Thanks to Hassan Dabbagh (and John Heffernan, though you won’t hear him!) for inviting me and Ewan McIntosh to the CESI Staffroom podcast to talk about TeachMeet past present and future, and to hear the latest innovative project Ewan and Notosh are involved in. [tldr? sneak preview of project here]
Even though I was part of the conversation, it was only when I listened back that I heard it properly and appreciated the development TeachMeet discussed, from the DNA of Open Space Technology, BarCamp to the evolution of many unconference formats for teachers – TeachMeet, BrewEd, Gasta, Pedagoo…
I will highlight just one key observation here – a comment that Ewan made about the very beginning when he, John Johnston and David Noble has the conversation (in 2005 at the pre-Scottish Learning Festival callled SETT) that led to it all kicking off:
“the keynotes that were there that year at the festival were fantastic. But they were talking about stuff in the future tense that we’d been doing in the previous week with our classes”
The desire to sit, relax together, and discuss what “we‘d been doing in the previous week with our classes” is what led to TeachMeet; for many of those who have contributed to the research I have been doing, that still holds true today.
And so in-person conferences begin again – the past two weekends saw the return of two annual fixtures, ICT in Education in the Thurles campus of TUS, and the PG Student Research Conference in the School of Education in TCD.
#ictedu Sustaining Education
On Saturday May 14th my car remembered its way to Thurles for the return of ICT in Education, with Pam O’Brien and her team back in action. It was good to see the Youth Media Team back on its feet, with Bernie Goldback introducing Mia and Dylan to the team. I’d had the coolest interview with Dylan the week before, and I confess he was my main focus at this conference.
The programme for the day is outlined here – I enjoyed it all, but (sorry adults!) I must confess that my favourite session was in the afternoon, when Dylan Goldbach, age 10 took us thru his education and life to date. It was a “you had to be there” experience I won’t forget for a while. Thank you, Dylan.
2. #EdconTCD (Re)building Education: Begin Again, Begin Better
Saturday May 21st I was back on the 109x bus down to Dublin. The programme comprised parallel sessions of themed Early Career Researcher seminars, PhD workshops, Lightening Talks, an advice laden panel chat, and a Keynote.
I loved each sessions I attended – thank you presenters Derek Maher, Larissa WelHoffer and Clara Fiorentini for each sharing their research, and Prof. Andrew Loxley for his workshop for illuminating the (looming) Viva process.
The Lightening Talks comprised 5×5 nanopresentation snapshots of research from QUB, MU, and TCD. Thanks to Patricia Nicholl, Jinzhou Ni, Keitumetse Mabole, and Clare Kilgallon who joined me in this venture. Special thanks from me to Keitumetse for introducing us to the custom of KGOTLE. And a hat tip to Ciaran Bauer for timekeeping with smiling signals that kept us in check and within our time limit.
The keynote was exactly what it said on the tin first slide, “My Thesis, Myself”, a fantastic confessional of real life entangled with PhD life, from recent graduate Dr Emer Emily Neenan. I guarantee that nobody who was there will forget this keynote.
Disclosure – I had the royal box for this presentation, a front row seat watching a child calmly ignore their Mam who is speaking about the writing of a thesis while quietly writing their own thesis.
It was a heartening day of learning, meeting up again, finding out what how everyone is doing.
Thanks to Lorraine, Derek, Stefania, Amreen, Sylvia, and Fiona for making the day so nourishing for the rest of us (and that includes the food, especially the fancy sandwiches for the bus ride home).
[ps – I now realise I didn’t post any thank yous after visiting the BETT TeachMeets at the end of March – that’ll be filed under “tomorrow is another day”] No, couldn’t write them in wrong order, went back and did BETT blog post first.
BETT was a tentative affair this year – a last minute decision back to the Excel in person for a flying visit (less than 24 hours away from home – a speedy round bus-plane-walk-plane-bus return trip from Cavan Ireland to London City). Becuse the Saturday of BETT is no more, both TeachMeets were on the same evening back to back. I took part in both, and saw very little of the rest of BETT – what I did see was a bit disconterting – there seemed to be a lot of booths with surveillance type stuff for sale.
