamp Urban. And the reason why I EdCamp is because I love to share resources and collaborate with other, uh, EdHero rock stars across the state of New Jersey. And not only limited to New Jersey, but, uh, across the tri-state. We grow our PLN and we just share all kinds of wonderful, educational tools for our students.


John: John. I’m a teacher at uh, [inaudible] in, uh, Fairfield, New Jersey. I come to EdCamp to find things to—to bring back to my district and share with other teachers.


Catherine: Hi, my name is Catherine. I’m a second-year Special Ed. teacher for Newark Public Schools. I’m attending EdCamp as a way to help improve my practice. Ideally, I’m looking for others who would like to share their experiences and be open about what they’re going through.


James: My name is James. I am an Assistant Principal in Piscataway Township and I love coming to EdCamps because it motivates me to want to go back to my building to do more for our students with all the passionate educators that are here.


Zinobia: Hi. I’m, um, Zinobia. I’m a fifth-grade teacher, um, in the Newark Public Schools and I came here today because someone, um, invited me. So, I had never actually heard of EdCamp until about six weeks ago. Someone invited me, so I decided to check out the website and it looked really interesting, so I agreed to come. And I’m really glad that I did.
[calm transitional music]


Ken Bond: If you’re looking to explore some professional learning networks around the state, there are many great places to start. One is the EdCamp website, edcamp.org. There are great opportunities to meet with other innovative educators around the state.


Another is to sign-up for state professional organization conferences and make connections with presenters or fellow attendees.


Also, of the many opportunities that the NJDOE has developed, I’d like to highlight two. One is the statewide “Equity for All” conference, on July 31, 2019. Look out for the registration link on Twitter and please register to attend the great sessions that will be presented by NJDOE staff, and by educators like you from around the state.
Another way to get involved is to jump on Twitter and join the Department for our inaugural, third-Tuesday Twitter chat at 8:30 PM [Eastern Standard Time]. This month we’ll be discussing professional learning networks in New Jersey. Join us at 8:30 PM on April 16, 2019 at #NJEdPartners. Again, that’s hashtag N-J-E-d-P-a-r-t-n-e-r-s. To talk about professional learning networks with NJDOE staff and educators around the state.
[upbeat transitional music]

Conclusion

Dr. Lamont Repollet: I’m Dr. Lamont Repollet, New Jersey’s Commissioner of Education. Welcome to the DOE Digest, a podcast from the New Jersey Department of Education. It is a platform for information exchange, in which the Department will highlight the work being done by innovative and transformative educators around the state.

I have been working to redesign the Department of Education to what I call NJDOE 2.0. This podcast is one of the ways that we utilize our digital platform to help strengthen teaching, leading and learning and increase educational equity for the 1.4 million students across New Jersey. I hope you enjoy today’s topic.

Ken Bond: Welcome to the first episode of the DOE Digest, a podcast from the New Jersey Department of Education. I’m the host, Ken Bond. This podcast is based on the simple premise that, as educators, the greatest resource we have is each other.

One of the ways that educators are able to leverage each other as resources and grow together is through professional learning networks. We’re going to be exploring professional learning networks throughout this episode with the Commissioner as well as with teachers and educators from around the state.

New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner, Dr. Lamont Repollet, has been promoting professional learning networks since he took the helm of the New Jersey Department of Education. He finds that they’re not only helpful resources for educators and teachers, but also for leaders like him.

Dr. Lamont Repollet: I’m gonna get a little personal here. I’m gonna talk about my network of friends. So, if you look at politicians, at presidents – they have aids, they have advisors. And to me, a professional learning network is just a group of individuals that can be your advisor. Some people call them kitchen cabinets. I call it my senior advisory team. And these are individuals that I look to for guidance, for support. It’s on an equal playing field, so it’s not a mentor-mentee relationship, but it’s more of a respect level. And I have a group of individuals, Mike Salvatore is one, Sancha Gray is one, Chuck Ford is one. These individuals that I have, Tom Bistocchi. So, I’m naming a few of them. So, if I didn’t name you, I apologize in regards to not mentioning you, but it’s very important that I have these group of individuals that I can bounce ideas.

This position, like any leadership position, at times can be a lonely position. And, you know, who – who do you reach out to if you’re Commissioner of Education? Who do you reach out to if you’re a Superintendent? If you’re a teacher leader, you know? Or a principal, right?

Making a transition from superintendent to commissioner? That’s one of those transitions where, um, I think I have the tools to be successful for the job and I wasn’t concerned with that, but it was the things that I didn’t know, the unknown, I think, that was some of the challenges.

