I have to confess that my motivations for attending this year were more social than professional, oddly I think I enjoyed it more as a result.
This year was to be much different in that respect alone - for during the course of the last 12 months I had met an ever growing number of Twitter teachers, and many becoming great friends and people I am genuinely fond of: Kev Bartle, Helene, Rachel Jones, @oldandrewuk, @Chocotzar, @betsysalt, Daniel Harvey, @cazzypot, @KDWScience, Chris Curtis, Lisa Farrell, @85teachergirl and Lucie Golton to name just a few. Each, either through funny Tweets, DMs, texts, phone-calls, Costa meet ups, cinema trips, curry nights, and even having me as a guest in their home have prevented me slipping to the very deep and dark murky depths of my issues with stress, anxiety and depression, being off-work and the feelings of epic failure that inevitably ensues. More dramatically, several of the above named quite literally saved me from myself one night when I was having a quite frightening panic attack.
Anyway, on with the day! It was lovely to travel down from Welwyn Garden City with Iesha Small, arriving at King's Cross in good spirits and enjoying the walk down to Russell Square in the warm Spring sun. Here I met @KDWScience and @aknill for a coffee, croissant and a chat, later on meeting @englishlulu, @Xris32, @agwilliams, @FranNantongwe and @oldandrewuk. After making sure our caffeine levels were suitably high, we pottered off to the IOE to arrive at 12pm.
Of all the buildings I have been into in London, I think the IOE is best suited to that of surviving a Nuclear attack, a shrine to concrete sturdiness. That aside, it was lovely to see some graduates floating around in their gowns and mortar boards whilst proud family members took numerous photos. Cue lots of conversations about our own graduation ceremonies and the inevitable feeling of being old.
Even better, they had a Costa on-site.
Before things truly started @Debsgf was sat behind me and proceeded to give me a heartfelt pep-talk about how my blog (a small wee clown-fish amongst a shole of bigger, tuna-fish sized bloggers) had helped her teach her students and within, showed evidence of a good teacher (I'm welling up a bit writing about this). Thank you Debs, thank you.
Key-Note by Rachel Stephens
This was a great start to the day. Rachel's most astute moment was to remind of us - Twitter teachers and bloggers - of our rather unique place within the larger population of teachers in Britain. A small needle amongst haystack of teachers who go through their days and weeks knowing little of what seems to consume us on Twitter. Perspective is always a useful thing to grasp hold of, as it is too easy to lose in the current climate. Other highlights included a quote that is 'probably by Hallmark rather than Einstein,' the video clip of the Grange Hill cast singing (to various degress of success) 'Just Say No' - reminding us we can and should do so with graded lesson observations - and a classic track from Pulp - the name of which escapes me (help me Twitter) which made me feel both nostalgic and old all at the same time.
A real highlight, garnering visible murmers of support was the mention of @cazzypot's blog, detailing her battles against an absurdly rigid and detrimental observation system at her school. I only wished she was there to see that herself.
I was sat with Andrew, whose nerves for his own talk grew a little more visible before Rachel had finished. Oh how I could empathise, as public speaking quite literally makes me vibrate with nerves. All I could do was whish him good luck before I was off to my first session.
Jo Facer - Cultural Literacy
I have met Jo a couple of times before more in a pub & curry related circumstance rather than a professional one, and on both occasions had found her bright, enthusiastic and charming, therefore I was very much looking forward to see her speak. Once I'd got past the, "My God you are so young to be a Head of Faculty" thing in my head, I settled down for her session.
What I particularly enjoyed here was the way Jo had selected apt sections about Cultural Literacy from the 2007 and 2013 National Curriculum documents, enabling us to notice and discuss the shift in emphasis about cultural literacy from one to the other. Such a useful exercise to gain a better understanding of the new curriculum, I wondered why I'd not come across this before in previous INSET session as the various schools I have taught at.
I was chuffed to be sat with @rlj1981 where we really entered into the spirit of the discussions together, and I was once again reminded how damn clever our Rachel is.
Later on Jo presented us with two 'case studies' of pupils - one whose cultural literacy was profoundly better than the other, asking us what we could do to improve matters for both pupils. Here ensued lots of useful discussions about the school's responsibilities to both pupils, and which kind of strategies would enable better success for each. I remember being quite talkative here, I think I even called myself, 'gobby' or similar but I relished the opportunity to express my opinions with regards to teaching.
Harry Fletcher-Wood. (Sorry Harry, I can't remember the title of your session).