It was different to other years, being in the centre of a very noisy late evening conference space. Both TeachMeets however were packed with good stuff from teachers of every level and sector and geograpichal locartion. The technical support was superb which helped both presenters and audience. The MCs – Arjana & Bart, Dawn & Drew – did the “hosts with the most” business of keeping the plates, and the random name picker, spinning. The running buffet of refreshments was more than welcome, as was the lovely supper in the Fox Connaught afterwards, hosted by the kindest most unassuming person in edtech, 2SimpleNigel. It was a long, relaxed evening full of rich conversations.
As Twitter threads are beoming the new blog posts, I just went back to read my reactions at the time, posted on the fly in the East End (and oooh to wordpress for the Unroll button, new to me, nice move!). Here’s the unrolled thread:
above = 3 of many presenters from many countries @caroljallen [UK, t’north bit] reminding us it takes more than ears to listen to a student @elenavercher [Catalunya] showing us the magic of genius hour @simonmlewis [Ireland] with a Principal’s post-pandemic perspective #TeachMeet
post script – this interesting piece of history about the ‘TeachEat’ social venue @FoxConnaught – thanks to Nigel at @2SimpleSoftware for making sure we all got fed – and when the right food got to the right tables in the end it was delicious. Staff were sound too, thank you all.
Hopefully in other years there will be more time to wander about London with the fellowship that often goes to BETT together from Ireland. I was moving too fast at the time to realise how much I miss this part of the trip. Next time.
image: Twitter pic by Gill Berry @fahyberry, showing particpants at an unconference in Cong, Ireland, Nov 2021
Conferencing and unconferencing online is the only way at the moment, and I have been reminded severals times recently of how critical ‘the chat’ space is to both the formal and informal aspects of the events.
I first noticed this early in the ‘pivot’ at an event I attended online, hosted from Australia. The hosts were using Jitsi and braodcasting on YouTube. So while we were listening to the speakers (it was a TeachMeet, the nanopresentation format meant it was a fast rolling affair) there was a chat window in Jitsi and another in YouTube – which gave it an atmosphere of a social event at which you could join in any conversation. And the conversations ranged from content to method to context, depending on that the presentation was prompting. And the refeshing thing was that because the online chat window uses names to tag the typed entries, which meant although partcipants were quite removed from each other, socialisation began quite swiftly. [At the time it reminded me of the in-person events which displayed a Twitter wall using hashtags to channel chat, but this had a more connected conversational feel.]
That experience was so dynamic that I unconsciously began to measure subsequent events against it.
For the first year or so, it seemed that the more ‘official’ an event was the more locked out the audience was – during the ‘delivery’ or ‘presentation’ part of the event, the hosts switched off acess to the chat window, and hid the Q&A. (At one professional network event in 2021, when asked about this, the chair responded “it would distract the speakers”). This turns the event into a broadcast – like just another channel on tv.
When the Q&A and chat windows are enabled, it adds a whole different and dynamic dimension to the interactions – questions are answered by partcipants (or the speaker if they are so inclined), links are shared, suggestions are offered, discussions take off … the whole thing happening without disturbing the audio or visual feed of the presentation. It can work both ways too – from a presenter point of view, it offers a chance to get immediate feedback to a prompt or a question by using a ‘chat cascade’ approach, and dispel that discturbing feeling of ‘speaking into the void’! And the fact that the chat can be saved is a real bonus for speakers who value what the listeners may have to say. It also allows a side bar conversation to continue among some attendees, without breaking the flow of the main conversation.
The chat window reached peak effect for me during a ‘huddle’ at the recent CongRegation unconference – during a compelling and lively conversation taking place on screen, where only one person can speak at a time through the chair, (at the speed of sound literally), a compelling and even more lively sidebar erupted in the chat window, adding a rollercoaster effect to proceedings as we listened and read and responded (by trying to type at the speed of light!!!).
So I hope this becomes one ‘ill-wind’ benefit of The Pivot or whatever we eventually call it, that whatever we do for (un)conferencing is in a spirit of all available channels for a sidebar or caucus are opened. … if we want it to be as much about the partcipant as the presenter … the chat is where it’s at.
Every year, in November, CongregationTM is hosted by Eoin Kennedy in Cong, in County Mayo, in Ireland. It is an unconference. There is a theme.The cost of a ticket to take part is writing a blog post on that theme. On the day of the event, participants are randomly assigned to huddles of about eight people for about an hour.They rotate thru four huddles across the day. Each huddle is overseen by a chair, stories (which may or may not reflect the blog post submitted) are shared and discussed. In pre- and hopefully post-plague times, there is a strong social element warmly wrapped around the event. In 2021 the theme is Leadership, and this is my 600 word ticket application.