You know, and coming to the situation where in New Jersey, where we are number two ranked in the country in regards to our state educational agency. We have great educators, so why not surround myself with the top talent in the state of New Jersey – to be able to draw strength from and to draw advice from and also bounce ideas from. To make sure that the product we’re putting out as a Department, is a product that has been vetted by practitioners.

So, that’s – that’s my personal story when it comes to my own professional learning network, and, my professional learning network, it grows because I have…these advisors, but it’s important how do you leverage, right? So, not only you have your network, how do you leverage your network? And I think, as we go through this process of our office of professional learning, it’s gonna be “how do we leverage this office to ensure that 1.4 million students are getting quality education? How do we help build the capacity of our educators? How—how do we increase a—a diverse workforce, talking about cultural competency?”

Issues that happen out in the real world, in real-time. The Office of Professional Learning Network, through our PLNs, will be able to address those issues, talk about it, and have a – have a conversation. We can actually better ourselves.
So, I think on a personal level this is important to me. It has helped me get to where I am, and it’s helped me kinda maintain my, um, sanity at times when sometime things can be chaos.

Ken Bond: Professional Learning Networks can not only help educators tackle big issues in education, but they can also be a means for educators to build community together, as Dr. Repollet explains.

Dr. Lamont Repollet: I’ve always been a Maslow hierarchy needs guy. I think individuals have needs, and –and--and in time we want to reach our self-actualization. Belonging to a group of, being a sense of. And I think a professional learning network is exactly what it is. It’s a group of individuals committed to a cause. And I think when you get individuals together, an example would be a professional learning community. I think those are classic examples of groups of individuals getting together where they’re working on a specific task or a problem within their grade level – whether it’s horizontal or is it vertical articulation. It’s just a group of individuals solving problems, being innovative and being creative in their approach to instruction.

So that was the idea, I guess, the genesis behind the Professional Learning Network, is getting individuals together to be able to share ideas and to be able to have solutions that make common sense.

Ken Bond: The personal importance of professional learning networks led Dr. Repollet to create an Office of the Professional Learning Network in the Division of Field Services. His mission for this office is that it is a catalyst for connecting innovative educators who believe in the global worth of students regardless of their backgrounds.

Dr. Lamont Repollet: I’ve always talked about New Jersey having great educators across the board. But more importantly, though, educators share in the learning for one another. I talk about “for us, by us.” I mention F.U.B.U at times. But it’s “for us, by us.” So, education for New Jersey, by New Jersey. And I think it’s very important we actually have an office that supports that mission of for education, for us, by us.

So now, what is the Office of Professional Network? That’s facilitating things such as this--this DOE Digest, right? Going out there working with individuals on – in a digital space. I think it’s important to recognize that this Office will be a digital platform type of office.

Alright, we might have boots on the ground at times, whether it’s EdCamp. But more so we’d be working in—in a space that’s digital. And, uh, you notice a lot of our…PLNs are digital right now. We have some very successful, whether it’s a SatChat on—on weekends, where it’s an EdCamp, um, so you know, these are the ideas that I wanted to kind of bring, right? Become relevant to today’s times.

Um, I went to my first EdCamp in New Brunswick and it was amazing. When I saw the educators coming together about 400, on a Saturday, to come together. Which topics that they created, they wanted to hear for themselves. To me that was an example of a professional learning network, so I wanted to create an Office that would help facilitate that throughout the state. Get those experts, or those individuals operating in that space, together. And we start having con—conversations, we dialogue and we engage one another. So, I kind of wanted to make this office that’s indicative of—of an adaptive environment, make it organic.

And I’m excited by the fact that we’re having Ken, our Director of the Office of Professional Learning Network, Ken. I’m looking forward to seeing the work that you’re doing. I really, just honestly, taking our mission out there in regards to being a stronger and fairer educational system.
[upbeat music]

Ken Bond: When I was teaching, for a time, I was the only English as a Second Language teacher in my district. We had a number of students come in to my district who had interrupted formal education and were grade levels behind those other students who had been in the district since they started school.

The professional learning in my district was great on training folks in English Language Arts curriculum and Math and all the different aspects of the school contexts. But it didn’t really address what I needed in terms of serving this new student population that had entered the district.

There were also challenges specific to my job that other teachers really weren’t thinking about in terms of helping students with their language acquisition in a holistic way through ESL services.

I realized this, and I started to seek out colleagues at conferences, like NJTESOL-NJBE, at NJDOE model programs that focused in on ESL and bilingual best practices, and also making connections with nearby educators who were working with students of similar demographics. In doing so, I built out a professional learning network that helped me become a better educator and really reach these students in ways that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

 

There are curriculum resources, community advocacy resources, and a bunch of other things that I learned that I wouldn’t have had I not sought out these colleagues.

