“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ”
We’ve heard this quote countless of times, especially since most of the education conferences now focus on 21st century skills. Many of the conversations and reforms have been centered on the students – how they learn, what they need to learn, who they can learn from, etc. Yet at the forefront of all these reforms are the teachers. How often have we asked teachers the same questions? How do you learn? What do you want to learn?
A Different Kind of (Un)Conference
I was lucky enough to volunteer with the organizers (Habi Education Lab, Woohoo Learning Lab, and Hope Christian High School) of this year’s EdCampPH Teachers Teaching Teachers: Ed Tech Edition. What sets this event apart from the usual professional development seminars that teachers go to is that it’s not a conference – it’s an unconference.
It was my first time to experience unconferencing. At first, it seemed a bit unnerving – just like many of the first-timers there, we were all wondering how the whole day would turn out. For a crowd with almost a hundred participants – How is it possible to agree on the topics for the day?
Together, we spent about an hour collecting and sorting ideas from the group. Hundreds of post-its lined the walls with different statements such as these:
The group was a good mix of pre-service teachers, private school and public school teachers. It was interesting to read what they wanted to learn and what they wanted to share with others. I watched as the facilitators quickly sorted all the papers. At the end of the sorting session, major themes emerged such as Google Apps, Assessment, Classroom Management, Gamification, Language Learning, and many more.
And as promised, the entire conference would be unstructured – people were given the freedom to choose which sessions to go to, when to leave, when to enter a new session, and even when to close a session. One of the key reminders for the day was: There is no single expert in the room. Your bad idea can be great for some.
Going through the day with this mindset changed the way teachers related to each other. The day may have started with a bit of awkwardness, but after letting go and allowing the learning to take over, it was a pleasure to hear the real stories of the teachers in the event. They started to raise their problems, voice out their major and minor concerns, and many had the courage to share their ideas.
At the end of the day, the organizers were also asked to share about their experience. I found myself thinking about one of my favorite quotes about learning:
The unconference definitely felt fun, messy, and beautiful for me. But I guess that’s what learning is at its most natural state – it is often more unpredictable than it is predictable. It’s sparked by honest and real conversations. And it’s not about the latest trend or reform but it starts with what matters to most of us at the moment.
So during those tough days when your professional learning circles are running dry, I suggest you try having an unconference with your group of teachers!