As an organizer of Chromecamp 2018, I had no idea how much fun I would have, how much stress it would create, or how often I would I force myself to trust others more than ever. Before I dive too deep into reflection, check out an example of that trust. I handed my phone off to a wild and crazy Second Grade Teacher, Olivia Langerhans. I asked her to take some photos, post some tweets, and try to capture the excitement. This is a glimpse of the energy and enthusiasm found on Saturday morning! The best part about the video is that this is before things really got started! We were slated to open our doors at 8 am, and we had 75 check-ins by 8:01 am!
— Chad Flexon (@MrFlexon) January 28, 2018
I typically include photos in my posts to break up the text and allow for the visual to do the work. This time, I think I need focus on my thoughts and allow you to enjoy the photos on our hashtag, #Chromestastic2018. These images will let you see how our professional learning event became an experience, not your standard PD. I am glad I took the plunge to lead the event. Now, I will walk you through the journey of bringing Chromecamp 2018 to the Harrison Twp School District.
It all started because I was curious about attending Edcamps in my region.
In the summer of 2016, I attended Chromecamp at Belhaven Middle School. The lead organizer, Kevin Jarrett, was a gentleman I had met earlier in that year and enjoyed seeing how he was shaking things up in education. The event opened my eyes to many things and made me realize that my district had the infrastructure and knowledge to put together something similar. That being said, I knew I wanted to do an event well and not rush the process. Throughout the 2016-2017 school year, I attended many Edcamps and invited other members of my district, including Lisa Heenan, Jennifer Hackett-Slimm, AnnaLisa Rodano, Valerie Cline, and Andy Davis to understand the process as a participant. The knowledge gained helped us instill change in our classrooms and was a contributing factor in our Pleasant Valley School being named a School to Watch for NJ. Eventually, the changes we underwent also allowed both of our schools to achieve the Future Ready Certification. From there, I approached Andy Davis about our plans for hosting something ourselves and he said he wanted to host an Edcamp. We talked about it briefly and entertained the thought to host an event in the Fall of 2017. Like many things, it got pushed to the back of our priorities.
Then, Twitter happened. I am not saying that this is the reason to use social media, but my PLN delivered in a big way. While participating in a Twitter chat in early Septemeber, someone asked about upcoming events that were more centered around technology. I responded with, “What happened to @ChromecamSNJ? I loved it last year!” Moments later, I had a direct message from Kevin Jarrett:
Hey Chad, wanna have Chromecamp at your school, maybe this winter? Could be done…
In the following weeks, I talked with our administrative team and was given permission to move forward with the planning. Kevin was invited to meet with our early organizers to give us some ideas. His biggest gift was allowing me to operate the Twitter handle and website, www.chromecamp.net. These two forms of communication became our biggest assets. Now, we needed to find willing educators to sacrifice their time during the planning process, offer their ideas, and put together something special. The team was built from volunteers that included teachers from both of our schools. Special thanks to them all!
Harrison Twp School District Representatives
- Lisa Heenan: Principal of Pleasant Valley School
- Jennifer Hackett-Slimm: Vice Principal of Pleasant Valley School
- AnnaLisa Rodano: Language Arts Literacy Coordinator
- Dr. Andrew Davis: Chief Academic Officer
- Dr. Missy Peretti: Superintendent of Schools
- Valerie Cline: Assistant Principal of Harrison Twp School
- Olivia Langerhans: 2nd Grade Teacher
- Kathy Lewin: Pleasant Valley Librarian
- Kate Linnehan: Reading Interventionist
- Meghan Loomis: 4th Grade Teacher
- Victoria Parise: 1st Grade Teacher
- Briana Miller: 2nd Grade Teacher
- Ashley Mackowiak: Kindergarten Teacher
- Colleen Hayes: 2nd Grade Teacher
- Kelly Ferrara: 2nd Grade Teacher (LTS)
- Casey Heitman: 5th Grade Teacher
- John Berkett: Technology Technician
- Shawn Shenk: Technology Coordinator
- Laura Marshall: 1st Grade Teacher
We had a meeting to get the ball rolling and this was where I began to realize how lucky I was to work where I do and be surrounded by these individuals. A decoration team was born, we assigned bulletin boards, green screen check-in, we needed T-shirts, our Tech guys needed to assure we had enough access points to accommodate a big crowd, and we all knew it had to be fun. A hype team, our prize patrol, was created to make sure our guests were excited. I decided to focus on the digital infrastructure, propaganda, and donations. Asking for free stuff is cool, but I believe our success with “prizes” was due to the fact that I only wrote to companies that we use in our district. I soon found I needed assistance and others helped me gather our donations. Those that stepped up brought amazing things to the event like Dunkin Donuts and a 20% donation of sales from a local restaurant. Relationships were built with companies that I hope will allow us to pay it forward to other organizers for future Edcamps as well.
