TeachMeet Hits its Fourth Birthday: Coming of Age #tmfuture

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

Pic: The main room awaits TeachMeet Midlands 2009 :: Ian Usher

  1. As a co-organiser of the Hants teachmeet my first hope was simply to get people meeting up with each other, talking about what tech inspires them in their teaching, getting inspired by others and generally sharing good ideas. If I was honest, the funding was a bonus and allowed us to conduct the meeting in relatively plush surroundings with some OK grub. That said I do think ours was fairly different to those I have attended in the past.

    Not once did I feel that presentations about “products” such as BrainPop, Vital and 2everything ;0) over stepped any mark. This was in part down to the accessibility and effectiveness of the products to support good T&L but mainly down to the they were expertly explained by (in the main) fellow teachers.

    Have attended and presented at a great many events; some like TM and some as part of a company. How different is the demonstration of say 2Superstory in the context of a topic on travel with the use of Sumopaint on how to develop a lesson in Art or Scratch to develop a lesson in zonal marking in basketball?

    We all use products – some we pay for, some we get “free”. Provided Teachmeet sticks to the remit of being something done in the classroom by teachers that can be shared with (and used by) other teachers then (naively) I see no issue. What I would like to see however is far more of this kind of CPD.

    Would I go to a Google TeachMeet or a Frog TeachMeet – I guess I would. Would I go if I didnt use Google or Frog – well I guess I wouldn't – my choice though and that choice is guided by what I hope will be the open and transparant process that TeachMeets are carried out (sign up, wiki access, seeing others on the list etc).

    If I do have one criticism of TMs is that they are often too technology dependent. Although not the only solution, the opportunity Ian gave to teachers signing up to TMHants using an EtherPad (Primary Pad) was inspiring. We also made sure that the communication of the event was not simply through one type of channel. I wonder how many teachers are “put off” by use of wiki or never hear about a TM it if they are not on twitter.

    Obviously for future TeachMeets I expect to see teachers in rows and using jotters…

  2. What an important debate #tmfuture has turned out to be.
    But before we get on to my views – a few important clarifications:

    I'd hate to be classified only as a sponsor of TeachMeets! My voice here and elsewhere is rarely constrained by my position of employment – and I try hard to be as transparent in my thinking and working practices – so I hope that my record as a teacher, publisher, policy advisor, independent education agitator, and political animal speaks for my past.

    But, in this comment, on the blog of one of my favourite teachers, I will post the first of my responses to #tmfuture as the Head of BrainPOP UK and an active supporter of TeachMeets.

    Although my comments, that will follow are my own, and are not those of BrainPOP UK, it is worth stating that all of us here care deeply about #tmfuture, but we think the debate needs to be led by the practitioners for whom TeachMeets were initiated.

    I believe that authenticity is at the core of meaningful online interactions – and as I have not taught for nearly 10 years (wow!) I will be limiting my online published responses to the aspects of the debate that relate to my current activity as a provider of educational resources that cost money (though I have strong views on other aspects of this discussion).

    All of that said, I agree whole heartedly with Andrea's comments – and only have a few points to add.

    Firstly, BrainPOP UK has been invited into every TeachMeet we have attended, supported, sponsored or sent goodies to. We have NEVER sought to be where we were not wanted.
    @OllieBray asked us to make the BrainPOP UK movie that is on the TeachMeet wiki for SLF09 and has been adapted for loads of TM since.
    @TomBarrett asked us to be part of #tmtakeover at BETT2010 and @DigitalMaverick signed up to talk at our stand and we had no say in what they said
    I go to teachmeets because I enjoy them, and keep very schtum about BrainPOP UK – unless asked… and am as likely to challenge the commercial interests and policy challenging as anyone else!

    So – if BrainPOP UK have become part of the TeachMeet scene – it is because we have earned a place as a trusted friend. We are proud of that.

    Secondly, I agree with Andrea that a 'single pot' approach to funding will not work for us – and that however the TM crowd decide to take this forward – be aware that if you lose companies who have supported TM both in funding, administration, PLN contributions, etc – you risk being only supported by the Big Companies with money to throw into that pot. We are tiny, trying to get a foothold in tough times, so we cannot afford to financially support TeachMeets unless there is a chance that it will raise awareness of what we do. Big companies, like RM, are not trying to raise awareness, but to further prove their credentials and can spare the cash to prove their corporate social responsibility. There is nothing wrong with this – by the way! But, TeachMeet offers a small but effective way that little companies can talk to teachers

    Thirdly, I hate BETT, Education Show, and most of the local LA exhibitions that people like us are 'forced' to show at. If TeachMeet Future can consider alternative models for companies like us to prove that hard selling is not the only way – and that we can evolve a better way – then that would help support an 'industry' that is mostly made up of ex-teachers who have great ideas – to have fair access to teachers – as they do not have millions of £s to spend on an exhibition budget, sales force or marketing collatoral! Allowing companies to be at TeachMeets in the way that some of us were at #TMHants is a proof that this is possible (Credit to @ianaddison and @gideonwilliam for getting this balance right!)

