Monday 24 May 2010

TeachMeet hits its fourth birthday: Coming of Age

Edu2020: Ian Stuart & Andy Wallis 

TeachMeet is entering its fifth year and the unconference for teachers, by teachers has helped hundreds - maybe thousands, in fact - to try out something new, alter the way they already teach and learn, join a community of innovative educators or completely transform their way of working.
The hope was that the model would spread. It has, but as those who have created and helped pull TeachMeet together over the past four years, we want to see it spread further, deeper and with increasing quality of input from practitioners. This post outlines how we think we might manage this.
This is the beginnings of a conversation with those who care about TeachMeet. Add your views in the form of any blog post or comment or tweet - tag it #tmfuture
What are the goals of TeachMeet?
TeachMeet was originally designed to:

  • Take thinking away from the formal, often commercialised conference floor, and provide a safe place for anyone to pitch their practice
  • Provide a forum for more teachers to talk about real learning happening in real places, than one-hour conference seminar slots allow
  • Showcase emerging practice that we could all aim to undertake; sales pitches not allowed
  • Be all about the Teach, with only a nod towards tech that paved the way for new practice.
  • Provoke new ways of sharing our stories: PowerPoint was banned. We wanted people to tell stories in ways that challenged them, and the audience
  • Empower the audience to critique, ask questions and probe, all online, through SMS or, later, Twitter.

Over the years, these 'rules' have altered, leading to some great innovations, others less so. The answer to "What is a TeachMeet?" has become a myriad of meanings, some pretty far off the original goals. We need to help and support people to organise, run and contribute to events that build on previous ones. We need to make TeachMeet as accessible to newbies as it was in 2005. We need TeachMeet to once more find its focus.
Supporting the "infectiousness" of TeachMeets

Organising TeachMeets should not be easy. Taking part in them should be. But more support is needed for organisers:

  • Sponsorship is hard if there's no bank account into which funds can be sent
  • Without sponsorship, any event over 30 people becomes tricky to organise while also giving people a special night of learning, the time, space and mood that gets people over their self-conscious selves
  • Paying for refreshments and venues is impossible if there's no organisation to pay them the precise sum.
  • The best TeachMeets provide social space, social activity, entertaining MCs, good refreshments, good online coverage and some form of online 'conclusion' - this needs coordinating by the organiser(s), but it's not a skill everyone will have the first time around.
  • We've got a superb opportunity to curate the best bits from all these TeachMeets that are happening weekly - this needs a degree of oversight.

A means to make TeachMeet more sustainable, easier to use for sponsors and organisers, and have the ability to do something spectacular
TeachMeet is owned by the community that shape it - but there needs to be a body to manage sponsorship and sponsors, and provide support for new organisers so that they maintain the TeachMeet goals. We assume that if someone is organising a 'TeachMeet' they would like to emulate the success of those popular early TeachMeets, and better-supported national conference ones (e.g. SLF and BETT).
What would support from the TeachMeet body look like?
  • Seeking of sponsorship all year round - including ways and means to get your message to as many teachers as possible
  • Brokerage of sponsorship - i.e. one place sponsors and those seeking sponsorship can come together, in a transparent manner
  • Recommendation of onsite support (good venues at discounted rates/free, A/V, event organisation [for bigger venues], catering etc)
  • Suggestions for various formats that have worked in the past
  • Mentoring from previous TeachMeet leaders including on-the-night help
  • Featuring of content and promotion of the event in a timely manner on an aggregated, higher profile TeachMeet site
  • A group calendar so that events can be seen by geography and date
  • Promotion of TeachMeet through international and national events, using contacts of existing TeachMeeters
  • In-event publicity (e.g. if you plan an event at a regional ICT day or national event, then we can help broker paper materials for insertion into packs etc)

But, above all, TeachMeet is reaching a point of saturation in the UK - things are going really well in terms of enthusing teachers about their own learning. We have a great opportunity to carry over a small proportion of the sponsorship and contributions towards creating a TeachMeet culture in countries where teacher professional development in this way is still blocked by barriers physical, financial or cultural. This is just one idea, harboured for a long time but unable to realise in the current setup.
This body can take the form of:
  • A Limited company (with a Director and shareholders)
  • A Charitable Limited Company, with a board of directors and voting rights for fellow 'shareholders' (we could work out some way of people being 'awarded' shares based on [non-financial] involvement?)
  • A Social Enterprise, perhaps formed as a Limited Company (see more information on what this means and how it might work (pdf))
  • A Charity (this feels like a lot more red tape to pull through and perhaps not entirely necessary)

As we take things forward we invite you to contribute your ideas and thoughts to make things work smoothly. We want you to comment, probe and make your own suggestions before the end of June, using the tag #tmfuture


Ian Addison said...

Completely disagree with Teachmeet reaching saturation here in the UK! We have just (last Thurs) held the first Tm in Hampshire and they had never seen anything like it. Of the 90 people in attendance, 5 had been to a TM before, at Bett this year.

Organising a TM should be easy, I plan on writing down everything I did and passing it on to the organisers at tmeast and tmbpool in the coming days. I learnt loads hosting and organising tmhants and it went down very well indeed. We had sponsors involved and we changed some of the 'official' rules for a TM. This included goody bags provided by sponsors which went down very well with the primary contingent. We found a great set of sponsors for this event and I know that others have since used the same sponsors for their own events. These are companies and people that see the benefit of TM in sharing good practice.

I enjoyed tmhants so much (and so did everyone else) that we want to host another as soon as possible. I would happily be involved in sharing what I have learnt from organising a TM with anyone that is interested.

Thank you to everyone who has ever organised or presented at a TM. You're amazing people. Keep it up.

islayian said...

Hi Ian
it would be great to get your input into the model we are looking to develop

Chris Harte said...

TeachmeetNE has successfully run 3 times since last June. Each time it has been tighter and attracted a wider audience. I think we should definitely hold a central archive of TM moments but am not sure it needs a parent company - I quite like the localness and slight anarchy of the events. We have set up a bank account which means we are less dependent on finding funding for each event but are able to attract more money for a series of teachmeets. Everyone has been different but everyone has been great - focussed on pedagogical purposes, not just technology and with a mix of show and tell and really deep, thought provoking pedagogy. Long live Teachmeet!

islayian said...

Hi Chris
I am very aware of TMNE. With a wife from near Whitley Bay and Nephews in North Shields I keep hoping that a TM will be on while I am down visiting. I am sure it will happen sometime.
This is the starting point for a discussion and I hope that you will add even more to the debate which is happening.

Unknown said...

Having won the 2010 Ordnance Survey GeoVation Challenge with our MaxiMap giant floor maps for schools, we'd be interested in using some of the funds to sponsor Teachmeets.
The informal format of TM would fit well with the fun aspect of this resource.
We can be contacted via the website or tel Rowena on 01554 772411. Thanks.

TomHenzley said...

I've just blogged in response to this (started to comment but then it got too long!)-

@TeacherToolkit said...

A very useful post. Thanks for sharing. You sent this to me after I discovered a CPD provider using all the TeachMeet information online to curate their own webpage a s a portal for advertising TMs. Behind the linsk, it took the reader straight back to the author page (i.e.
As I delved deeper, I saw that they were charging potential customers £300 for their services - in order to help a teacher - new to twitter - or a school, wanting to host a TM, £300 for their services!
a) they are not current classroom practitioners.
b) they will prey on all the information added into their database.
c) they will consume the life out of TMs and the goodwill that has ensued so far from teachers organising them in the first instance, for free and as a great innovative and alternative CPD event - free/sharing good practice.