Nebraska Writing Project Unconference

On July 26th, 25 teachers representing most of the Metro area schools (OPS, Millard, Westside, Bennington, Papillion-LaVista, Gretna, and UNO) gathered for ConnectEd–an Unconference sponsored by The Nebraska Writing Project, the National Board for Professional Teaching StandardsOmaha’s Learning HQ, and hosted by Pheomblue.

The day began with coffee and brainstorming discussion topics for the day. After one of our walls was covered in conversation  ideas, we put tallies next to the topics we wanted to discuss. We had four breakout rooms, so we assigned the top four scoring topics to rooms and got busy discussing the issues that mattered to us. We repeated this process three times throughout the day; conversations naturally carried over into lunch and over drinks after the Unconference.

Teachers were interested in the following conversation topics: connecting the school to the community, how teachers can impact a school climate, preventing teacher burnout with effective professional development, the flipped classroom, technology in the classroom, effective methods for writing instruction, and several others.

When teachers are given voice and authority over their professional development, amazing things can happen. The energy was palpable; teachers seemed energized and prepared to begin a new year despite all the challenges educators face. Here’s some feedback from our teachers:

“Connecting to a local network of teachers is important to me; hearing multiple perspectives about common challenges/questions/opportunities, and getting to ‘zoom’ out to think about the big ideas in teaching (and letting purpose-or value-driven conversation guide the nitty-gritty of course planning) [was valuable to me].”

“Teachers are actually engaged in the conversation because they are participating and not just listening.”

“It is beneficial to have something available that teachers seek out on their own. The ability to choose is something that we cherish as adults, and we need to be able to make our own decisions in our professional development.”

“[This is] a unique opportunity to talk about issues that are important to educators that aren’t talked about in other venues.”

“[The Unconference] empowers teachers to share and lead.”

If you missed this Unconference, be watching for another next summer, and if you’re interested in taking this model of professional development to your institution, please contact me (Danielle Helzer) at