Similarly to Jo, pub and curry venues have been my main interactions with Harry - who I liked immensely each time I had met him. I think this is due to the mix of clear intelligence, combined with wit and humility - which was exactly how Harry presented his session.
Harry presented us with various ideas and questions that could enable the classroom teacher select a strategy to implement in our classrooms. If you attend Teach Meets, you are often presented with a range of ideas about classroom practice you may have not come across before, you may even have some wacky ideas of your own. It is therefore moot to be very selective in what you choose to try out. I liked Harry's emphasis on always returning to what the positive impact on the students might and should be, the tricky question that remained was how that should be measured. A pretty colour coded spreadsheet is not always the answer, neither are pupil questionnaires or feedback, such is the nature of teaching.
A quick note about Teach-Firsters:
Both Harry and Jo are products of the Teach First programme. Sometimes the very mention of 'Teach First' on Twitter or in a blog post can provoke a 'Helm's Deep' style battle on Twitter - pitching the PGCE-ers and BEds against them, whilst insecurities about the quality of your own education are brought to the surface. I went to a Comprehensive school in Pembrokeshire - there was no real choice in the matter, geographially, it was the only school I could attend, so I could be guilty of the latter. However, Harry & Jo are clearly good teachers and leaders in their school, displaying: expert subject knowledge, the ability to question the validity of their own practice and others, enthusiasm, a keen interest for providing the best for their pupils, humility and a sense of humour. Why wouldn't you want them as your colleague, or in the classroom? I urge any Teach First doubters to engage with these two people, for they might well set your mind at rest and you may learn a great deal from both of them.
Break: This involved a dash to the cafe for sustenance, loo break, and a brief check to see how Andrew's talk had gone. I was pleased to find out that a) he was still standing b) it had gone well and c) he was quite chirpy as a result. Relieved on his behalf, I set off for my next two sessions.
Dashing between sessions it was also lovely to meet @JoBaker9 for the first time - the work her students produce is simply stunning, and @mrlockyer who aided the increase in my hug tally.
Debbie and Mel @TeacherTweeks - Taking the Temperature of Your Classroom.
I'd been looking forward to seeing and meeting these two for some time as they are Teaching & Learning Assistant Heads doing wonders for teaching and learning in a school in similar circumstances to mine.
A lovely moment before the session began was starting a conversation with a young lady who sat next to me, upon introducing myself and my Twitter handle, @AnnaPalmer74 introduced herself for me and promptly gave me a packet of luxury Walnut Whips - how lovely was that?? They survived the journey home Anna, and I have yet to open them, maybe tonight after Boxercise class.
The session started with a post-it note exercise to jot down how we knew if pupils were panicking about the work or working in their comfort zones. I think after years in the classroom we all came up with similar ideas - fidgiting, requests to go to the toilet, spit balls, off talk chatter etc. As left to put up my post-it note, a chap (don't know who you are) asked me to take his for him. Cue a few, "What's wrong with your legs?" and "What did your last slave die of?" comments (classic teacher cliches) in response.
Debbie and Mel showed us examples of how we could set differentiated tasks using a sort of 'chilli' scale of: medium, hot and scorching with the proviso that students are encouraged to choose a task that will stretch them. Mel (was it Mel?) showed is a beautifully simple spreadsheet that colour coded pupil's choice of task for each lesson, enabling you to keep track of and asses pupil's choices of task and levels of confidence in what they are doing.
Later on we were asked to discuss - or as I said to my 'Put up my post-it note for me' pal - get someone to discuss it for you - questions we could ask, or things we could do to either get a coasting student to push themselves, or remove panic from the student who is stuggling. Here reference was made to 'C3B4ME' strategies, thus provking @katiesarahlou to ask, "Why shouldn't pupils be able to ask the teacher, the expert in the room?"
The point I failed to make on the day, but was lurking in my head was - beware the possibility of encouraging learned helplessness. Much like a new stream that has formed after a downpour, some pupils will always choose the path of least resistance, enabling that is not necessarily good for you or them. I don't think that this is what Katie was referring to at all, but it is something to be mindful of. To some extent, we must encourage pupil's indepedence from us - but as ever, when that is approriate. As a classroom teacher, that is entirely your call.
Chris Curtis - #50ShadesofProgress (My title - not yours Chris!)
Here is another friend and speaker who I know is a great teacher, full of good ideas, is modest and humble and clearly knows his English onions.
