Here’s one for the small teachmeet

I had a few small pangs of regret when I missed Teachmeet BETT this year. It was the teachmeet at BETT a few years ago which inspired me to run a  teachmeet in Birmingham, and I know other have been likewise inspired.

Friday’s event was surely a great feat of organisation, and credit must go to all the organisers, volunteers and sponsors who helped out.

However I am getting increasingly wary of events. There are 13 teachers in my school and only one, aside from myself, is connected in any way with teachers from other schools. The question I come back to is how can I inspire my teachers to find their own great CPD, their own networks and maintain their own learning journey? My teachers are FAB. They do an amazing job in their classrooms. Yet they have been to huge conferences and been wowed by amazing speakers and I have even foisted a teachmeet upon them, yet they still won’t engage in these events of their own accord.

My reasoning now is that these CPD events have always been too big: I need to engage my staff in smaller groups, maybe even 1:1 relationships, for them to really move on with their own CPD.

Aside from my own staff, I am concerned with who speaks at teachmeets. When an event is massive, you have to have really good speakers – and there were some brilliant speakers at this year’s teachmeet BETT. But there must also be a place for teachers to develop their public speaking in smaller groups – and a small teachmeet is perfect for this. A teachmeet is away from the school-enforced CPD demands and devoid of any performance management overtones and so is a brilliant way for people to learn about presenting their ideas and sharing their best practice.

It’s short notice, but I’m still hoping to help someone run a teachmeet in Birmingham on National Teachmeet Day on 6th Feb – if anyone wants to get a few folk together at their school in the 2nd city, let me know and I’ll lend a hand.

Why go to a teachmeet?

#tmBrum logoOne of the most intriguing lines in the UK Teacher Standards document (revised June 2013) is:

”demonstrate a critical understanding of developments in the subject and curriculum areas, and promote the value of scholarship”

It is for this reason that I believe teachers should attend teachmeets. Let me explain why.

Firstly, think about the CPD in your school.

Hold that thought.

Just a little longer…

Now. Does that CPD really help you? Does it, indeed, help you to: “demonstrate a critical understanding of developments in the subject and curriculum areas, and promote the value of scholarship.

If it does, great – you need read on no more. For these people, where CPD means a community of practice, peer review and honest professional learning without the pressure of looming accountability, teachmeets could be a pleasant but unnecessary bonus. For the rest of us, teachmeets can be the only chance we get to learn from other teachers.

Let’s be honest, much CPD time in school is taken up by school needs, and not professional learning needs. CPD is often used by leadership to impose the latest whole school agenda, to prepare for the next inspection visit or deal with sudden crises that spring up. And for those of us who plan CPD for staff, we’ve probably all had the experience where we think we’ve got a marvellous session of professional learning lined up, but at the last minute, someone more senior asks: can I just take 5 minutes at the start of your meeting to let staff know about this issue?” The consequence of this is that everyone is thinking about the ‘issue’ and not the learning.

And of course often times the very people leading the CPD are also the ones who we are accountable too. This can lead to role conflict, where the teacher can be sitting there wondering whether they are a professional learner, or an appraisee, and similarly the trainer can be wondering whether they are a presenter or an appraiser. I know, I have experienced role conflict in both positions.

This is why teachmeets can be so vital. Imagine learning off other teachers where there is no conflict with any appraisal process. Imagine no interruptions from whole school messages. Imagine improving your own practice by comparing and reviewing the practice of others.

Of course teachmeets have changed since they first started. There has been some criticism that they have become over sponsored, and more about the event then the learning. I am keen that we have more teachmeets, but smaller ones if necessary, because I suppose I really think that they should be more like study groups than conference events.

I am helping to organise a teachmeet in South West Birmingham this Tuesday 26th November. It won’t be big, probably less than 30 people, but you will definitely learn something should you attend or tune in online. There are other teachmeets happening locally too, including one in East Birmingham the following Monday 2nd December. You can check the teachmeet wiki to find out if there are any happening near you.

Whatever you think of the changes to teaching in the UK over the last few years, it is hard to disagree with the aspiration behind the teacher standard: “demonstrate a critical understanding of developments in the subject and curriculum areas, and promote the value of scholarship”. It seems right to me that teachers should want to be up-to-date, to be scholarly, to be academic. Teachmeets are a great way to achieve this.

Really making a difference – The radical-progressive.

I’ve written before about the radical train.

It gives this notion that we’re all somewhere on the train, under bridges, over bridges, whether we be progressives, conservatives or traditionalists… Except, that is, for the radicals who are busy laying the tracks two miles down the line.

And the problem then is, which radical do you follow? The progressives, who are in the engine room, have to make that choice – make the wrong choice and they’ll be hurtling down the wrong tracks. And as everyone knows, trains aren’t that easy to turn round.

