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TeachMeet North East 2010

A TeachMeet is an unconference, an informal event where those with classroom experience spend either two or seven minutes explaining something they’ve done that they’ve found useful or has enhanced student learning. I’ve been to many TeachMeets and they’re usually great events with lots of inspiring people and a real ‘buzz’ around the place. I’m really glad they’ve taken off in the way they have.

However, I think it’s important to dispel a couple of myths and misconceptions about TeachMeets:
  1. It’s not ‘amazing’ that teachers give up their time to go to such events. Teachers compress their working lives pretty much 24/7 into terms and half-terms, so an evening spent at a TeachMeet is an evening not planning or marking, not an evening’s less free time.
  2. TeachMeets are not ‘the future of CPD’. Two minute and seven minute presentations are not long enough to go into the required depth to effect change. Whilst such presentations are intensely valuable, it’s the conversations that happen as a result of them that are important. Some TeachMeets facilitate the latter better than others.
TeachMeet North East 2010 was the second one I’ve been to predominantly organized by staff at Cramlington Learning Village. I’ve the utmost respect for the innovation and enthusiasm of staff at that school; they’re on the forefront of education in this country.

But.

For an unconference it was a bit regimented in the wrong way. There was a drinks area. There was a presentations area. There were rows of un-moveable seats. There was a strict overall time limit. There was no ‘random’ picking of presenters. 

On the other hand, the presentations almost all ran over two and seven minutes. This might not sound like it matters on the face of it, but there’s something to be said about getting your message across in a given time. The best TeachMeets are the ones where you’re not really sure who’s organized the whole thing and it seems like a collection of people who have just turned up at a given time and place.

Reflecting more widely, I realised that some presenters at TeachMeets really are uncritical users of ‘cool tools’. There were at least two presentations that explicitly stated that they weren’t too sure what the pedagogical use of the tool was, but that “kids love it”. I’m not so sure that’s what we should be aiming for. Whilst I’m all for trying new technologies and having them in your ‘toolkit’ there’s some tools (e.g. Second Life) that weren’t ready for prime time in 2005 and still aren’t in 2010. We should stop beating a dead horse.

Overall, I’m a big fan of the TeachMeet format. I was glad to be there last night and appreciated the work the organizers put in. I just think we need to be a bit more reflective on what we’re trying to achieve here, that’s all. 
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  • Scott Clark

    I agree with much of what you have said but let’s face it sometimes and only sometimes you need to engage first and challenge later. My school has one of the highest take up of students opting for History in the country at both GCSE and A- Level and some outstanding outcomes for students and for a good reason, pedagogy plays a pivotal role in our departmental practices and processes. However quite often the things they enjoy or ‘love doing’ the most have the least pedagogical purpose but may spark the students enthusiasm or imagination, it is then our job to cultivate that.

  • Doug Belshaw

    Yes, but even better if we can:1. Play around with stuff until we find something engaging.2. Pilot it’s use until we find something pedagogically useful to do with it.3. Mainstream it and share with colleagues.

  • Gwyn ap Harri

    Hi Doug,bit puzzled with your comments and would love you to share with me ‘what we’re trying to achieve here’ – as I don’t know.I don’t think you can blame the venue for not being in the spirit of things. It’s just bricks and mortar, and can’t answer you back!And when you say, there’s no random picking of presenters, I don’t think there was an over-subscription of presenters, so everyone who wanted to say something was able to.I agree with your point about conversations after presentations. I think it’s really important to facilitate that somehow. The Achievement Show does this really well, but then, there are LOADS of presentations going off all over the place. Maybe, given the format, it’s not easy to do, which is why all presentations are shared along with contact details so you can continue discussions outside the TeachMeet. I know I have.I think there’s a real danger of being micro critical of something that is extremely positive. I don’t think there’s anything wrong at all with someone spending two minutes saying ‘hey, look at this’ even before they have piloted it and mapped its pedagogical purpose. In fact, I believe we need to positively encourage this. I’m not bothered about second life at all, but I wouldn’t want to ‘randomly’ pick a presenter, then censor them because the haven’t piloted it properly. I say stuff all the time, just because I believe it’s right. I can’t prove it. It’s a theory.I don’t think an anarchic agenda is more important than a bunch of like minded people getting together over a drink and talking about what they are passionate about. I don’t think anything is more important than that.I think it’s charming in so many ways. I think beautiful things should be allowed to mature. I don’t think we should knock the stuffing out of it.Thanks for a provoking piece. Would be great if you could respond by telling me what you would do differently.(I have no involvement in the organisation by the way, I’ve just sponsored it in the past and turned up, and contributed)

  • Doug Belshaw

    1. What are we trying to achieve here? Teachers sharing pedagogically-useful advice.2. The venue, as with any learning environment is critical.3. Being critical (if done correctly) of things that are positive experiences is what keeps them positive experiences.4. Things should evolve and mature. But in the right way.

  • Gwyn ap Harri

    Thanks for this Doug. I suppose it’s the same point I’m making. Who decides what is pedagogically useful to them? Whether the environment is a good one? Whether things are done correctly? Whether things are done in the right way?I think we have to appreciate that we are all different and at different levels, and not one person knows this for everyone else.