TeachMeets: The ultimate education resource?

Naomi Ward

Naomi Ward is an English and Media teacher who has worked in London and Hampshire schools for 15 years. She has now left the profession to pursue a career in Education Project Management and coaching for teachers. When she is not developing these new ventures, she organises and attends Teachmeets, has recently set up a community cinema and plays the piano.

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Originally published on 13th February 2015. Originally published on 13th February 2015.

A TeachMeet comes in many guises. The first I attended was a gathering of ten teachers in a classroom. The second had an audience of eighty and a reception on board HMS Victory in Portsmouth. However, both gatherings were defined by the very simple concept of teachers sharing ideas and simultaneously building a professional learning network (PLN). Presenters can sign up for a two, five or seven minute presentation on a subject, usually associated with classroom practice. It is much the same as the TED model, where speakers have to distil an idea into a defined timeframe. It is a challenge to engage and communicate in a short time but it is thrilling when someone gets it spot on.

Arguably, TeachMeets are also radical. They eschew the ‘top down’ model of CPD and have been labeled as ‘unconferences’. There is no apparent hierarchy, no detailed agenda or materials and not a whisper "There is no apparent hierarchy, no detailed agenda and not a whisper about a school improvement plan."about a school improvement plan. This idea derived from Harrison Owen’s (2008) idea of Open Space which argues that there is greater productivity and creativity if a meeting is organic, fluid and essentially offers the space for reflection and spontaneous collaboration.

Why are they so popular?

Teachers catch the TeachMeet bug. You can see the sparkle in their eyes during the coffee break and hear it in the effervescent conversations. In some schools, teaching can be isolating. Recently, I moved back into classroom teaching after stints in Middle Leadership, naively thinking it would be easier to balance my work with other commitments. With 6 lessons a day and the usual marking and preparation, I felt very lonely.

As a leader, it’s your job to talk to your staff all day. As a teacher, you talk to the students, but I missed the stimulation of talking about my profession. So my first TeachMeet oxygenated my drive to explore the possibilities of education and connect with brilliant people. There can be an inertia or lethargy in some whole-school CPD. It might be misjudged, irrelevant to some of us and often, it is passive. Here was the antidote. I could follow my own path. was propelled by my own motivation. And I could participate.

Many see conferences as a waste of time where you get talked at, whereas a TeachMeet is low key, short time, relaxed and just teachers sharing stories. Approachable and easy, no pressure.” - David Rogers - co-organiser of TeachMeet Pompey

What impact do they have?

As the evidence is mainly anecdotal, here are some observations supported by input from fellow TeachMeet facilitators.

1. There is a tangible impact on well-being, or ‘The TeachMeet bounce. The atmosphere is unstintingly positive and anything seems possible.

"Couldn’t survive a term without them.” - Martyn Reah, co-organiser TeachMeet ConnectED

2. Teachers leave armed with two or three practical ideas, some of which I have tried the next day: high order questions written on paper aeroplanes, ‘Poundland' pedagogy and flipped learning.

3. TeachMeet-style presentations are used increasingly in whole school CPD.“They have given me new ideas on how to develop future CPD events, mirroring the TeachMeet style.” - Nikki Gillbey, organiser TeachMeet Highbury and TeachMeet Fareham

4. They allow individuals to build a professional or knowledge network (or staff room) which provides a new route to career development and promotion.

They have built my own confidence to present repeatedly and build partnerships with organisations.” - David Rogers - co-organiser TeachMeet Pompey

What is the future of TeachMeet?

TeachMeets will continue to proliferate and influence CPD in schools. More teachers will get involved and they will become a mainstream part of CPD, instead of an fairly obscure club. They will attract more sponsorship as corporations realise the power of reaching this audience.

From my personal experience, there is another way in which TeachMeets are evolving. The ‘TeachMeet bounce’ is without doubt a valuable energy boost and vital for our wellbeing, but how can we transform such energy "The ‘TeachMeet bounce’ is without doubt a valuable energy boost and vital for our wellbeing."into something more tangible? With a small group of educators, I have set up an organisation which is inspired by the potential for educators from different sectors to not only meet, but work together on imaginative projects. Instead of the characteristic talks being the end point of our TeachMeets, they are the beginning. We build in workshops to enable people to explore, collaborate and create. For example, through our work, we have instigated the following collaborations:

  1. South Downs National Park and Eggars School are in the middle of a project to improve achievement in English and Maths. Students will have five days of outdoor learning and team building.
  2. The Petersfield School and South Downs National Park are collaborating on a project about Romantic Literature. Students will write from nature on a four mile walk along the South Downs Way.
  3. Several schools have teamed up with UCL Neuroscience Department and a commercial research company to explore digital identities - research which will be shared with companies such as Disney and the BBC.
  4. The Petersfield School, Explosion! Museum and the Navy completed an experiential learning project on War Literature in which students built trenches, endured a bombardment and talked to serving soldiers about the experience and aftermath of war.

I am hopeful that from these events, we will instigate projects to improve young people’s aspirations and life chances. I think the power of the TeachMeet is yet to be fully realised. So find out where your next local TeachMeet is. And I bet you catch the bug.

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