Long Island educators and founding members of Long Island's Edcamp...

Long Island educators and founding members of Long Island's Edcamp are, from left, Ed Kemnitzer, Donald and Danielle Gately, David Casamento, and Whittney Smith. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Educators call it an “unconference.”

"Edcamp," scheduled for Saturday at Bethpage High School, offers a different kind of professional development training. Unlike a traditional conference, where speakers are predetermined and the agenda preset, this one is driven by its participants.

The idea is to leverage the collective knowledge and experience of those in a room, organizers said, allowing those taking part to learn from and bond with one another.

On Saturday morning, attendees will write on index cards or pieces of paper the K-12 topics they’d like to discuss and put them on a board. Such a bottom-up format, organizers said, reflects emerging issues teachers face in school and offers a snapshot of a changing education landscape.

“Because it's discipline-driven, it's always captured the current climate in education,” said Donald Gately, assistant superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Personnel at Manhasset schools. He and his wife, Danielle Gately, superintendent of East Williston schools, brought the event to Long Island in 2013 after attending an Edcamp in Philadelphia, where the event originated, in 2012.

The model has spread across the country and abroad.

“What we say in that camp often is, 'The most important person in the room is the room,'” Danielle Gately said. “What that means is the conversation is really led by … the people in the room. No single person has much more expertise than the others.”

The annual event took a two-year hiatus during the pandemic. Other area school districts have hosted it, including Bay Shore, Jericho and Massapequa.

In the early years, Edcamp largely focused on catching teachers up on the use of technology and social media. One enduring topic was Twitter 101.

Because teachers’ technical capabilities grew during remote learning, the Gatelys this year expect to see discussions about student mental health and lessons learned during the pandemic.

Some topics are evergreen, including work-life balance, classroom management and grading standards. In the most recent years when the event was held, there were discussions on race, culturally responsive pedagogy and personal finance.

In each session, the number of topics could reach as many as two dozen, each occupying a classroom and lasting about an hour.

Patty Richter, a high school teacher at Middle Country schools who’s on this year’s planning team, remembered how she felt when she first realized the number of topics available. Some classrooms were so packed that there was standing room only.

“I was overwhelmed at the choices,” she recalled.

The camp follows “the rule of two feet,” meaning one can walk out of any session anytime.

“It's about learning and not about ego,” Donald Gately said. “There’s no bruised egos if I leave your session to go elsewhere. … We're all here as learners.”

Organizers said the free event begins at 8 a.m. and is open to everyone. People can register online at www.edcampli.weebly.com.

Hundreds are expected to attend. In the past, that included teachers, administrators, parents, school board members and university students, as well as middle and high school students. For aspiring teachers, Edcamp is a place to network and connect with others, they said.

What always excited Danielle Gately was the energy in the room that left her feeling rejuvenated at the end of the day.

“It's really hard to describe the energy and how pure it feels,” she said. “It's like being a first-year teacher all over again every year when we walk away.”

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