When I was young, I heard the elders around me (in person and on tv) grumble with deep disapproval when Tommy Smith and John Carlos used their medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics to protest as part of their Olympic Project for Human Rights campaign. As a teenager, me and my girlfriends heard (but didn’t listen to) the same grumbled disapproval as we cheered Billie Jean King as she went out on the court in 1973 and won the Battle of The Sexes challenge match. I found these events, and others, compelling at the time and they resonate still – they woke me up to the fact that leaders could lead from the very spot they occupied, which might not necessarily be an appointed leadership role. My favourite quote has always been the advice attributed to another icon, Arthur Ashe – start where you are, use what you have, do what you can. To that I’d add ‘lead if there’s need’. To appropriate a term Irish grammar, it is a sort of Modh Díreach [direct path] leadership. It is all around us (although it still meets with grumbling disapproval, and worse, from many). I don’t always acknowledge it, but I appreciate it.
I see it grow from one gesture by one person into global movements from which we all benefit – in 2012 when Malala Yousafzai spoke from her hospital bed having been shot for attending school; in 2018 when Greta Thunberg sat with a sign outside the Swedish Parliament, skipping school each Friday to protest climate change; in 2016, Colin Kaepernik first sitting then kneeling during the Anthem played before his football game, continuing the protest signal begun by Smith and Carlos more than fifty years ago.
I see it online in those who take time to share their expert information and experience with others in a time of crisis – there are many but my shout out of pandemic gratitude is to those who take the time to care and share their expert information (professors Trish Greenhalgh, Orla Hegarty), recount their daily reality (school principals Simon Lewis, Caitriona Hand, Trina Golden), and advocate for those otherwise without a voice (union official Linda Kelly). With this list, as Beckett said, I could go on …
I see enacted in many I have encountered in education networks and communities (looking at you, people in cesi.ie, and open non-hierarchical systems especially TeachMeet). My experience participating in and now researching informal self-organised gatherings has introduced me again and again to the person who takes that first step when they see the need – allowing others to join in and ‘make the road by walking’, to tread a desire line shortcut from where they are now to where they know they need to be. It is servant leadership, voluntary, humble but very powerful – the meeting leadership that facilitates democratic agenda setting and ensures that voices are heard organically in a convivial setting; and the practice leadership that ensures teachers benefit by being both audience and presenter, sharing with peer practitioners. It is leadership that begets leadership.
I have seen it here each November at the Congregation unconference – individuals who takes turns leading from a chair in a huddle in the pub or the shop in a small village in the west of Ireland – simply by telling their story.
To sum up in a practical way, I borrow a quote from (one who is a role model for what I am describing) Ewan McIntosh’s crowdsourced and very useful Middle Leadership Manifesto – “Leadership is what you achieve by trying something out”.
Instead of a direct blog post, I tried out a Twitter thread to point out some great features at Snap!Con last week. It took no less time to check links and do Alt-Txt for images, but might allow people to pick and mix what they want to read or reply to in a shorter time. Still, I need to store it here, so I tried out @threadreaderapp for the first time – very efficient and polite, that bot!
It was a delight to be part of Dr Shelli Ann Garland’s podcast series A Dash of SaLT. Shelli is someone I admire, regard, and love. We met when we both began PhD study in the School of Education, Trinity College, Dublin. Shelli was on the fast track full-time, I am still meandering the slow path, but one advantage is that I can learn from the work Shelli did for her PhD. In particular her representation of the dispositions of volunteers, which helped me greatly get my thinking straight about what TeachMeet particpants have telling me about their involvement.
Zooming out from that part of our shared exeriences, in doing this podcast, I realised and appreciated the care and delicacy with which Shelli curated this process from start to finish. I had noticed when listening her other podcasts to date that she is a Big Picture interviewer with a sharp ear and an empathic x-ray vision. For me, big picture viewpoint is a good thing at two levels – the topic within the PhD, and the PhD itself within real life. The topic (for me, TeachMeet, whose niche I am trying to tease out) is central, but it has to be viewed as part of a broader space-time contiuum. And the PhD, which can attempt to become central to the life in which it has embedded itself, is only one part of that life. In the five years to date of this PhD (with one more to go), real life for me has included many of the ‘momentous events’ happening in parallel. Shelli gets all this woven together, not an easy task.
