I’m writing this as an addendum to my original post from June 2011 following my 2nd Teachmeet, having now organised and been involved with a lot more since. I’m updating this post following reading the synopsis of what is required for a teachmeet that Ross McGill has placed on the TES resources site here.
I’ve organised and been involved with many Teachmeet events in recent years and so I have a fair idea of what a Teachmeet should be about and how to make it a good event for those that are attending.
The common definition of a TeachMeet can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TeachMeet where it states:
“A TeachMeet is an organised but informal meeting (in the style of an unconference) for teachers to share good practice, practical innovations and personal insights in teaching with technology. These events are often organised to coincide with other educational events like the Scottish Learning Festival and the British Educational Technology and Training Show BETT.
TeachMeet events are open to all and do not charge an entry fee.”
It was the case until recently that I really agreed with this statement, however with things being organic, Teachmeets have been pretty much developed over time to change from the events that they once were; teachers getting together and informally exchanging ideas and learning from each other, to some actually simply HUGE events which take on board the needs of a wide range of attendees offering world class teaching and learning professional development opportunities. Take for example the last Teachmeet Clevedon event: we had more than 200 people attending, from places as wide ranging as Swansea, London, Yorkshire, Isle of Wight and Jersey and we even had one speaker Skype in from Jakarta. Couple this with speakers who are world class in terms of their conference and delivery experience in the CPD world. Add in too that attendees were as wide ranging in their backgrounds as to be PGCE students, HeadTeachers, Governors, Primary teachers, Secondary teachers – the original idea of a Teachmeet with some people getting together to informally share some ideas, probably over a pint, has changed somewhat!
So what do we do? How has this happened? What’s the future of ‘Teachmeet’?
Certainly much of my original advice below still stands and I wholeheartedly concur that Teachmeets should NOT be discussions about purely technology. My original essential ingredients I have found to get a good TeachMeet are below (where I’ve added or changed things for 2013, check the red):
- The first rule of TeachMeet is TALK ABOUT TEACHMEET! << Still concur with this
- Get good speakers and find a good venue – anticipate numbers of delegates and book a location suitable for their needs. A massive hall might be nice, but if you can’t fill it, the speakers won’t feel too good. By the same token, a room that is full up isn’t going to be suitable as a venue either. Plan! << Still concur with this
- Have a good compere who ‘knows’ the speakers who can introduce them while they get set up << This is essential
- Don’t be too hung up on timings, but certainly don’t let people hog the stage << Disagree now. Keep people to their timings. These are professional teachers talking on stage. They should be able to keep to time!
- Get some sponsorship – despite these being brilliant events, teachers give up their spare time to attend TeachMeets and an incentive always help << Sponsorship really does help run the event, but as they become much larger events, sponsorship quite simply isn’t enough – more on this later
- Intersperse the event with time to network << this is so important. How often will this number of teachers be able to get together and share? One of the best bits of our Teachmeet is always the drink and chat down the pub afterwards. We try to intersperse the night with networking opportunities, but keeping the event to time and then ensuring it finishes in a timely fashion will ensure there is time afterwards for the chat, debrief and breaking down of ideas to happen. Perhaps rather that have drinks at the local afterwards, why not set up a bar for those discussions to happen in the same venue?
- Offer food and drink – most events are in the evening and delegates will appreciate this << some food is really important. Teachmeets are normally held on school days, so the opportunity to get some grub in, especially as many will have come to the event straight from school, is really important – this is where finances help immeasurably too. We manage to get some really good food sorted in house on £3-4 per head but when you have 200+ people turning up, this is not a cheap endeavour.
- Promote the event relentlessly on Twitter, email and posters in Staff rooms of local schools << word of mouth will spread the word of a good event. Use your networks to promote the event and get a good & concise hashtag. Tweet space is a premium!
- Get sponsors to pay for food / drink / promotion << but with large events – do you want lots of companies there, touting their wares, just to get some money in to pay for the event? Will attendees appreciate having lots of sponsors there?
- Give the event a ‘hook’ that will inspire delegates to attend but not limit speakers << certainly “Juicy Learning”, “Learning Rocks” etc have helped to give Teachmeet Clevedon a real focus in the way in which the event has been approached and the types of talks that have been given
- Get help – you can’t do it all yourself << yes, yes, YES! I couldn’t do everything that is required by myself. I am so lucky to have so many students and colleagues willing to give up their time to help the event run smoothly. Students in the car park, meeting and greeting, dealing with queries about wifi, tickets, collating names for the prize draw, filming talks and seminars, so forth and so on. I am so grateful for the massive support of the staff and students who give up their time to help out.
- Use the Classtools random name generator to pick speakers << disagree with this now. I think, it is much more potent to actually marry up the speakers in to an order which helps to break up the different types of talks being delivered and to ensure that the event has a broad section of talks. Again, keeping speakers to time is key in ensuring everyone who is talking, gets to talk. Involvement with the forthcoming Teachmeet BETT where anyone can get to put their name down, but not necessarily get the opportunity to speak is not something that I necessarily agree with. Giving the event a specific hook and making sure that the speakers marry their talks with that theme, is something that I think we’ll be looking to do further and definitely not being technology specific but more broad teaching and learning themes related to the hook of the event. In addition, taking inspiration from Teachmeet New York and other international events and in the vein of TLAB13 asking speakers to apply to speak at the event.
