Edcamp DOE summed up

(Better late than never–sharing my experience at EdCamp DOE!)

Getting started

What happens when an EdCamp happens at the U.S. Department of Education?   That was the unknown question when fifty educators came together in Washington, D.C. in June for the first ever EdCamp DOE.  Thanks to the efforts of the Edcamp crew, Emily Davis, and Director of the Office of Ed Technology Richard Culatta, among others, the challenge became a reality.

IMG_5623We didn’t know if the DOE would actually be sending staff to participate in the Edcamp itself, and didn’t quite know what the day would look like or what it would accomplish.  But since I felt so fortunate for the opportunity when my name was drawn, and because I think of myself as both an educator and a librarian, I was eager to go and find out.

First off, for those of you wondering how we got there, the names of the attendees were randomly drawn from a call for participation on Twitter and elsewhere. And while there was a preponderance of attendees from the Northeast, there were educators from as far as California and Texas there as well; attendees included doctoral students, librarians, administrators, teachers, and even teachers’ aides and first year teachers.   So while the geographical diversity wasn’t entirely the best, (given the nature and timing of the event), the diversity of attendees was pleasing, especially with that small of a group.

Emily Davis, who helped coordinate details and is a Teacher Ambassador to the department, did a good job of reminding us to extract some “what next” items from our conversations throughout the day.  And Secretary Arne Duncan popped in briefly to look over the EdCamp scheduling board and learn a little about the process.  And Richard Culatta who was sadly unable to be there, sent a great video greeting.

Secretary Arne Duncan studying the Edcamp board

 What I was most hopeful about (having staffers participating en force throughout the day) didn’t entirely happen;  the fact that this group of teacher leaders from all over were gathered within their building to talk “education” seemed like such an amazing opportunity for staff and policy makers at the Department to just listen in or even participate in our conversations.    However, Emily did a good job of pulling policy people into appropriate conversations at times.


I was part of four very different but interesting conversations–the last one on testing being the most dynamic and impactful.   (The four I participated in regarded teacher quality, learning spaces, libraries, and measuring education).

As always, the respect that educators have for one another’s ideas, and their passion to come from all over the country on weekends to meet with one another and learn together is inspiring.  (And I think, according to staffers at DOE, it surprised some of them the idea that people come to learn on their own time, for free).

edcamp doe convo testing

In typical EdCamp fashion, all of the notes from the entire day are stored in Google Docs for your perusal.   Here are notes from the learning spaces session which I facilitated and the “how schools should be measured” session, which doctoral student Kristine Larson led.  It was fascinating to hear perspectives from so many different types of participants, too — representation from everything from Department of Defense schools to project based schools to traditional school settings.


My biggest takeaway — if in the course of so many of our education conversations throughout our personal learning networks, we identify some “actionable” items, then we will help move things forward more effectively.   How can we reframe some of our conversations so that they become more like “problem solver” sessions?

EdCamp DOE also gave the attendees and edu-staffers a glimpse of how difficult it is to disseminate information so that it sticks.   There are many channels, but even so, sometimes it is still very difficult to cut through the general noise and communicate, and that applies to both policy makers and to building level PLN teachers.   I also hope that the policy makers who did attend got a real sense of the passion, knowledge, and ideas of educators on the “ground” level.

Thanks to the Department of Education for opening its doors to the Edcamp process–that meant a great deal.   And here’s to hopes that at the next EdCamp DOE, more policy makers will be participants, too.

photo by Joe Mazza
group photo by Joe Mazza

Lastly, this event was the culmination of a pretty amazing set of experiences for me personally, for which I am so grateful.  From the White House Champion of Change recognition in November, to the ALA Future of Libraries Summit in May, to Edcamp DOE in June, I felt so gratified to have experienced the serendipitous cross connections between all of these events and dedicated educators and librarians.   It has been an amazing growth experience and I am so appreciative of all those who made it happen.

Here’s to moving conversations forward!


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