by Chris Dodge, Principal of Dexter Park School, Orange MA
I am still on a emotional high after our first EdCamp, hosting 60 Massachusetts educators, many of whom were first time EdCampers and really didn’t even know what they were getting into. My journey and interest into theEdCamp model is a simple one: I began becoming a more connected educator and instantly was hooked. I was in love with the fact that I could connect with experts, authors, and area colleagues at any time and learn from them. Through platforms like Twitter, Voxer, and Facebook, my world opened up and I realized that professional development did not have to happen after paying $300 and traveling to a local hotel resort to hear someone speak on a topic. My professional development happens every day, when I want it and on the topics I choose. All I have to do is reach out and my PLN is there to support me, guide me, question me, and push me to be better. I have often said that I was the principal I thought I should be, and now I am the principal I WANT to be.
In my building, I began by planning EdCamp style staff meetings (thanks to a MESPA colleague, Sandra Trach from Lexington), where teachers set up sessions and others signed up. There is simply no way that I could cover the amount of topics that were covered that day. The format was highly differentiated and from the feedback I received, ALL staff members left with something useful to help them in their practice. At the same time, I wanted my staff to feel valued, trusted, and to know that I do not have all the answers, they do. They are the ones who work with kids every day and they know how to make our school better for kids and families. I am the only one in the building who sees the talented staff of Dexter Park work with students and create learning opportunities; this model creates the time and space to share those moments with each other.
EdCampNQ went off amazingly well, and again, not because of me, but because of the people who came and the expertise and passions they shared. All I did was create the time and space for it to happen. It felt awkward when participants thanked me afterwards, as I felt that my role was small and it was me who wanted to thank them. Educators who gave up time with families on a Saturday to better their practice and make their classrooms and schools a better place for students. Every day I am honored to work with such caring and compassionate educators, and Saturday I truly felt humbled to bring them together and celebrate them. They are going back to their schools on Monday better than on Friday and I am sure they are not only going to make their classrooms better places for learning but they are going to in turn bring that energy back and make their schools better. Energy and enthusiasm like what I felt on Saturday cannot be ignored, it’s contagious.
I have always felt that my primary job is to be the model of what I expect from staff. I would never ask my staff to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself. Currently we are asking staff to not be the “sage on the stage” but rather the facilitator of learning. As leaders we should be asking ourselves if we are regularly modeling expectations in our staff meetings, PD, and committee work. I would challenge all school leaders to at some point this year to step back and let go, just create the time and space for educators to work. I will admit, it initially is an awkward feeling, especially for leaders who are so accustomed to leading by creating agendas, speaking at length, then making decisions. You may just find that you can let go, the agenda items still get taken care of, and this way is a lot more fun!
Christopher Dodge is currently the Principal of the Dexter Park School in Orange, MA, serving 350 students in grades 3-6. He began his career as a grade 5 and 6 educator in Petersham, MA. Christopher’s passion as an educator included differentiating mathematics instruction for all students. As a Responsive Classroom® Morning Meeting staff trainer, Christopher was also an advocate for students’ social-emotional learning and the impact is has on student achievement. In his third year as building principal, Christopher is leading staff in professional development that focuses on best instructional practices that maximizes student achievement as well as technology integration to promote 21st century skills. Christopher serves as the Franklin County Director for the Massachusetts Elementary School Principals Association. He is a connected educator who utilizes social media to make family and community connections, as well as to expand his own professional learning.