It is TeachMeet and right so to do

Last Friday night I went to my first TeachMeet at Doncaster South CLC.

Yes, that’s right: Friday night.

I was with a bunch of teachers and other education professionals from 6 until just turned 10, then joined a few of them to continue the conversation in the pub afterwards.

On a Friday night.

Now, I’ll be honest, it’s not long ago that I would have guffawed at the idea of doing ‘schooly’ stuff on a Friday evening, and the fact I’m starting this post in this way shows that I still feel the need to be a little apologetic about the fact. After all, nobody likes a swot.

But as teachers, surely all but the most jaded and wilfully cynical of us (and believe me, I’ve been both) prefer kids who at least show a bit of enthusiasm, and are prepared to take an interest beyond the bare minimum required of them in lessons. And if we hope for that from our students, surely it makes sense to live it ourselves.

So that’s what I was doing there. Over the past year and a bit, I’ve learned an awful lot from developing what I’ve learned to call a PLN (Personal Learning Network), largely via Twitter. It’s not been a uniform upward curve, and the re-enthusiasm for teaching and learning that has been ignited has stuttered and guttered at times, but when I saw that there was to be a TeachMeet so close to home I decided I ought to overcome my reticence at throwing myself into unfamiliar social situations and just go.

I’m glad I did. Even the most techthusiastic and socially maladroit of us benefit from real live human interaction, and there is a degree of attention you can give to people standing in front of you explaining what they’re up to that is difficult to sustain for such a long time if it’s only on-screen. Another advantage of throwing yourself into the pot-pourri of people such as those few dozen who turned up on Friday is the discovery of ideas that you might not otherwise have chosen to give any further thought to.

I have no direct reason to use some of the particular tools shown to us by James Cross, a music teacherfrom High Storrs school in Sheffield, but I was left thinking about his reference to a ‘folk tradition’ of peer learning and teaching, and how social networking tools and online publishing can help to tap into the creativity that kids naturally have, but which is often exercised in ways that formal schooling fails to harness.

I am not a primary teacher, but the energising experience of seeing David Mitchell present with remarkably engaged and engaging live input from some of his Year 6 pupils; Peter Richardson show how Voicethread can be a powerful tool for peer assessment, and Jim Maloney reveal how his Year1 kids were sharing and collaborating with each other, other classes and their parents in a variety of ways, prompted ideas that I can see gestating into my own practice in various ways.

Catherine Elliott explicitly bridged the phase-gap with a fascinating account of transition work using gps data-loggers for Y6 pupils to record a tour of their new secondary school. Continuing the techy theme, Matt McDonald, a history teacher from the next-door Balby Carr school, impressed with his use of mobile phones as a learning and revision tool, harnessing positively a technology that nearly all the kids have, but that we tend to expend undue energy in censuring.

Lest it seem like TeachMeet is nothing but a tech-geek love-in (though, let’s be honest, there is something of that), one of the presentations I found most gripping and thought-provoking was by Julian Wood, a primary deputy from Sheffield. Eschewing the wealth of presentation technology available, Julian stood and simply spoke, softly but clearly, about a vision of education ‘in a third space‘, in which teachers are just as much learners as their students, and in which the relationships between people, and their environment, come to the fore. I haven’t summarised what he had to say at all well, but like most good stories, its impact is in the ideas it sets resonating, rather than in its reducible content.

Have I mentioned that I laughed a lot? How can a bunch of teachers get together on a Friday night to talk about ‘teachy’ stuff to each other without seeming cripplingly earnest? I don’t know; it seems implausible, doesn’t it?

(I suppose it has to do with finding learning fun.