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Creating the campfire culture

TeachMeets come in all shapes and sizes and at their heart they are about creating sustainable communities of teachers, focused upon improving teaching. In the words of Sir Tim Brighouse, they are about teachers talking to teachers about teaching and learning. This post is about creating TeachMeets within school and considers the larger TeachMeets.

After a long day in the hills, nothing lifts the spirits than the sound of a camping stove roaring in to life for a brew. This is also an opportunity to 'wash-up' the day: to debrief and talk about successes and failures. To learn for the next day and to set priorities. This is part of the culture on the hills and something that I've come to call the campfire culture.  It's where stories are told and learning is shared. Of course, in a wild camp, it's important to get the operational elements right. The tent needs to be pitched, equipment stored, food eaten and the all important lighter. The be successful, systems need to be in place. However, no matter how much of a gear freak I am, the real joy is in sharing the experiences of the day, getting ready to adapt plans and working out how to improve.

Thing is, it's really important not to forget the most important thing about CPD: that it should create sustainable communities of educators within schools. All meetings within schools are TeachMeets as they are opportunities for teachers to talk to other teachers about young people and learning. I still consider that the best form of CPD doesn't happen across blogs or twitter, but within organisations where colleagues speak to each other. That way the learning is contextualised, shared, embedded within schemes of work and becomes sustainable. External events are often about individuals and it's tricky to fully meet the needs.

Tips to create TeachMeets at school

  • Be prepared for meetings - crunch the data, speak to teams and come ready to talk about things rather than do things.
  • Create an agenda and share it via a cloud based system. Do this as far in advance as possible. Allow participants to add to and pre-write the minutes up to a certain deadline.  This allows all parties to control the agenda, turn up informed and ready to contribute.
  • Don't wait until a meeting to discuss an issue.
  • Ban AOB and keep agenda items linked to learning.
  • Talk about individual students and groups of learners. How will what you do in the meeting impact on them?
  • Meet more often but for shorter.
  • Ensure that each meeting allows participants to share stories of classroom practice.
  • Agree and record actions points and ensure that someone is accountable for delivering on them. Set a timescale for completion.

Like mountaineering, TeachMeets have no rules and we shouldn't be worried about their format or shape. The main thing is to ensure that the main thing is teaching and learning and building sustainable communities of professionals. If TeachMeets are one off, commercial events then they are probably more akin to CPD events run by more traditional companies, after all companies and subject associations et al contract teachers to deliver the training.  Big conferences, such as those run by subject associations, also use teachers and those across different stages of education, often creating a melting pot of sharing. There are many blogs out there that offer tips and suggestions around TeachMeets, what I would say is don't get stuck with someone else's agenda or vision of what one is.

The TeachMeets that I'll be working on during the next academic year are:

  • 9th November 2016 at the Royal Geographical Society - TeachMeet RGS - #TMRGS
A geography focused TeachMeet aimed at creating a community close to London. This has around 80 participants. A subject focus allows those that arrive to get more out of the time.

  • 21st April 2017 at the University of Surrey, Guildford - TeachMeet GACONF17 - #TMgaconf17
Another geography focused TeachMeet. It took 6 years of asking to get this on the programme and the first two have been fantastic. Again, geography focused with a smorgasbord of speakers, most of whom have also contributed to the main conference programme.  Followed by the now legendary #beermeet.

  • 1st July 2017 - Brighton in a pub - TeachMeet Solutions - #TMSolutions 
The TeachMeet with no organised sessions or speakers or talks. Just a bunch of teachers in a pub sharing great ideas. Put together with partner in crime Leah

I remember the first TeachMeet Pompey - it was seven people in a classroom and during its time saw almost 200 meet on a battleship and forts. It's all good, as long as it's about the communities and not the presentations or the commercial stuff. TeachMeets should aim to create the campfire culture.


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