The golden ticket
It’s not every day I go on holiday with a group of teachers but tonight I found myself in a theatre full of them, having been the lucky recipient of a ticket, released in batches fortnightly over the last few months, for the London TeachMeet. Third time lucky, and only then because I’d set an alarm on my iPhone – getting Glasto tickets is easier!
I arrived five minutes late in the spanking new reception of Quintin Kynaston School in Swiss Cottage to a couple of tables covered in unclaimed delegate badges, a sure sign of a poorly attended event to be, Indeed one of the super polite sixth form ushers admitted a lot of people had cancelled at the last minute.
And what a good job they had, for when I crossed the quad to the assembly hall, I was flabbergasted by the turnout.
A pull out theatre seating system was filled to capacity and the place was absolutely buzzing under the evangelical happy clappy direction of Ross Morrison McGill, a deputy head, author of 100 ideas for outstanding lessons and crafter of @teachertoolkit, ‘the most followed teacher on Twitter in the UK’.
Hands went up for prizes, tweets went out for selfies, people clapped on demand to show respect but what really struck me was the response to the question “who’s on holiday today”. Of the 243 people in the room, a good 80% put their hands up to say they were on holiday and choosing to attend this event not only on their holiday, but on an evening in their holiday with many having travelled hundreds of miles to be there.
So what is a TeachMeet?
I know most parents don’t know and I know many teachers who don’t know, indeed tonight was a first for many in the room (it was my fifth in a year – I was particularly chuffed to be at the BETT TeachMeet which included an initial talk and Q&A with Sir Ken Robinson).
And it’s no surprise many people haven’t heard of TeachMeet as it’s about the closet most teachers get to a black ops mission.
Essentially it's a word of mouth underground gathering of engaged teachers – teachers who are prepared to spend their holiday at a teaching-related event, sharing their experiences and tips with other teachers via rapid fire 3 or 5 minute presentations (no time for 'Death by PowerPoint' here) often chosen at random from the eager audience via spin the bottle) . This is collaboration, co-creation, community and connection in action. All good STEAM Co CO words.
Two teachers described how they’d been recruited from 18-year long primary careers to help create a secondary transition programme for Quintin Kynaston and how many of the teaching and engagement techniques they used in primary had found a place in a secondary setting.
It was a fantastic showcase for Quintin Kynaston - as well known for their tabloid headline driven reputational roller coaster ride as their DT offer. One of their many DT teachers showed us how they don't just teach the basics of design but the subtleties of aspects like 'inclusive design' - designing for people with accessibility challenges and showed some fantastic examples of student works and ideas. Work in progress, ideas, scamps not laminated final master pieces (Guy Claxton would be pleased).
Another speaker shared a couple of tech based web sites, one that provided end-to-end coding lessons for primary children eliminating the need to recruit volunteers to run Code Clubs or bodge it with existing ICT teachers. Another taught coding by showing children how to create Angry Bird apps – a far cry from my university computer studies assignments where I had to calculate the number of marbles that could go in a box of certain dimensions. No wonder I never made a billion creating computer games, I couldn’t get to the student union bar quickly enough.
So I really sat up when a chap stood up in biker leathers and had everyone wiggling their fingers in counter centric circles and guessing which of two different sized balloons would blow the other up when a valve was released.
He then went on to describe the tedious way he’d been taught to swim and how that had caused him to never swim for pleasure since (some say that teaching children to read using synthetic phonics has a similar effect but that’s another blog).
His 5 minute talk was entitled ‘Putting the Glory back into your classroom – Humanising the education system’. When he asked the room (of 243 teachers) “how many of you are the teacher you wanted to be? The one who took the students on amazing journeys and instilled lifelong learning and a passion for your subject? Or have you been turned into a destination focussed, pass the exams, bogged down in a curriculum parody of your ideal?” only one and a half hands went up.
His talk was not about the destination, but the ‘The Glory of the Ride’.
After I’d done my impersonation of a second hand car sales man selling snake oil upgrades (in the form of STEAM Co flyers and copies of the Literate Times newspaper) to people as they left the room I was particularly chuffed, if not a little embarrassed, to bump into the biker teacher on my way out to my battered old scooter.
Neil Aitkin (@natkin) describes himself as a ‘digital maverick, revolutionary pedagogue educator, scientist, explorer and teacher of science through extreme sports’. Yep, my kind of teacher, STEAM Co’s kind of teacher and, if I thought Prof Guy Claxton did extreme sports, Guy Claxton’s kind of teacher.
So here I was looking at ‘the blob’, funnily enough on the same day that we’d had a bit of fun with a chap who had a similar name to the chap who coined the phrase ‘the blob’, well at least who associated it with the UK’s teaching professionals.
Now these are a bunch that I have only ever seen, when I looked as a parent or STEAM Co evangelist, as the most professional, engaged and passionate, yet often the least respected, noticed or appreciated people. Only this morning in the swimming pool changing room I heard another person saying how amazing the nursing staff were at a hospice, yesterday it was hospital nurses “oh they’re so caring and hard working”.
Like teachers we don’t’ notice or appreciate them until we come into contact with them, in a hospital or at a parent teacher meeting or a TeachMeet!
So we thought carefully about using the blob creator’s image his morning to create a bit of buzz for the STEAM Co. launch weekend in Liverpool 24/25 April featuring a free keynote talk to school leaders and parents/carers by Professor Guy Claxton who is launching his ‘Educating Ruby’ book and campaign and a talk about Sir Ken Robinson’s new book ‘Creative schools’.
But it felt right – surely nearly anything goes on April 1st - and we included a disclaimer that it was all a bit of fun, so were surprised when a couple of people expressed surprise that we must be looking to make enemies with such a stunt. No we weren't.
But we realised it might be time to think about STEAM Co’s point of view and values and concluded that while we don’t ever want to be political, we don’t ever want to not be able to say what we think if it’s about what we believe, if it’s to do with education, our children and all our futures.
If someone is going to conceive and implement ideas that we feel and many others, including their own masters take education against the flow, then we’re not going to let it go. Sorry. Especially not on April fools’ Day. One of my sons is in a school that is desperately trying to make the new English only English Literature curriculum exciting to 11 year olds by running Saturday morning Dicken's enrichment sessions, but could I drag him along, out of footy training and when none of his mates were going?
So as I left Quentin Kynaston, I was chuffed when Neil Aitken said how pleased he was to have come all the way from Poole and to have come across what we’re doing with STEAM Co, powering communities to work with primary teachers. (He since spoke after Guy Claxton at our Liverpool launch event.)
But the icing on the cake of the day came when my phone rang at about 10.30pm. It was a year 2 primary teachers walking home from the tube in Essex. He said he'd decided to call the number on the back of the STEAM CO. post card that ‘someone gave me at the TeachMeet tonight’ because he was "so excited".
Without pausing for breath he said he didn't want to email and couldn't say what he wanted to say in 140 characters, but did say that he was blown away by what he’d read about STEAM Co on the postcard and on our website on his phone. And how could he get involved?
His 'blobby' enthusiasm certainly made my night.
As Neil said to me as he left ‘it’s all about connections’ which reminded me of one of my films of the year, and if you're a teacher in a community in need of a rebrand from being 'the blob', here's a short film by the master of marketing, branding and connection.
If you like the sound of STEAM Co – community, collaboration and connection and why we spell STEM with an 'A', then come to Liverpool on 24/25 April to kick it off – hear Guy talk about his 'Educating Ruby' campaign, discuss Ken’s new book and share thoughts with other parents/carers and teachers like you.
It’s your turn, it’s our turn. We’re all STEAM Co. Let’s do it together.
See you in Liverpool?