A Mighty Bunch


Photo taken by Jon Harper

The sun was just beginning to rise above the trees as I began my drive to Philadelphia for #edcampldr. It was going to be a two and half hour ride, but I was hopeful that it would be well worth the time. Waking up early and leaving before my wife and kids are awake is never easy. The night before my daughter told me to make sure I woke her up to say goodbye to her.

I gave my wife and son a kiss on the cheek as they were both still very much asleep. My daughter must have sensed I was getting ready to leave because she woke up just for a moment. But it was a moment that I will never forget. After I gave her a kiss, she looked up at me and said make sure you show them how awesome you are. I thought her comment was cute and the type of thing that melts a father’s heart.

My drive to Philadelphia was uneventful until I arrived in Philadelphia. Once I arrived in Philly, I somehow inadvertently pinned the wrong address into my phone. The only problem was, I was unaware of my mistake for the first 45 minutes. And so I drove around and around in circles for what felt like an eternity. I was gradually becoming stressed and very angry. I should have arrived at the location at 8 when the doors opened.

In the midst of my driving confusion something happened that let me know that everything was going to be alright. I turned a corner, completely lost and utterly bewildered only to look up and see the scene below.


Photo taken by Jon Harper

Eventually I figured out my mistake and arrived just in time to hear Joe Mazza explain the board. I was not going to miss a single session. Awesome! I was still feeling some of the Happy Sign karma. I grabbed a soft pretzel from the pile, a quick cup of coffee and checked the board. A quiet buzz of excitement took over the room as everyone was planning out their day. Once Joe uttered his last words the crowd headed towards their first session.

There were so many great sessions to choose from, but eventually I decided to join the discussion led by AJ Juliani on bringing edcamp style professional development to our districts and schools. The topic interested me, but more than anything I wanted to learn from someone whose work I respect immensely. And AJ did an excellent job facilitating the discussion. He clearly was the expert in the room. But this discussion wasn’t about him, it was about us. The way in which he kept the conversation going and generated interest was masterful. I not only got to learn about a topic that interested me, I was able to witness how to facilitate an edcamp discussion without taking it over. This would come in handy later on in the day.

One for one.

Next, I chose to attend a session that was geared towards increasing fathers’ participation in their children’s schools. The group was not large. But what we lacked in numbers we made up for in enthusiasm. The discussion was facilitated by Dr. Robert Zeitlin. Like AJ in the previous session, Robert was an expert on the session he was leading, but he didn’t take over the conversation. This session made forced me to reflect in ways that I never had before. And for that I have to thank the group. Also, later on in the day I was able to sit down with Robert and connect and grow. He steered me towards some excellent resources which heretofore I never knew existed.

At this point I was two for two.

After the second session everyone spread out in the courtyard for lunch. It was a warm summer day in an Ivy League courtyard. Life was good. The vibe was like none other that I held felt before. It was as if we had all been transported back to our college days for one last reunion. And while most of us were meeting for the first time, a casual observer would have guessed otherwise. Bean bags, music from every generation and the collegial setting allowed us to bond and form friendships that I predict know will extend beyond the day.


Photo taken by Joe Mazza

My first session after lunch was a no-brainer. I had been hearing about Periscope for months and now I had the chance to attend a session on this new app led by Joe Mazza. Right away he gave us all a firsthand look at what Periscope was all about. He allowed us to observe other #edcampldr sessions as well as witness how this app could enable us traverse the globe in mere seconds. It was amazing and overwhelming all at the same. But it was just a taste. And you know what? I was able to experiment a little bit today with the app and it’s not that tricky. Like any new tool, the more I tinker with it, the more proficient I am becoming.

Three for three.

During Joe’s session, like all sessions, I was checking my Twitter feed. This is one of the cool things about an edcamp. It is expected that you stay connected throughout the entire experience. Towards the end of our Periscope discussion I noticed that one of the next sessions was cancelled and they were looking for someone to possibly fill the void. Ellen Zschunke offered to help me lead the session and I jumped at the opportunity. Blogging is something I am very passionate about and I looked forward to a great discussion. And great it was. Like the first three sessions I attended, the quality of the discussion was wonderful due to the openness and willingness of the room to share and exchange ideas freely. The sharing that took place was refreshing and I think everyone came away believing that they have a story worth sharing. At least I hoped so.

I finished the day a perfect four for four.

The day’s events were concluded with a smackdown session during which volunteers, and one voluntold, shared a few takeaways from their day. It was clear that everyone left with something. Many of us left with much more. I have only attended three edcamps but I think I have discovered the major difference between an edcamp and traditional professional development.

When you attend traditional professional development you begin your day fresh and full of energy. But unfortunately, after a full day of sit and get, you are tired and less inspired than you were when the day began. Attending an edcamp is just the opposite. You start your day tired and with little energy because you have had to wake up earlier than usual and drive a great distance just to reach the edcamp site. Yet, you end the day energized and more inspired than you were when you arrived.

My drive home was rather uneventful compared to my trip up. I was able to vox several folks in my PLN just to share how great the experience was. Pulling into my driveway after being away from my family all day was felt good. And as I thought back on my daughter’s words from 14 hours earlier I realized that I had fulfilled her wishes. I was awesome. But you know what? So was everyone else. We were a mighty bunch and it was an honor to get to spend the day with such amazing people.

#Edcampldr was a huge success in Philadelphia and it was a huge success across the globe.


Image credit: Edcamp Leadership


  1. EdCamps are the best! One of the biggest differences between EdCamps & regular PD is the energy, attitude, and shared ideas. Everyone wants to be there! Now, how to bring that back to our own schools.

  2. Jon, you can tell your daughter that you did it. You showed us that you are awesome, by leaning in and taking full advantage of the experience. I really enjoyed our session on engaging fathers and I am happy that I found your blog. You should definitely check out my dad-blogging friends Don daddynewbie.com, Christopher thebrowngothamite.com, Nate raisingsupaman.com, Mike athomedadmatters.com, Jeff owtk.com, and Chris dadncharge.com.

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