So if you listen and enjoy, send a hat tip tweet to @shelli_garland
The last weekend in January is usually a visit to the east end of London, alternating time at the BETT expo with adventures and down time with friends. The highlight of BETT over recent years has been the TeachMeet evenings – a chance to catch up what other teachers are up to, and spend some time together in a social setting. Although the weather has often been wet, windy and cold, the weekend itself has always been a warm uplifting start to the year. This year, of course, was not to be like that – because nobody could travel to London, BETT was broadcast as @BettFest, and the TeachMeets took the leap to online. (TeachMeet International is outlined in the previous post).
Friday evening’s TeachMeet was reimagined and curated as ‘a game of two halves’ – the first hour was a ‘tweetmeet’ chat at #TMBETT21. Question prompts appeared on @DawnHallybone’s timeline, and the Twitter banter scrolled along the screen. There was a nostalgic feel to it – being resigned to the fact we could not be together brought out memories of good times past. The questions, answers, other sundry comments and pictures can be found in reverse order at https://twitter.com/search?q=%23tmbett21&src=typed_query&f=live
The second hour took place in a ‘zoom room’. We were greeted on arrival by the dulcet anglo-hibernian tones of Alan O’Donohoe, and after some orientations and helloes with Alan, Dawn, and Ian Usher, we were whooshed off to breakout rooms for the chats. In breakout room no. 1 there were teachers from Ireland, England, Poland and Mexico, and we compared notes on how were were getting on nationally and professionally across the globe. It was a compelling conversation – although the degrees may vary across countries, in education we are under the same storm clouds at the moment. The time flew past; before we knew it we were whooshed back to reception for a re-centering break. Next breakout room no. 2 had Scotland, Ireland, and England – it was a smaller group, and talk turned to TeachMeet itself. It was good. Blog posts were discussed and promised – you know who you are – ’nuff said 😉
So how did we fare with the change of format? Some things were the very same – the care and geniality of the MCs and organisers shone out as usual, moving gently thru the breakout rooms, making for as convivial an atmosphere as one could reach at such a remove. Time given over to the central TeachMeet thing of spending time swapping stories with peers. The down side of course – the lack of physical presence, the embrace – got summed up neatly by Tony Parkin …
On the flipside, being able to hear and speak to each other was much easier in this medium than in the pub! And definitely on the upside, the unexpected bonus of a more global participation; as Conor Power suggests, this is something to be held onto in whatever future we evolve into. [AND one last upside just for me myself alone, sitting at home meant getting some more rows of knitting done!].
what would you call a blanket knitted during COVID-19 pandemic isolation?
So whether #TMBett22 is together, apart or somewhere in between remains to be seen. In the meantime, thank you to Alan, Ian, Dawn, and all who steered us together thru #TMBett21.
Tonight me and the knitting that currently keeps me company during distanced meets are attending TeachMeet International at #BettFest – the first of two TeachMeets at this first online version of the BETT Show (there will be more about the second one in the next post). Teachers from all over Europe are sharing their practice, opening a window (or in this case is it opening a tab?) into their classroom. My offering is a nanopresentation snapshot of what partcipants say and think of TeachMeet, gathered as part of my PhD research. It is here, below the programme for the evening which has been curated by Arjana Blazic and Bart Verswijvel .
[approximate] transcript to the slide above:
2006 – I called this nanonpresentation ‘talk about TeachMeet’ because it is comprised of the words of those involved in TeachMeet over the years since 2006, and as you have just seen in the presentations from all over Europe, it is very much teachers sharing ideas for teachers, peer to peer. One thing I picked to highlight is that way back in 2006,even though TM was born of a desire to meet F2F and swap ideas, Ewan McIntosh [co-founder] was posting welcoming people to join in online via skype – always a man ahead of the posse! Quotes – “teachers sharing with teachers” and “Anyone in education is invited from around Scotland or beyond to this free event. If you are abroad and cannot make it in person but would like to join our live cast of the event then there’s space for you to“.
2009 – When I was scratching around the internet to outline the history of TM, one of the lightbulb moment was to see that even in a short 3 years, discussions among the TM community were reflective and self-evaluative, as in this comment by Tom Barrett in a conversation prompted by John Connell – the word that caught my eye was transformational, as this what is sought and held up as the highest award in the evaluation of professional development; quote – “I am not sure what the numbers are of people attending TeachMeets over the last few years but the ongoing success is surely an indication of grass roots change … real transformational change in the way that teachers perceive CPD that is very important – and not to be overlooked.”
