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Teachers to converge at Bemidji State: First EdCamp Bemidji will bring together regional educators

Bethany Wesley

BEMIDJI — The first-ever EdCamp Bemidji is today.

EdCamp — a relatively new form of professional development for educators — started in Philadelphia several years ago. The Twin Cities has hosted a few of the daylong programs but there never before has been one in northern Minnesota.

That changes today, as about 100 educators converge at Bemidji State University to learn from one another and share ideas for success.

“It’s a new movement in teacher professional development,” said Stacy Bender-Fayette, technology integration specialist for Schoolcraft Learning Community and lead organizer of the local event. “The whole premise is teachers taking back professional development.”

Rather than sitting in an expansive auditorium listening to a keynote speaker, EdCamps are designed with no set agenda, she explained. Educators report in the morning — in this case to Bensen Hall at BSU — and together they develop the agenda for what they want to discuss.

An attendee may volunteer himself, for example, to lead a discussion on environmental education in an elementary classroom. He would be assigned to a space during one of the four sessions and others interested in that topic would report there as well.

“(Educators) are in charge of what they want to learn about,” Bender-Fayette said, noting that EdCamps are often referred to as an “unconference.”

“It’s teachers teaching and learning from each other,” she said.

The daylong program, which is free but registration has closed, is open to teachers, administrators and support staff, though attendees are asked to not specify titles on nametags.

The idea, Bender-Fayette explained, is that everyone has an equal voice.

“The feedback is amazing,” she said, noting that an EdCamp in the Twin Cities doubled its initial attendance. “What’s happened now is teachers are so in love with this model they’re searching out EdCamps.”

She said she knows educators are coming from Osseo, Minn.; Little Falls; Brainerd; Grand Forks, N.D.; for the EdCamp Bemidji.

“I’m very excited about the response,” she said.

Bender-Fayette has been working with friend Lisa Sjogren, technology integration specialist for Osseo Area Schools, who is one of the organizers of an EdCamp in the Twin Cities. Sjogren is a Bemidji State alumnae who is mentoring Bender-Fayette as she establishes the EdCamp here.

Bemidji makes sense as a location, Bender-Fayette said, because it is centrally located between several regional centers, such as Brainerd and Grand Forks.

She’s encouraged by the excitement of attendees and also the support from those willing to help make the event possible, such as BSU, which donated the space; and Concordia Language Villages, which is catering the event with a three-course French meal.

“Everything’s coming together really well,” Bender-Fayette said. “What I’ve found is that because it’s such a new model, I’m having to do a lot of explanation, but when you talk to people about it, this is what teachers are looking for… .

“It’s all about communication and collaboration.”