In the book Transformative Teachers, Kira Baker-Doyle, explains that truly innovative professional learning networks follow these four tenets:

      1. They are educator-led and informed by practice on the ground;
      2. They’re open to all educators when it comes to participation and leadership;
      3. They leverage technology as a platform to spread the word about the networks and to make connections with new people; and
      4. They apply an equity and social justice lens, so that professional learning networks aren’t just about doing a great job in the classroom, but truly making a difference in the world.

Professional learning networks can still include conferences, model programs, and making connections with educators in nearby districts.

Since I stopped teaching though, there have been a lot of other ways to get involved that weren’t available to me. One of those ways is through Twitter chats and hashtag culture.

On Twitter, there are many educators using different hashtags on different nights of the week to talk about topics in education. If you get on Twitter and start to follow people that you know, you may find that some of those chats are just the right thing for you to be able to explore things with people around the state.
Here’s Dr. Repollet with the importance of this idea from a state-wide level.

Dr. Lamont Repollet: So, I think it’s important that we become an organic office that—that can [be] ready to respond. And using our platforms, I think is very important that we continue to use our digital platform.

      So digital leadership is one of those components that people don’t think as is as important, but digital leadership allows you to set the tone and be on the offense and kind of define your message. And I think the work we did at Asbury Park, I did Asbury Park as Superintendent on my team, has really harnessed the power of social media and to tell our story. And I think the Department of Education, uh, we don’t have to tell our story, but we’re going to tell the stories of our students. We’re gonna tell the stories of our educators. Tell the stories of our districts and our leaders. And say that we are a great state and we have great educators. And it’s our job to make sure that we, um, tell their story so our kids can benefit. [transitional music]

 

Ken Bond: EdCamps are another way to build your professional learning network. You can attend one of these conferences that are educator-led and happening all around the world, including, oftentimes, here in New Jersey. They’re free and open to all. They’re participant-driven. They value experience in the classroom over the “experts.” And they always follow the rule of two feet, which means that if a conference session is not working for you, you can get up and walk out, and check out something else without anybody’s feelings being hurt.

At their beginning, EdCamps were modeled after hackathons, in which computer hackers got together and worked collaboratively to solve an issue through computer science. Instead of using Computer Science to work on a specific issue, EdCamps seek to affect change through education.

      I was able to attend EdCamp Newark, an EdCamp focused on student equity. The energy in the main session and also in all of the breakout rooms was just electric. The educators who attended were so excited about spreading ideas of what was working in their classrooms and in the communities where they worked, to really promote equity and see students succeed no matter what their backgrounds.

 

      I left feeling energized and renewed, and I’m excited to be able to share some of the educator voices from EdCamp Newark.

 

      [transitional music]

 

Julianne Benjamin: My name is Julianne Benjamin. I’m the founder of EdCamp of Newark, New Jersey. I’m also the founder of EdCamp Brooklyn in New York City. I am a veteran educator. I’ve taught in the English Language Arts cont—content area for many, many years.

I’m happy to be in a space now where I’ve brought EdCamp into my home state of New Jersey, and we’re looking for, you know, even bigger and better things going on.

      Being a teacher myself, and there was no EdCamp when I was working and when I was a new teacher in 1998, nothing like this existed. And I went, you know, probably a good decade of my career having to queue up and sort of hope, pray, cross fingers and wait to see if I could possibly make it to one conference. Forget about it if it was an external conference and someone had to pay for, that was, that never happened.

 

      So, anything that we could have done after school or any kind of meet-up then, in 1998 or 2005, was—was innovative at the time. Now when we’re talking about what’s going on now, it’s—it’s really a space where I feel at home and I feel it’s a purposeful space where teachers get it. And the ones that are here are the right ones to be here and the ones that are here and show up on a Saturday morning, they know what they’re here for. They feel joy that “I’m finally in a place where somebody wants to listen to me. Somebody wants to hear what I can teach. Someone can teach me something that I need help with.”

 

      Again, we can, um, speak about research – any action research that’s going on. We are building our community. And then, also, just the innovative and iterative spirit of EdCamp that you’re learning things that you had no idea about.

 

 

You might see a first-time EdCamper sort of—sort of in the background, kind of watching what’s going on because there are a lot of moving parts. There’s a session board building, right? And there’s the networking. There are teachers who come to camp and they’ve formed relationships and they’ve formed really professional, uh, learning groups. And there are—there are people that come to camp that are in professional learning communities and they come to camp to continue their work in their PLC

So, a new-timer will kind of not, maybe, understand what’s going on, if they’re watching that. But a new-timer at EdCamp will be immediately welcomed into the fold and we—we want to extend our self in a space where we—we say, “Come in. Welcome in.” You know, “We’re waiting for you.”