Personally, I’ve often tended towards the radical. I like to have ideas – lots of them and then hope some people will shoot down my tracks. I don’t get too worried if they don’t though, because I’m busy having more ideas.

However, I recognise that being that way doesn’t actually get anything done. At times I have to force myself into the progressive, and even the conservative and traditionalist, because each have value in my organisation. Each is important in getting stuff done. Getting stuff done well. Getting stuff done right and safely.

Today I met two people who I would call “radical progressive”. Right at the moment I think these kind of people are the best. They kind see tracks that are off in the future, they are happy to lay a few tracks of their own, but they also have the determination to make their trains go down their tracks. They make me want to be on their trains.

The first person was a teacher called Nadine from a school near mine. Nadine, like me, has an interest in developing her more able learners – her gifted and talented students. She also believes, like me, that a gifted and talented approach to teaching, applied in the right ways can benefit all learners. Fantastic.

Last year I had set up some gifted and talented network meetings following the death of our Local Authority led network. We planned three meetings, cancelled one and at the last meeting there were about 6 people there. For me it was one of those tracks that I had laid and nobody really wanted to go down. Fine.

And then I met Nadine. Like me, she has started a network, but unlike me, she has made a plan for how that network should run. She hasn’t opened it up every school, but limited it to just a few and she has placed an onus on each school to contribute a learning activity to the rest of the schools in the network. She has laid some tracks and driven her train down them – a radical progressive.

And then I met Daniel Harvey. Find him on Twitter at Danielharvey9. Like me, he wanted to get a network of teachers together to meet face to face and share good practice –  a teachmeet – Teachmeet Brum in fact. I had previously organised a Teachmeet back in 2011 – the first Teachmeet Brum which you can read about on Oliver Quinlan’s blog.

The thing is, after that teachmeet, I had a failed attempt at organising a teachmeet and then helped out at another teachmeet but didn’t do a very good job at it – not so many people attended and I had begun to think, oh well, there go some more clean bright tracks into the overgrown, weed-infested place where train tracks go to rust away their latter years.

Not so perhaps. Daniel Harvey has a plan. There are a cluster of primary schools attached to his secondary school. He has a supportive leadership team. He has a passion to improve practice and see positive outcomes for his students – one of the great things about this teachmeet was that his students actually presented – and they did a fantastic job. In short, we can have more teachmeets in Birmingham, because Daniel is a radical progressive – he lays tracks yes, but he is also driving his train down them.

Thanks Nadine. Thanks Daniel. You’ve reminded me to be determined. My own train is a small one-form entry primary school, but I must drive it down some of those radical tracks and not be completely overtaken by the numbers game demanded by league tables and Ofsted.

And I hope neither of you mind if I hop on the back of your train once in a while.

When shall we have Teachmeet Brum?

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So I’m looking to organise a Teachmeet in Birmingham sometime in March.

 

My preferred date would be Friday 9th March of Friday 16th March. I have a city centre venue with free parking that’s about 5 minutes walk from Broad Street, so I’m figuring we could go for a Teachmeet and then a TeachEat at a decent Birmingham balti place.

 

But here’s the thing – I’m not quite sure about Fridays. Being an inexperienced Teachmeet organiser (having only done one previously and that was mid-week), is Friday just to late in the week? Are we all too tired on Fridays?

 

So here’s a chance to influence the decision. Please fill in this spreadsheet to answer the question: When shall we have Teachmeet Brum?

Opening Minds at the RSA Academy

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I didn’t spend long at the RSA Academy yesterday. Only an hour or so to meet fellow teachmeet organiser @umerz1. But it was long enough.

 

It truly is an inspiring place.

 

On entry, a curving path leads to 3-fingered building, the central one holding a huge video screen showing students at their learning. Outside, allotments, nature area, pond and even a farm are all underway – impressive for a site that was only inhabited by its students this academic year.

 

But what’s even more impressive are the students themselves. As a primary school teacher, secondary schools often feel ‘out of my comfort zone’. The students are much bigger than I’m used to is, I suppose, the simple truth. But not so, the RSA Academy. Students move around the site in a purposeful way. A quiet assuredness fills the air – I hear no loud voices or hasty steps. They are happy too, talking with each other and their teachers in confident, positive tones. The opening minds rooms are purposeful too (they’re not called classrooms at the RSA). One room seems dark and silent as I enter, but that’s only because the darkened windows hide the dim light from the laptop screens and dulls the learning buzz that is only too evident once through the door.

 

The school has no staffroom. No food or drink (aside from water) is allowed anywhere other than the canteen (pictured) which is a friendly open-space for both staff and students alike. The whole site is also a chewing-gum free zone – a minor consideration perhaps.

