Mark wrote an interesting post the other day on TeachMeet which I commented upon briefly but thought I’d expand upon here.
When it comes to TeachMeet, as with many things, there are a range of views. Some see the lack of ownership as there being “no rules” and are therefore free to do as they wish – thankfully noone currently takes this to the extreme of making use of the name to organise massive conferences for profit as far as I’m aware. On the opposite extreme is the idea that because TeachMeet is owned by the community it must be protected in it’s most pure form and not tampered with. As with most things, I find myself somewhere in the middle.
Before I proceed any further, I must state that I write this as a massive supporter of the TeachMeet movement. I’ve attended, presented at and organised numerous TeachMeets and I think they’re fantastic. I do think however that we need to continually question and challenge what’s happening with TeachMeet, this is healthy for anything in education, but especially something which is so open to interpretation by the community. By setting out my views here, I in no way claim that I am right, or that my views are more important than anyone else’s. However, as a long-standing member of the community who has spent many an hour organising and attending TeachMeets, I do feel that my opinion is at least as important as anyone else’s.
For me there are two primary issues with TeachMeet today. The one which attracts the most comment and discussion is not the one I’m primarily concerned with ironically. Mark’s post and the subsequent comments was mainly concerned with scale and sponsorship and whether his event could continue to be called a TeachMeet. This brought out many an opinion, each of them as “right” as any of the others. Ultimately, I feel this is up to Mark to decide for himself following everyone’s feedback – and I applaud him for asking. Some feel that TeachMeets should involve no sponsorship. They should be small enough not to need it. While I appreciate this sentiment, I disagree. The reason is that, I enjoy a TeachMeet in a nice venue. I feel that we spend so much time in poorly designed buildings, and our CPD is often in the worst possible spaces, that if you’re giving up your own time to come along it adds a certain unquantifiable boost if the venue is of a certain quality. I actually feel that Society M played an integral part in the learning and collaboration that took place at the last TeachMeet I organised, which shouldn’t be a surprise. Many people spend a lot of time, money and energy designing spaces which bring out the best in people.
I would agree however that the sponsorship should be kept to a minimum. One of the many mistakes I made (believe me, the organisers of TeachMeets are very aware of the many mistakes they make when organising an event – they don’t actually need a lot of help from others highlighting those!) with the first TeachMeet I organised was accepting too much sponsorship. There was an embarrassing quantity of wine and food left at the end of the evening and I could certainly have had less sponsor presence had I realised this. But I’d been so nervous about not having enough, I overdid it a bit. My policy since then has been to have as little sponsorship as possible – just enough to host it in a nice venue.
If a TeachMeet is large and in a nice, heavily sponsored, venue is it still a TeachMeet? Possibly. For me a TeachMeet should be organised by teachers and allow ordinary teachers to share with each other. That’s the core of it for me. Charging people is obviously a grey area, but I think it’s up to the community to decide collectively if it’s ok. Obviously everyone would rather they were free. The event I feel should generate no profit to be a TeachMeet at least, but I think I might be open to a small charge if it removed sponsors from the equation. Ultimately, the movement is a form of activist professionalism but it’s limited in this sense by the hold the sponsors have over us. As my last TeachMeet was a whole day I asked for an optional £10 to cover the lunch and refreshments (which most paid) to avoid lots more sponsorship. It occurred to me after the event that if I made that £20 we could remove sponsors from the equation – not because I have anything against our sponsors I must say, but we might not have them next year. So, I included a question in the evaluation asking if people would be prepared to pay this next year if we can’t find a sponsor and the vast majority of respondents said they would. Would this mean it wasn’t a TeachMeet anymore, not in my eyes. But if there was a strong feedback from the community suggesting it wasn’t, then this might possibly persuade me to stop using the word – but not to cancel the event (which is ultimately the most important thing – actually organising these things for folk?)
So, if that’s not the issue I’m primarily concerned with, what is? It’s the format. Well, not the format as such, but the ubiquity of the format. I loved the 7 minute/2 minute format of the first TeachMeets I attended and used this in the first one I organised. It makes for a fast paced and engaging evening and it’s not very threatening as a first time presenter. There was a general realisation though over time that they were becoming a bit too “presenty”, which I agreed with. So in the second one I helped organise we added in round table discussions between presentation sessions like others at the time. Both of these events felt great and had fab feedback, but after a while I began to crave something different.
At the same time, I was completing an MEd which involved a lot of reading on professional learning. Given what we’ve been changing in our classrooms over recent years, it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that the best form of professional learning is like any other learning – collaborative and dialogue based. And so, my third and most recent TeachMeet consisted of 40 minute workshops rather than 7 minute and 2 minute presentations. For me, although this is a radically different format, it was still a TeachMeet. The workshop ‘leaders’ were classroom teachers who signed up in the usual way. And we had just as many teachers sharing their practice as usual with 14 different workshops. The workshops involved the leader sharing their practice for about 20 minutes and then facilitating a discussion for the remainder, the idea being that the presenter can share how they changed their practice (not just the end product) and then everyone can work together to talk through and develop the idea as equal partners.
Now, I’m not arguing that we replace the normal format with this one. I just think there’s room for more of a variety of formats when it comes to TeachMeets. Few would recommend a one size fits all for learning in classrooms after all. TeachMeet should be a broad enough term to encompass 12 teachers in one school, to the event I described above and even Mark’s massive event. As long as it’s about teachers organising events for teachers to come together and learn from each other out of the goodness of their hearts, not for profit.
TeachMeet has been a phenomenal success and has evolved so much since my first one almost six years ago, and I hope it will continue to do so.