We had great ideas. We had great educators. Now, we needed great guests! To be honest, South Jersey has historically had difficulty hosting larger Edcamps. I had worried that we wouldn’t be able to attract the typical EdCamper. Instead, we focused on attracting newcomers to the professional learning model. I started tweeting and sharing our event as often as I could. I would smile each time I got a notification that a ticket was sold. We were hoping to get 150 people at first to buy tickets. I had no idea if we would sell out, but I knew we had a lot to offer as a school district. With these events, it is expected that 2/3 of registrations actually show up. I set the ticket limit at 275 with a bit of fear that we would sell all of our tickets and everyone would actually show up. Little did I know, that the week leading up to the event, our size would lead to that fear resurfacing.
Through December and early January, our organizers began preparing for the actual setup. AnnaLisa Rodano, the hero behind so many components of our event, arranged for high school volunteers to help with our setup and cleanup process. She also coordinated our student volunteers to lead some sessions. She also was in charge of keeping me from going crazy. I typically worry about a lot of things and my mind is capable of jumping around from idea to idea without warning. She told me each day leading up to our prep week that everything would be fine. She was right. Small pieces started to come together in our office. Donations were delivered daily, decorations were prepared, and each component quickly came together in a whirlwind fashion.
I had no idea what was going to happen on January 26th, the night before Chromecamp 2018. Looking back on it, it was magical. The organizers transformed our school into a place for one of the most exciting Saturday mornings I have experienced in my life. I am not talking about my career or time in education. I mean, my life, the energy was unreal. The attention to detail by all of the organizers was such that we could adapt or adjust on the fly without skipping a bit. Our kitchen staff helped arranged our donated breakfast from Dell. Our custodial staff came in early to guide parking to prevent issues at arrival. Then, it happened, I actually fell asleep and proceeded to wake up at 5 am. Chromecamp 2018 was finally here!
200+ educators were present for our event with an estimated 125 being first-time Edcampers. The atmosphere was incredible and South Jersey is as motivated as ever to break the mold of how professional development is handled in schools. Dozens of individuals were asking when the next Edcamp was in the area. We were quick to share about Tabernacle, Glassboro, and Washington Twp events coming up. We hope our event helps them with organizing theirs! More than 50 school districts were represented at the event, and each individual brought some form of innovation back with them to their schools. I didn’t get to participate in many sessions, but I was able to walk around for some pictures. Seeing our blue #Chrometastic2018 shirts was refreshing each and every time I saw our educators helping others.
I think that was the best part of organizing and hosting this event. Our teachers shined, our other staff members that attended were energized, and our district shined as a beacon of passion and innovation. I am grateful to have experienced this from an organizing perspective. I loved it and think I can do it again better each time. I am not sure if we could go much bigger, fire code and all 🙂
Thank you to our team and thank you to our sponsors. I would be foolish not to include you in this post. Your donations helped channel my inner Bob Barker. To have that many educators inspired for today, Monday, was our plan. Prizes were part of the fun, but they were not why everyone was there. Teachers came to learn, teachers came to lead, and the more fun we can have doing that, the better! I cannot wait to see where we take our own professional learning experiences and to see how we influenced educators in the area to expand their own.