Um, more than anything though, you will feel a really great, energetic, uh, spirit of “all these people are in the same place for the same thing.” They all want their voices heard and they know that they’re—this is the space that they can really, actually sit down and say, “Okay, I’m having this issue in my classroom.” And somebody saying, “Hey, I had that issue a year ago! Let me help you with that.”

So, they will—a myriad of things they’ll see and hear, but those kinds of things are probably the most important that kind of pops out at you when you—when you walk into the room.
The teacher who wants to speak about, learn about, or get educated on something that they—that they need actual help with across their pedagogical spaces. If that’s not being addressed by the school or the district, they come to an EdCamp and they get that immediate learning.

      So EdCamp is democratized. So, you’re going to the session board and you’re choosing where you’re going to learn based on what you need to learn. That ultimately helps and impacts students because the 

teacher

       is getting the knowledge that the 

teacher

       needs to help the student in that teacher’s classroom. So, it’s cyclical, it’s purposeful, it’s positioned well and it’s intentional.

 

 


Ken Bond: In addition to getting to speak with Julianne Benjamin about EdCamps, I talked to educators specifically about why they chose to attend EdCamps.


Jorge: My name is Jorge. I am from Newark Public Schools. I teach eighth grade mathematics at the South Street School and I am here, at EdCamp, to…well, I have successfully found a safe place for my thoughts and my philosophy on—on modern education.


Sheila: My name is Sheila. I work at Newark Public Schools. This is my third meeting at EdCamps and I come here because I feel that EdCamps is a meeting of the mind[s], so to speak. And this is a great place to grow, to receive new ideas and knowledge that will help—that you can bring back to your school and others so that you will be able to make sure that the students can get what they need in order to grow.


Joy: Hi, I’m Joy. I am from the Princeton Public Schools where I am a STEM educator and Sociology educator, teacher-trainer. Um, this is my first EdCamp Newark, and I am here to actually promote equity as the fourth dimension of STEM education standards.


Barbara: My name is Barbara. I am an educator from Paterson Public Schools and I’m here to learn from my fellow colleagues.


John: Hi, my name is John. I’m a seventh and eighth grade Social Studies teacher with Newark Public Schools. I love coming to EdCamps, this is my third one, because you get to not only share, but learn best practices and strategies to use in the classroom with fellow educators, um, administrators, teachers, in a very, uh, collaborative, fun environment. And you get to have really genuine discussions.


Bibianna: Hi, my name is Bibianna. I am from, uh, West New York, New Jersey. I am a librarian. Uh, I am co-founder of EdCamp Urban. And the reason why I EdCamp is because I love to share resources and collaborate with other, uh, EdHero rock stars across the state of New Jersey. And not only limited to New Jersey, but, uh, across the tri-state. We grow our PLN and we just share all kinds of wonderful, educational tools for our students.


John: John. I’m a teacher at uh, [inaudible] in, uh, Fairfield, New Jersey. I come to EdCamp to find things to—to bring back to my district and share with other teachers.


Catherine: Hi, my name is Catherine. I’m a second-year Special Ed. teacher for Newark Public Schools. I’m attending EdCamp as a way to help improve my practice. Ideally, I’m looking for others who would like to share their experiences and be open about what they’re going through.


James: My name is James. I am an Assistant Principal in Piscataway Township and I love coming to EdCamps because it motivates me to want to go back to my building to do more for our students with all the passionate educators that are here.


Zinobia: Hi. I’m, um, Zinobia. I’m a fifth-grade teacher, um, in the Newark Public Schools and I came here today because someone, um, invited me. So, I had never actually heard of EdCamp until about six weeks ago. Someone invited me, so I decided to check out the website and it looked really interesting, so I agreed to come. And I’m really glad that I did.
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Ken Bond: If you’re looking to explore some professional learning networks around the state, there are many great places to start. One is the EdCamp website, edcamp.org. There are great opportunities to meet with other innovative educators around the state.


Another is to sign-up for state professional organization conferences and make connections with presenters or fellow attendees.


Also, of the many opportunities that the NJDOE has developed, I’d like to highlight two. One is the statewide “Equity for All” conference, on July 31, 2019. Look out for the registration link on Twitter and please register to attend the great sessions that will be presented by NJDOE staff, and by educators like you from around the state.
Another way to get involved is to jump on Twitter and join the Department for our inaugural, third-Tuesday Twitter chat at 8:30 PM [Eastern Standard Time]. This month we’ll be discussing professional learning networks in New Jersey. Join us at 8:30 PM on April 16, 2019 at #NJEdPartners. Again, that’s hashtag N-J-E-d-P-a-r-t-n-e-r-s. To talk about professional learning networks with NJDOE staff and educators around the state.
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