 

Technology is everywhere. News 24 plays from large TVs on walls in Reception and in the canteen, most students in classrooms have access to a laptop or a tablet. There are rooms with Macs in, laptops, standalone PCs, PCs with midi-keyboards attached – it’s mind-boggling really. Envy-making for some, perhaps. Me, I see the RSA as leading the way – at my primary school we’re not ready yet to manage all that technology, let alone use it effectively – I’m happy that early adopters such as the RSA can find out how to do it best and pass down the good stuff to us at primary schools. Indeed, they have a whole room for testing, where they’ve discovered the best machine for student use – machines that haver reliable wifi, long-lasting batteries and are robust enough for classroom use. I’d have valued hearing some of that stuff three years ago when I began purchasing mobile technology for my school. While some of what I’ve purchased lasts still, some products have already become museum pieces through poor batteries or build-quality.

 

There’s more for me to learn about the RSA I’m sure. I’d love to find out more about the Opening Minds approach. But at the moment, inspired, I can take some of that motivation into my own teaching for the last few weeks of term. And it means I’m really look forward to Teachmeet Tipton that we will be holding there on the 19th July. Not only inspiring presentations from innovative practitioners, but also to be held in an inspiring place…

Teachmeet Wiki damage. Does this happen often?

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This morning I logged onto the Teachmeet wiki to look at a couple of things. There are a couple of teachmeets coming up that I’ve got a hand in organising: Teachmeet Brum and Teachmeet Blackcountry. (Do sign up if you’re interested!)

 

I noticed a rather strange link at the top of the wiki, that led, of all places, to a Mercedes Benz website in Indonesia. Not very teachmeet I thought. I suppose there could be a reason for that being on there, but not one that was obvious, so I deleted it (if it is a bona fide link, then whoever put it on can reinstate it easily).

 

It made me wonder how often that sort of thing happens.

 

The teachmeet wiki is a shared resource, it’s reasonably easy to work out how to log on – you could write whatever you wanted on there. I know that on Wikipedia there are people who deliberately put false stuff on there, just for a laugh, but I think whoever did this is trying to increase their website’s ranking in the Google system, which has something to do with how many links you have from other websites. I may be wrong.

 

I remember Tom Barrett a little while ago talk about how he ‘tends his garden’ of Interesting Ways: his crowd-sourced resources for different ways to use technology in the classroom. That phrase means a little more to me this morning having done a little weeding myself. When damage occurs to a shared resource, who fixes it? If it’s crowd-sourced, can anyone do so? I didn’t set up the Teachmeet wiki, so should I be allowed to take stuff off there if I don’t think it’s been put there in the ‘spirit of Teachmeet’?

 

It’s great to be able to share stuff freely, to collaborate on tech that improves teaching. It speeds things up, gives us a wider range of resources to use, and richer ways of using them. I wonder if this kind of ‘damage’ happens often… and if it will increase in the future. When more and more teachers use tech, will others use it as an opportunity for cheap publicity, or better Google rankings? What experience do others have of this?

Teachmeet Sponsorship: is this overdoing it? #tmBrum #tm5

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Watch on Posterous

I read Protect the Teachmeet Format by Tom Barrett, with a slight feeling of guilt.

 

I had only been to my first Teachmeet in January (Teachmeet BETT 2011) and was so enthused about it I felt I should organise one in Birmingham – Teachmeet Brum. However, Teachmeet BETT was perhaps not a normal teachmeet, and so perhaps gave a skewed pictures of what normal Teachmeets look like. There were lots of people there and it was incredibly well sponsored – I felt we should get as many sponsors as possible on board for Teachmeet Brum, but now I’m wondering if we’ve overdone it somewhat. There are so many sponsors that I felt it necessary to make a video of their logos for the simple reason that I had made such a mess of the wiki trying to size and re-size their logos.

 

And I wonder if there’s a temptation to over-commercialise these events.

 

The great feeling I experienced at Teachmeet BETT 2011 was due to listening to all sorts of interesting teachers sharing their many and varied ideas.

 

Don’t get me wrong – the sponsors do a great job. All the sponsors of Teachmeet Brum have a proven track record for supporting education without an in-your-face sales pitch. They have been very generous in supporting the food, the venue and supplying raffle prizes. I also think there is a strength in schools engaging with the private sector. And yet I still have a nagging feeling about this…

 

As I read the posts inspired by the purpos/ed campaign and consider Tom’s words about small Teachmeets, I wonder if we’re heading in the right direction.

 

It’s Teachmeet’s 5th anniversary in May (#tm5). What will it look like by its tenth birthday?