2014 – In 2014, the TM community in Australia got together and did a workshop which led to them publishing a snapshot summary of where they were, and where they wanted to go in the future. They used the Starfish Versus Spider to examine TM as a leaderless organization. Pictured here is a list of features they reckoned would comprise the “DNA” of TM; quote – “a voluntary community, open to all, free of charge, multi-disciplinary, flexible and ‘open source’, egalitarian, a safe positive fun place, honest and authentic”
2016 – In 2016, the tenth anniversary / birthday of TM, an open call was put out asking people to send in their tales of the impact TM had had in their lives. I ran the answer through a human analytical machine [ME!];
Woven through these stories were were the sharing, inspiring, connecting and passion valued by the participants. Impact reported ranged from the simplest practical exchange of ideas for the classroom to the complex transformation within a community. The summary can be downloaded – perhaps some of you here were contributors – if you were, thank you;
2020 – So, one effect TM had on my life is that I am now doing a PHD on it! This time last year I began my PhD field work among the TM community – began at this event in fact, BETT TMs were the first where I switched from enthusiastic participant to cool neutral observer, the woman in the corner with the clipboard. I went to 15 – and the global COVID ‘stay at home’ meant half of these were f2f, half online. I also invited folk to take a short anonymous survey [302 answered], and I had interviews with 15 TM organisers. I am now working through the data contributed – not a spoiler to say it is rich;
The blue post-it shows a flavour of reason WHY given by the survey participants. The yellow note is a work in progress – scanning the 300+ definitions offered shows that TM is VERY personal to each participant, but this gives an idea of how the community sees it. In the pink heart to the right is something that has stopped me up everytime I read thru the interviews – I should say I am the sloooowest analyst in the business – and having listened to the tales here this evening, I think that it gets, excuse the pun, to the heart of the matter of TM.
“One of the biggest challenges we have as a profession, all down the years – teachers have been incredibly self-effacing…inclined to say ‘it’s just what I do’ … some are doing magic, and to get someone to stand up and share what they’re doing with others is a profoundly important professional affirmation. To have the privilege of hearing others talk about their experience, and to put out to you for your consideration some of the ideas that they have been working on…that’s a wonderful form of learning…because it comes from the heart, it’s targeted on the heart. And it’s about pedagogy. It’s about learning, it’s about teaching, it’s about kids. And all of these things come together in a very special way in the TeachMeet setting.” [interview extract]
Next Saturday is a stay at home version of one of the best gatherings of the year, CongRegation. Third weekend of November, Cong, Co. Mayo, Ireland. This is the brainchild of Eoin Kennedy, an unconference where conversations are shared in ‘huddles’, people swap perspectives over the day, and there is a variety of social beforemath and aftermath. Entry is via blog post, pre-sharing the story you will bring for discussion on the day. As a Chair, I will spend the day in a virtual space, listening and learning in a series of huddles – experiencing how it transfers to the differently connected space, and adapting to weaving gracefully (I hope) thru it is something I am looking forward to. The theme this year is Society 3.0 – ready to beam up, Eoin!
A brief personal insight on ‘society’, which arose as part of another conversation with a dear colleague and friend this week. I am a member of CESI, the Computers in Education Society of Ireland, one of many ‘subject associations‘ in Ireland. It is unique in many ways – until this year it didn’t have any specific subject or curriculum, rather a focus on any or all possible use of computers in education; it is one of the oldest – founded in 1974; it is a mix of educators from all levels and sectors, active and retired; and it is the only one which is a Society in name (most other teacher professional networks in Ireland are associations, network or cooperative). Althought I have been a CESI member and volunteer for a long time, the uniqueness of word in our name only struck me recently. It makes sense however – CESI events have always had a focus on workshop / discussion / let’s ty it out / show and tell over, and was one of the first groups in my experience in which online frank discussions, open to everyone, featured. CESI was personal learning network and community of practice before we knew those as entities. The current use of ‘online’ is not at new to us, we have been using it for housekeeping, planning meetings, and remote connecting to events for a long time before it became the only way currently possible. For me and many others the most common reason to try and get to annual conference and occasional CESI TeachMeets is the society atmosphere built in, the reminder of the wonder of spending personal time in the company of professional colleagues who are a joy to be with. Up with this sort of Society 😉