It was in June 2013 that the idea of a Teaching and Learning conference was shared at a Pass It On Team meeting. We had just been wowed by the Times Education Festival and this was a long-term dream. Nothing further was said on the matter… until I decided in February 2014 that it would actually be quite ‘cool.’ I was thinking low-key. Whoever I could attract internally and our link schools/Colleges.
It was then that I decided to get someone to help me and offer some advice. I DMd Rachel Jones (@rlj1981) and we had a Google Hangout. She got me even more excited and I was persuaded to ‘think big.’ I made a list of all the educationalists that I wanted to be speaking there. Some even started saying yes (they later dropped out- but they made me think it would all be possible!)
I even emailed Geoff Petty, who was unfortunately unable to attend, but I did get a lovely reply from him. Massive amount of starstruck!
It was then that I decided to let the College know that ‘we’ were now holding a teaching and learning conference!
This was already too late. The principal had been to a City and Guilds event where she’d bumped into Bill Lucas. Bill had been chatting to her about the conference (I’d invited him) and she’d spent some time nodding along, looking as though she knew what he was on about. She then had to admit she didn’t have a clue and he was going to have to explain. It probably made a lot more sense when she discovered I was behind it all! Although very embarrassing, I feel so lucky to work in an organisation where I know I can be as autonomous and creative as this- knowing that it would be a ‘yes’ in any case!
I then had to try and find sponsorship. This was going to be difficult. I was not a local person. I didn’t already have business links and I didn’t have a clue where to start!
The date was getting closer and closer, I hadn’t finalised the speakers list and we were not getting anywhere fast with sponsorship. One phonecall ended with me somehow having to give them money and to pay the expenses of a train and hotel if I wanted them there. Erm… I don’t think that sales pitch could have gone worse?!
Things were looking bad. Very bad. After numerous cries of ‘help me please!’ Someone finally listened and secured us a couple of sponsors. They weren’t going to cover the whole cost so the College would fund the remainder. I felt very guilty. I had arranged this conference and hadn’t even managed to do it properly. Anyway. The conference was back on and it would be free- for this year at least!
I had decided, in my infinite wisdom, to hold a ‘Teaching and Learning Takeaway’ at the end of the day. This would involve a marketplace of resources for attendees to take away. What it ultimately involved, was Steph Moakes (newly arrived at the College and plunged into all sorts of unexpected, bizarre tasks!) printing, cutting and laminating for three solid days. We did have various other staff pop by briefly to lend a hand too.
On the Thursday, a colleague admitted that he had a few students who needed to complete their volunteering qualification- by Monday. This could not have been any better timing. Well, it could. Tuesday would have been FAR better! When Friday arrived, I was feeling rather skeptical of these volunteers. If they had avoided doing their hours all year, what kind of students would we get saddled with for the day? I needn’t have worried. They were all so keen to complete their hours that they’d do anything we told them to do. One of them was beyond this though- so great in fact that I’d employ him tomorrow if I could and we used him a few more times in the following week too. He will be receiving an excellent reference!
We ran around doing everything else and we felt as though we were nearing the end of it all when the students brought up some parcels that had arrived at the post-room for Steph. We hadn’t a clue what they were. We then realised they had come from City and Guilds. They must be banners. We pulled them all out and set about erecting it. How many people does it take to put together a banner (albeit a very large one!)? Well, 7 to be precise, although to be more accurate- one tall person and one student with some brains!
We cleaned all the rooms, moved out unsightly rubbish and random clutter (a skeleton, a random piece of wood in the conference room with a patch of baby blue paint on it and various sizes of bins). It felt like an über-Ofsted visit!
Steph and I then headed for a pre-conference dinner and I enjoyed a very pleasant night in a hotel. My long commute in the morning could be avoided and I would hopefully get a good night’s sleep. I had a bath. I haven’t had a bath since I moved down south. Not because I’m seriously minging but because I have only had a shower to wash in down here. That was utter bliss and I fell asleep almost immediately. I awoke to a beautifully sunny day and felt refreshed.
Once I arrived at work, I discovered that Paul had arrived early from City and Guilds- to set up the complicated banner. D’oh! Well, we had made his day at least!
What follows are my notes on the day as I dashed in and out of all of the workshops. The biggest drawback with organising the day myself- I had arranged each of the speakers and I wanted to see them all!
Sally Dicketts introduced the conference, as the principal of Reading College, Lesley Donoghue, was sadly unable to be there.
– Sally welcomed everyone. She introduced Activate Learning as a distinct group of schools, colleges and higher education providers.
– Today is about learning, which is a distinctive partnership of brain and emotions.
– She referenced the work of Carol Dweck on growth mindset in relation to learning.
– Learning needs the right climate, environment, the right relationships and emotional resilience.
– She thanked both of our sponsors.
And Lesley- because without her leadership, this day couldn’t have happened.
Then the keynote came from Jackie Rossa. Now I had secured Jackie quite last minute and we hadn’t really spoken about her keynote. I had no idea what to expect! I needn’t have worried.
She remarked that she was surprised to see so many teachers here on a Saturday. I wasn’t. I had reassured colleagues for weeks that it was fine. Plenty of people would be there on a weekend. Quite a lot of us teachers love the job so much that it is a vocation for us- we will fill our time with it because we’re genuinely interested in it all… And sometimes because we have to but none of that today- we were indulging in learning only! 🙂
– Education is a bit like broccoli. She asked us to think about why it might be.