    TeachMeet is already evolving for the future and the new political landscape . #TeachMeetFishbowl on the 17th June, is keeping to the ethos of TeachMeet – so come along to see what all the fuss has been about and why teachers love what we have done – http://www.tmfishbowl.org.uk/TM_Fishbowling/Hom

    Although I helped form the idea – BrainPOP UK has no ownership of the event. You see, the biggest reason we are involved is that it is our interests for teachers to be looking at fresh new things, talking about practical ways to enhance their teaching and learning. Please please sign up and come along to the event – as it would be great to have some of the TeachMeet regulars to help guide us to stick to the ethos and the best of TeachMeet.

    Finally – Whatever you think of the coalition government, their new education policy provides a great opportunity for organisations to take the TeachMeet model and fill a new gap in the market, left by the crumbling LA infrastructure. If TeachMeet does not step into that space – then someone with lots of money (not BrainPOP UK) will commercialise the hell out of it – using the skills and expertise of a private organisation to dominate that space. So,… what kind of CPD landscape do you want? Do you want the shareholders of RM, Promethean, Smart, Microsoft, etc…. to be defining the space – or @dawnhallybone, @tomsale, @ianaddison et all…… I know what I would like to see.

    Thanks

  3. A 'Sponsor's' view.

    This has been the year of TeachMeets for me and Rising Stars. We were part of the TeachMeet Takeover at BETT, attended TM BETT and TM Naace and have also sponsored TM Blackpool, TM Hants and TM East, and we would like to do more. Not because we want to take over the events or get up and present our products (as some sponsors may wish to do) but because we love being part of it. We learn, make new friends and it feels good.

    Sponsorship has meant three things

    • Rising Stars has been lucky enough to be part of an exciting and inspiring movement which brings CPD by teachers to other teachers – and our brand appears on the wiki and in the intros which helps build awareness for RS.
    •We have been able to support these events through pre-promotion for the organisers, eg email newsletters, cash sponsorship and giveaways. (And by the way I’ve been confident in the financial governance. If I wasn’t I wouldn’t have sent my cheques).
    •Rising Stars has made valuable new connections with the teaching community which I believe benefits teachers and schools as much as it does us.

    More centralised ‘controls’ of TeachMeet

    Regardless of whether TM is run as a social enterprise, a charity or a company there will be inevitable changes to the ethos of TeachMeet, perceived or in reality.

    •The brand is bound to be controlled and permission to use it will have to be sought.

    •There will be quality controls placed on TM events – in practice extremely hard to uphold, particularly on a wider scale. Controls on quality of presentations would almost certainly put off many of the presenters I have seen at Teachmeets, particular the newbies, even those that would pass with flying colours.

    •There would be certain financial imperatives – the ‘centre’, however it is set up, would need to be funded and this would call into question the allocation of sponsorship funds. The credibility of people involved in running the centre is also an important factor to consider here.

    •There is a danger that bigger ‘year round’ sponsors would probably take over this more ‘corporate’ Teachmeet approach – because they would be the only ones that could afford to make the financial commitment. RS can afford to sponsor only selective TM events – usually those where the company has good relationships with teachers. And in return we get to attend (and feel welcome) and get reciprocal support (ie thanks, mentions, opportunities to chat to teachers etc).

    Financing a central TeachMeet

    I would have to seriously question if RS putting money into a annual pot made sense. If I was asked to be one of a large number of sponsors putting money into centralised fund to help fund all TMs (some of which may not be appropriate for Rising Stars) I would probably have to say no. I’m not sure I would want my TM sponsorship money funding ‘international expansion of the TM brand’ in these times of austerity. My cynical side thinks that would actually mean overseas trips for people in the TM centre at the expense of events in the UK. Would need to be convinced there was a benefit. But I’m only a small independent publisher, so perhaps my views here will be taken with a pinch of salt….

    Free to use franchise model – Keep it simple!

    Simple guidelines and an improved website would work wonders. These guidelines could include

    •A ‘getting started with your TeachMeet event’
    •How to set up a TM bank account for your area – this isn’t difficult
    •A list of sponsors to contact and guidelines as to what sponsors should be allowed to do/not allowed to do
    •Contact details of other experienced organisers for advice
    •How to report on your event – suggest event organisers should be asked to publish their accounts– this would ensure financial accountability.

    Nominated ‘TM chiefs’ could pitch up at events to ensure that things were not going awry and give encouragement (latter was missing #TMHants I think?)

    TM should in my view be self regulating, as it is currently, with improved guidelines and support and not controls or limitations. The organisers are pretty savvy but there is a danger of losing their enthusiasm and that of the presenters, sponsors and attendees – which would be the worst result of all.. I really hope this doesn't happen as TeachMeet is wonderful thing and it's more important than ever that it continues to thrive.

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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