- Use the Twitter back channel and give the event a good hashtag prior to the event, e.g. #tmclevedon #tmbett #tmm11 << have I said this before?
- Show at intervals during the night what people are Tweeting about the event – this will help draw live feedback about the event and could promote discussion << a Twitter wall has proven to be reasonably popular in previous events, although to make space for more delegates at our most recent event, we decided to not have one. We didn’t miss it. No comment was made from delegates either.
- Prepare the tech beforehand – have a decent machine for people to demonstrate via, decent projector, decent sound / mics if needed << tech support on hand at the event is key. Someone who has access to the administrator tools across the network of your chosen location and who has extensive skills is a massive bonus at the event and can problem solve issues on the fly, should they occur. We also have a lighting technician on hand to set up the event before hand and control the lights as the event takes place. This really help set the tone for the event to be extra special.
- Have a wireless feed handy so delegates can tweet / blog, live from the event << decent wifi is absolutely 100% essential for a successful event. Delegates expect it, although normally blissfully unaware of what is required to actually have a seriously good wifi network in place. Make sure you have it.
- Stream the event via a service such as Webex so that people who cannot attend for reasons such as Geography, can. << Experience has proven that the live feeds simply do not work. They look awful for the viewer, often go down and require someone to be on the case with keeping an eye on it all the time for the whole night, it is not cost effective and is simply not worth the time (sometimes money) and effort. What we have found to be really worthwhile is to have colleagues film the presentations live using iPads and then for them to be uploaded straight to YouTube on to the Teachmeet YouTube channel. Great for watching back and great as a resource to refer to in the future. Recommended.
- Take time out as organiser to enjoy the night yourself << don’t put too much pressure on yourself; it’s good to talk if you want to, but don’t feel like you have to << I still love compering and I still love talking too – don’t feel compelled to talk however if you don’t want to. Being a good compere takes up a lot of focus and requires it too.
- Follow up the event by saving the Twitter hashtag feed from the event and blogging it yourself as a record of what delegates have said about the event. << I use a tool called ‘the archivist’ to archive Tweets from the event and I always follow up with a blog after the event and share this on this site.
- I would also say, make the very best use of the TeachMeet wiki to let people know what is happening at the event, what the rules are, show who is sponsoring the event, what to expect, so forth and so on. For great examples, just check the TeachMeet wiki and check some of the events that are already up there. A Google Map on there to help people find the location of the event (as well as the postcode for the location) is always VERY helpful too! Once you’ve created your Wiki page – get it promoted on Facebook too – visit this address and fill in the form: https://spreadsheets.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dHBkLXg3cVVnTThnLXItYXJJdVRSRUE6MQ – thank you to @OliverQuinlan who does this to help everyone in his own time. Check his blog here. << Following on from something Ross has on his post that I’m working on at the moment is that rather than using my blog as the central place for recording things post event, I am working on developing a site which is specific to our Teachmeet. In future, this will be the central hub for our Teachmeet event and will contain all of the videos from all of our events.
- I would also recommend getting your TeachMeet event listed in the TES – you can do this either by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or tweeting details to @todayilike on Twitter
In addition to the above, we have moved our Teachmeet model on considerably. Last time we had a keynote speaker of national renown in the form of the brilliant Vic Goddard. We had seminars on offer from some of the best CPD leaders in the country with food prepared by students but led by a top chef and some fantastic Teachmeet style 5 and 2 minute presentations from some brilliant local speakers – evidence of which can be found on the TMClevedon YouTube channel.
This all leads me on to this question really. With all of the developments and progressions with Teachmeet events over the time frame from when they were first born. Are the proposals and elements discussed above still a Teachmeet? Many people I suspect would say no. I also want to ask the question about what you think about asking attendees to these events paying a nominal fee for their attendance. It’s been put to me, that putting on events such as Teachmeet Clevedon aren’t sustainable any more with some of the finances coming from the school. This would mean that we would have to seek further sponsorship, something which we haven’t done in the past. We’ve only sought sponsorship from two or three sources to keep it to a minimum. Previously, some of the costs of the event were soaked up by sponsorship of the event, primarily by very generous donations both from Crown House Publishing and Clevedon School. The ask from attendees wouldn’t be much, but with an event with more than 200 people attending, who also regularly chop and change their decision to attend, because it is seen as an informal event, makes the actual administration and organisation of it quite difficult. In organising our last Teachmeet I was regularly fixing and sorting upwards of 50 different queries related to attendance a week, across a 6 week period in the run up to the event. I feel that if I was to ask people to contribute a nominal amount to book their place for the event and to cover the costs of the food and other costs related to the event the chopping and the changing wouldn’t happen. Also, when people ‘cancel’ their ticket – it isn’t just a tweet saying I can’t come, they go through the full process of cancelling their ticket properly on the ticketing site to get back their x amount for the ticket, thus actually freeing it up for another attendee. So, to finish off this post, coupling with the advice above I guess I’m asking a few questions….
Has the Teachmeet moved forward to where this is the model of what a modern Teachmeet is?
Does an event like I’m describing above still constitute a Teachmeet or does it need a different name?
Is it fair to ask a teacher to pay somewhere between £5-10 for a quality CPD event, with seminars, speakers and traditional Teachmeet sessions with food and drink or should this be free?
Would you be prepared to part with a bit of cash for a quality evening of CPD and networking?
I look forward to your thoughts and comments.