– Later on, she asked for some feedback on what we’d come up with. Ian Grace responded that people don’t like it but it’s good for you!
– She spoke about the battleground of education- profound learning versus results. What are we preparing students for and which one matters the most?
– She warned that we shouldn’t be using a student’s starting point to predict their future success.
– Students might ask- why do we need a teacher when we have Google?
– Jackie says that we can help students to love learning.
– ‘Don’t cover the curriculum, let students uncover it.’
– ‘Make learning the drug of choice for the 21st century.’
– ‘Let’s activate the learning.’ If we expect great things of learners then we’ll get it far more than if our expectations are low.
– ‘The best lessons are messy.’
– She returned to broccoli and said that it’s fractal: the deeper we go, the better.
– ‘Go forth and be more broccoli!’
A quote from Jackie after the event:
‘I was blown away by the energy and enthusiasm of all the people I met yesterday. It really did renew my faith in the future of education to meet so may passionate and committed people.’
Project Based Learning
Small groups were discussing projects about animals: How can we make it into a business? How can we provide an approach to the curriculum that embeds employability?
This room was filled with people discussing the curriculum for a variety of different animals. I had first heard about Alex’s approach to this when he had first introduced project based learning to his team at the College. This time, he had Sarah Williams too and they made quite a formidable pair. Perhaps what I loved most about the day was a chance to see colleagues who I admire a great deal, sharing with others.
Sarah said on Twitter afterwards-
‘Buzzing after delivering a session at #ReadTL14 with Alex on PBL. So much energy and enthusiasm in the room!’
Assessment for Learning
The room was laid out like a formal exam, so that the feelings about formal assessment could be discussed. Obviously, I knew this was planned but it still terrified me! I’ve always had those feelings of dread upon walking into an exam room.
After the session, Angela and Rachel commented about the energy in the room and how much of a pleasure it was to have been in a room filled with engaged, motivated and enthusiastic teachers. And they weren’t just talking about one another! If there are two teachers who I could learn most from, it’s these two. And they fit with the theory I have about teachers- if they’ve ever taught English as a foreign language. Chances are, they’re damn good teachers!
I sat with one of our Go Team, Connor Whyte, who loved Class Dojo as soon as Nikki had shown it. He thought the competition element of it would really help lower level classes to work harder and be more aware of their behaviour.
Nikki Gilbey had to leave for #ukfechat in London but said she wished she could stay for the rest of the day. You can read more about her session from Cheryl Pennington here.
I just missed Emily Lewis presenting and I’m really annoyed. She’s someone I didn’t even get the chance to meet on the day! She arrived whilst I was with someone else and then she had to disappear off shortly afterwards. These two ladies were sharing what they’d done as part of their action research. There seemed to be some fruitful discussions taking place and lots of questions afterwards.
Ben Waldram presented the failures that occur when you become a leader- ‘First Attempt in Leadership.’ He shared a lot of great advice and I wish I’d been able to stay in this room; about to become a leader myself.
This is where I stopped making notes as I’d forgotten I needed to make them for you as well as myself. I was mainly enjoying what he had to say.
I started tweeting a lot more from this point onwards instead and there’s a real sense of the day for you on Twitter with #ReadTL14
Below are some briefer notes about each session.
Perfect FE Lesson
Analogue and Digital Differentiation
I love Rachel Jones. She just really gets learning and how to do it best- in a really fun yet rigorous way. I walked in in her sharing some of the resources listed here in her review of the day.
Oh, and she had goodie bags!
This session was like stepping foot into batman’s world. The gadgets were seriously impressive and the level of technology being showcased was immense! I was very impressed by his use of cameras to film students and lessons and may need to explore some for myself.
Lunch was prepared by our very own kitchen- and was delicious for as long as it lasted for me. Quickly dashed off to do forgotten things before workshop 3 commenced.
I was so looking forward to this, and like Ben Waldram before him, I wish I could have stayed but I wanted a snapshot of all sessions: I was being greedy! He shared some great ideas and philosophies around learning, homework and most of all, unhomework. He had been lovely in emails from the moment I first made contact with him and this didn’t stop either: I look forward to perhaps working with him again in the future.
Mary’s session seemed really interesting and once more, I wish I could have stayed longer. She was sharing the concept of action learning sets as a learning and reflection tool. There were some fruitful discussions taking place and I have been assured by one of the attendees, an assistant principal, that he and the people he was working with, plan to meet again in the future to solve problems together. I may have to be in touch with Mary to see how we use these more in the future.
Because I’d spent too long with Mark and Mary, I had less time for both Pauls.
I dashed into Paul Stacey’s session and they were busy coming up with learning company ideas and concepts. He had been introducing how he had approached the start-up of a recent learning company and participants were then translating the approaches into their own contexts.
Paul and his student were sharing their use of Google with the room. Having the student perspective was particularly interesting as it offered a different kind of persuasion for attendees and this was one of the main comments in verbal feedback received at the end of the day.
The day ended with our Teaching and Learning Takeaway and our students went around with iPads to collect attendees’ feedback.
It was a very exhausting time in such a short timescale, and just before a very full CPD week too but it happened, we pulled it off and I’m already looking forward to the fact that a whole year remains to plan the next one- what a luxury!
Get Saturday 27th June 2015 in your diaries for #ReadTL15. Keep updated with future events by following our blog!