Even teachers get to go to summer camp, and many of those who gathered Monday for EdCampKS at Hays High School went home enthusiastic about what they learned and the colleagues they met.

Edcamp is an international initiative designed to help educators learn from each other. The camps are free and participant-driven, both factors that attracted many teachers from western Kansas and even beyond.

Marie Henderson, instructional technology specialist for Hays USD 489, brought Edcamp to Hays after attending one last year.

She learned of the event in spring 2017 from colleagues in Liberal who encouraged her to attend. When she saw that only one was in western Kansas — in Dodge City — she realized northwest Kansas should have one, too.

The 150 campers came from not only Hays, but towns including Goodland, Oakley, Colby and Stockton. A group even came from Andover after attending one in their town June 1.

The main idea of the camps is the topics for discussion are decided by its participants, Henderson said.

“They are supposed to be conversations, not presentations. That’s the key,” she said.

“That’s really the power in it is sharing those conversations and being able to form those educational relationships that will hopefully sustain you through the next school year,” she said.

An online topics board was available to the teachers to suggest topics and schedule times for them. Teachers could volunteer to lead discussion, and in each session, someone took notes on a Google document that is available for viewing later on.

The teachers created 40 sessions on topics including flexible seating, morale, technology in the classroom, best practices for young teachers, social and emotional education, STEM and STEAM, working with para educators, and subject- and grade-level specific topics, Henderson said.

Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson spoke to the teachers early in the day, and also attended some of the sessions.

O’Loughlin Elementary teachers Sonya Herl and Sandy Aldrich said they liked the collaborative aspect of Edcamp.

Herl said she learned new ideas even on topics she has taught for years, such as math communities.

“To hear how other people are doing it, all age groups, I learned new strategies, new information about something I knew about,” she said.

But there were also new topics she learned about, such as flexible seating, and appreciated hearing about negatives as well as the positives.

Edcamps have been conducted in Andover, Frontenac, Lawrence and Wamego, with others scheduled in Atchison, Dodge City and Topeka. Teachers are encourage to attend as many as they like.