“Unconference” kicks off 2014

thumbs-upLoomis Chaffee tries a new model for PD

We took a risk today and tried a new model for professional development with our faculty, namely, the “unconference” model. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of an unconference, you can read an earlier post I wrote here in anticipation of the day.

As I introduced the event to our faculty, I took a quick poll of the audience to gauge their previous experiences with PD outside of our traditional faculty days. Not surprisingly, most had attended a professional conference of one kind or another recently. When I asked how many had ever attended an Edcamp event or any other unconference-like event, nobody raised their hand. I was hoping that at least a few had some experience with unconferences so I was a little surprised but remained optimistic that we could pull it off. I briefly explained the concept and charged the faculty with taking control of their own PD for the rest of the morning.

Fortunately, we had a few session leaders lined up ahead of time so that we were not starting with an entirely blank schedule. With only two time slots available for the event, I was hopeful that we would be able to fill the schedule and provide a wide enough range of sessions for people to attend. I was excited when I saw the final lineup of sessions and was optimistic that the morning would go well. Below is a list of the sessions that our faculty led.

  • Inciting class participation by design: Using homework?
  • Using hands-on learning projects in class.
  • More than just a letter: Evaluation of and feedback on student work
  • Open Discussion on dealing with race and other tough topics in the classroom.
  • The heart of the matter: Best practices in advising.
  • A model for assessing class participation and providing feedback to students.
  • “Shaping the class” An insider’s view from the Admissions Office.
  • Best practices for preparing and executing a well organized lesson plan for linear learners.
  • Voice Thread – a tool for asynchronous discussions in the classroom.
  • A Call to Action: Loomis Chaffee Earth Day brainstorm session. All School action oriented activities for April 22nd in the spirit of our school theme Climate Change & Water.
  • The College Selection Process – an open discussion.
  • iPads in the Classroom.
  • Grademark and turnitin.com. Online grading, editing, and rubrics.
  • Athletic recruiting and practice planning.

During the morning, I wandered in and out of all of the sessions and witnessed some of the most engaging and interactive professional development going on. Not surprisingly, the faculty were eager to share and learn from one another in this format and took to it like a fish to water. In each session, somebody took notes to a shared document that swelled to 11 pages by the end of the morning, a nice archive of the discussions that occurred.

While I heard a number of positive comments from faculty during the morning about the format, I wanted to survey them and get some more formal feedback so I created a quick survey that I mailed out later in the day. While I have not heard from everybody just yet (~25%), the initial feedback has been quite positive. On a scale of 1-5, when asked how the day compared to previous PD programs, 77% rated the day a 4 or 5. When asked how interested they would be to have future faculty days use the unconference format, 87% rated it a 4 or 5 on a scale of 1-5. 78% of the respondents said that they would be interested in leading sessions if we used the format again. I asked people to share their major takeaways from the experience and heard the following:

  • “It’s a time when colleagues can chat and get together. We may not schedule enough time into our calendars to do this.”
  • “Terrific exchange of ideas – in both sessions I experienced today. I was impressed with the fact that EVERYONE participated, and that ideas were thought provoking – in regular faculty mtng, so many people remain silent.”
  • “Good to sit with colleagues that I do not often get to sit with and discuss the topics that affect us all.”
  • “I did take away that our faculty is creative, energetic and collaborative when given the opportunity.”
  • “empower people and you get results.”
  • “My major takeaway was that the unconference format stimulates conversation and discussion far more effectively than traditional PD sessions.”
  • “Other teachers are awesome! Groupthink is the way to go.”
  • “We (the LC Faculty) are an extraordinary resource….and sharing among ourselves allows us to get into the weeds of the pragmatic, useful, relevant, and actionable in a way that employing an “outside expert” for a day often precludes.
    This process also acts as glue for us all…great for morale and institutional confidence!”
  • “Sharing ideas with colleagues is fun!”

There were others, but I think you get the idea. All in all, I was pleased with how the day went and am even more convinced that this model for professional development is definitely worth the time and energy. As always, I appreciate any comments or feedback.


Friday Four for Summer



 Friday Four – June 15

Now that summer has officially begun for me (grades and comments completed and turned in!) I will attempt to get back to regularly posting my weekly Friday Four. Summer is a great time for many to catch up on reading, to learn something new or to work on lesson plans for next year. However you spend the summer, I hope that it includes at least some professional development. To that end, I will continue to share interesting and thought provoking items that I run across that might inspire you or lead to changes in your teaching.


The first few items are actually links to a few summer conferences that might be of interest to you.

  • If you are in CT during August, you should consider attending the Edcamp CT conference at the Ethel Walker School. If you have never attended an Edcamp “unconference,” here is all you need to know – The cost is free and the agenda for the conference is decided on by the attendees. Here is a video that explains the concept in a little more detail.


  • While it is sold out for live attendees, it not too late to register to attend the Flipped Learning Conference virtually. You can stream the event live or watch the videos for up to 6 months if you register as a virtual attendee. The conference is being held in Chicago next week, June 19 and 20. You can also follow the conference on Twitter at the following hashtag #flipcon12. For those who are unfamiliar with flipped learning, here is a recent article from the Education Week website about it.
  • I recently ran across a post from Chris Betcher on his blog that described a wonderful PD day that was held at his school. The day was run by Mark Church, the author of the book Making Thinking Visible. Chris writes “Mark’s message was that we can do much more to really expose the thinking of our students, to help them develop greater understanding of what they learn and to make the learning more authentic and meaningful.” I have added Mark’s book to my summer reading list after reading Chris’s thoughts on the day.
  • My final thought provoking item of the week is a recent post from another one of my favorite bloggers and Tweeps, Tom Whitby. In this post, Tom takes on “Hypocrisy in the Profession of Education.” Are you a life long learner?
As always, I welcome your comments and sugegstions.