Chris's main theme or question was: does marking for effort, or indeed paying too much attention to it, mask observable pupil progress? It is a great question to ask as most school or department marking policies will make reference to effort, and have a grading system for it. Marking for effort is common practice, but is it actually useful? What do the pupils gain from it? Chris, by focusing more explicitly on the pupil's progress on a given skill, observed noticable and consistent improvements in his pupils' work.
Here Chris also made a useful point about target setting for pupils - our teacher error being setting too many of the damn things meaning that neither the pupil or the teacher can remember them, so what use are they? Instead, Chris limits the number of targets he sets, or allows the pupils to choose from, allowing him to make much more precise comments to pupils in his marking and giving them a better means to self and peer assess. It is laser like and so full of common sense you can't help but think, "Oh of course!".
Plenary - Kev Bartle
Ever one for writing in extended metaphor - Keven did not disappoint us here at all. The theme of his Plenary tied in nicely with Rachel's Key Note - focusing on the what the journey of a year actually meant - focusing our attention on the distaance we travel through space, not just time marching away from us. Referring back to his wonderful Key Note of last year's Pedagoo - the Trojan Mice - he encouraged us to take away a sense of empowerment from the day - to act upon advice proferred and new skills learned, to claim back autonomy so that the journey of the next 12 months is a fruitful one.
Keven finished off by reminding us that Jon Curley was unable to make the full journey of the past 12 months, dying suddenly and brutally from a heart attack in early September last year. Jon was a truly lovely man, cultured to the eyeballs, and overloaded with modesty. Thank you so much for reminding us of him in such a wonderful and poignant way. He is still very much missed.
This post is far more epic than I intended so I will rattle through memorable highlights, some in relation to the presentations, some from the people I met or spoke with or just through the joy of people watching.
- @JoBaker9 finding me to hand me a mini Salted Caramel Costa Coffee syrup- my Costa addiction is so very well known on Twitter.
- @aknill battling the atrocious PA system to try and teach us a simple Mindfulness technique
- @joeybagstock letting us English teachers know it's OK to use Multiple Choice questions in lessons, and to not feel bad if they are not, y'know typically esoteric. Plus showing us how to use Google forms to take the toil out of assessing the pupil's understanding.
- Oliver Quinlan telling us about IT type tools to aid teachers develop their pedagogy, the biggest murmers, gasps and even looks of horror were about the tool that could somehow do subtitles of your lesson.
- Athena Pistillis' talk about using 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' as a transition tool for new Year 7s starting at Canon's high involving a real cross curricular approach.
- @StuartLock - probably at least 5 pints into the evening, telling us what was 'sh*t' and great about the things he has observed as a school leader - telling us that opportunity cost must be considered. I loved it when he said, "It's OK to use an interactive whiteboard as a glorified OHP." (pretty much how I've used them). A particularly funny moment was watching Andrew do a small punch in the air and grin when Stuart mentioned using margins in Maths exercise books, followed by an, "I LOVE margins!"
- @JillBerry - being as supportive and inspirational in person as she is on-line. A real joy to meet and watch in action.
- Sitting with @englishlulu, downing Diet Cokes like they were going out of fashion and chowing down on a range of crisps whilst waiting for the buffet to come out, people watching, chatting and giggling. We had the bestest of hugs when Louisa, high on Diet Coke, crisps, buffet food, support and mutual affection, left to catch the nightbus home.
- The buffet - it was lovely and I apologise for loading my plate up into a small hillock - I really was quite peckish. Request for next year - puddings. :-))
- Joe Kirby swooping into the pub, like X-Men's Xavier checking in on his fellow Teach Firsters. Now that doesn't mean I think you are all mutants by the way, more that Joe Kirby has a 'Xavier-ness' about him.
- Apologies for yet another mention Andrew - but this was lovely. When I asked Andrew how he felt about the day, he responded with, "It's been brilliant!" with the enthusiasm of a Year 11 being reminded of that there's an INSET day and no, they don't need to come to school tomorrow. Total respect to you for confronting your abject fear of public speaking, not only that, but thoroughly enjoying the experience. A hit, a palpable hit.
I started the day keeping a hug tally - but lost count within a few moments of arriving at Pedagoo London. I confess to feeling a bit of a fraud attending as I've not been at school for some months now, the hugs were lovely and full of warmth and support, not one of you making me feel self-conscious about my situation.
Finally, finally - there were far more people I met, talked to, hugged, and laughed with than I have mentioned here. To all of you - it was great to either a) meet you once again, or b) meet you for the first time. I'm a rubbish mingler within large groups of people - which is shyness, not rudeness. All of you made the day for me as lovely as it was.