Some whole-school CPD can be misjudged, irrelevant and, often passive. Teachmeet provides the perfect antidote…

Teachmeet comes in many guises. The first I attended was a gathering of 10 teachers in a classroom. At the second there were 60, this time on board HMS Victory in Portsmouth. However, both gatherings were defined by the very simple concept of teachers sharing ideas and simultaneously building a professional learning network.

Presenters sign up to give a two, five or seven-minute presentation, usually on a subject associated with classroom practice. It is much the same as the TED model, where speakers must distil an idea into a defined timeframe. It is a challenge to engage and communicate in a short time but thrilling when someone gets it spot on.

Teachmeets are also radical, eschewing the “top down” model of continuing professional development (CPD). They’ve even been labelled as “unconferences” as there is no apparent hierarchy, no detailed agenda or materials and not a whisper about a school improvement plan. The idea derived from Harrison Owen’s idea in 2008 of “open space”, which argues there is greater productivity and creativity if a meeting is organic, fluid and offers space for reflection and spontaneous collaboration.

The atmosphere is unstintingly positive and anything seems possible

Why are they so popular? Teachers catch the Teachmeet bug. You can see the sparkle in their eyes during the coffee break and hear it in the conversations.

In some schools, teaching can be isolating. Recently, I moved back to the classroom after stints in middle leadership, naively thinking it would be easier to balance my work with other commitments. With six lessons a day and the usual marking and preparation, I felt very lonely.

As a leader, it’s your job to talk to your staff all day. As a teacher, you talk to the students, but can miss the stimulation of talking about your profession. So my first Teachmeet oxygenated my drive to explore the possibilities of education and connect with brilliant people. There can be an inertia in some whole-school CPD. It might be misjudged, irrelevant and, often passive. Here was the antidote. I could follow my own path was propelled by my own motivation. And I could participate.

So what impact do they have? As the evidence is mainly anecdotal, here are some observations supported by input from fellow Teachmeet facilitators.

1. There is a tangible impact on well-being, or “the Teachmeet bounce”. The atmosphere is unstintingly positive and anything seems possible.

2. Teachers leave armed with two or three practical ideas, some of which I have tried the next day: high order questions written on paper aeroplanes, “Poundland” pedagogy and flipped learning.

3. Teachmeet-style presentations are used increasingly in whole-school CPD.

4. They allow individuals to build a professional or knowledge network (or staffroom) that provides a new route to career development and promotion.

5. Collaborative projects can evolve. Where local authorities may have facilitated links between schools in the past, Teachmeet now provides this space. At Teachmeet Pompey, I met a museum educator and went on to collaborate on a six-week project to improve boys’ engagement with writing.

The future for Teachmeet looks bright. Already, the movement has influenced the development of more ambitious conferences such as Pedagoo London, Pedagoo Southwest, Northern Rocks, ResearchED and the Teaching and Learning Takeover. Arguably, these events are a different breed, so what lies ahead for the “pure” Teachmeet?

I think that they will proliferate and influence CPD in schools. More teachers will get involved and they will become a mainstream part of CPD instead of an obscure club. They will likely also attract more sponsorship as corporations realise the power of reaching this audience.

There is also potential to connect teachers with other sectors such as museums and heritage, business and enterprise, and community organisations. In the spaces between those compelling presentations, projects can develop to improve educational outcomes for young people, and build strong links in our communities.

So find out where your next local Teachmeet is. I bet you catch the bug.

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Naomi Ward is a former teacher and the founder of ConnectED