This time last week I was travelling to Brighton to take part in a 10km race after a weekend in the woods. SLTCamp took place in a YHA hostel, nestled in the Surrey Hills. No wifi, no signal, no outdoor lighting and a bunch of strangers. In this age of twitter and hashtags, it may sound like a nightmare, but in fact it was refreshing not to be connected. I’ve been lucky to have taken part in high number of excellent conferences and #SLTCamp is right up there. A massive thank you to Stephen, Sarah, the sponsors and all those that turned up to take part. For the session notes, visit the SLT Camp site here.
There are a number of aspects of SLTCamp that could be scaled to fit into the school environment at the appropriate time.
1. Personalised and no agenda
From the moment of arrival, , Stephen and Sarah made it clear that it was our agenda. The rules were simple: no egos and no shrinking violets. In practice this meant that participants were able to opt in and out of discussions and sessions. There were splinter groups when needed and no one got worried when people drifted off to get a coffee and cake or hovered in the background before joining a group. There were no formal sessions and this worked. Ideas were shared; fundamentals debated and positions stated. I also headed off for a run, grabbed a few geocaches and had a wander amongst the countryside to take advantage of the weather.
In the (un)conference style, round table chats were held on a variety of issues.
A similar approach could be adopted in schools. Essentially, all an (un)conference does is put the agenda into the control of the participants. I can see this working in schools, treating teachers as professionals able to identify what they need to move on. I spent most of last year getting away from the top-down CPD delivery style, weaving the year’s CPD together around a few common themes. The simple approach of the camp made me think that schools have too wide a focus. How often is spent focusing on what really matters and how much the add ons? How much time, energy and funding is spent developing classroom practice?
I’m not a fan of networking, I find it difficult. Having said that, normally I learn the most not from the formal sessions of an event, but during the informal parts. #SLTCamp was mostly all informal parts. The conversations were in full flow from kick off on Friday. The conversations held on Saturday continued in the evening. In this sense, the only events that come close to this in the past have been FastTrack teaching courses, Microsoft Partners in Learning events and Mountain Leader training.
The format meant that it was possible to make contacts local to me as well as talk to new school leaders as well as those more seasoned than myself.
There was no WiFi or signal in either venue. This was a good thing.
At Priory Geography, we were often immersed in training or a situation, especially on residential fieldwork. I wonder how in-school training could be developed to immerse participants in the programme? This probably couldn’t be an approach that happens often, but I wonder what would happen if INSET days were blocked together and a school took over a youth hostel is an amazing location?
3. Not being talked at but taking part in a conversation
There wasn’t much being talked at. This was a very good thing. No one was an expert and everyone had open minds. I came away with a wide range of ideas that link to what I’m aiming to do over the next few years. Some may have to wait to geminate while others have been brought into play already.
There was Salsa dancing on the Saturday night. Well, it was Mexican night after all. Almost the full range of human emotion was experienced in that short hour from horror, stress to triumph and elation. What I liked was that almost all got involved. As the attendees are in the business of leading learning, it was refreshing to see us engaged in learning something that lay beyond comfort zones. When was the last time where you learned something new and scary?
5. Attention to detail
What really made the weekend was Stephen and Sarah’s attention to detail. The bake-off; beanie hats; sparkler writing; salsa dancing; quality food…. The list goes on. I had to leave before the end to run in a 10km race, but I’m sure that this attention to detail continued. There were even chocolates on the pillow. When you’ve given up a precious weekend, details matter. And, some of the stuff came in a box labelled ‘Awesome Merchandise!’