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TeachMeet – The Story So Far…..
May 25th, 2010 by H-Blog

I was recently invited to write an article on TeachMeets for the School Leaders Scotland “Scottish Leader” magazine, and it was fascinating to do. I learned so much doing it, and promised to post the article on my blog (the article was produced under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share-Alike license). With the #tmfuture debate starting off tonight, I felt it may be an opportune moment to post it – so here goes!

TeachMeet – the story so far.

Have you ever heard of TeachMeet? Realistically speaking, unless you are a bit of a technophile or have attended either the Scottish Learning Festival or the BETT conferences and kept your ear to the ground then the answer is probably “No.”

But the signs are clear – that’s all likely to change, and probably very soon. There’s a revolution coming, and its name is TeachMeet.

But what exactly is TeachMeet?

Tim and Moby show off the range of TeachMeets currently on the wiki

Tim and Moby appear courtesy of BrainPop UK, all rights reserved.

Tim and Moby show off the range of TeachMeets currently on the wiki

Image courtesy of Iain Hallahan http://h-blog.me.uk and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share-Alike license

The best – and simplest – explanation I have heard of TeachMeet is the one given by Tim and Moby of BrainPop in their movie explaining what TeachMeet is: “It’s like Show and Tell for teachers.” That is to say, it is a model of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) which involves those attending as participants in delivering the training as well as receiving it. When signing up for the event, those who are willing to do so volunteer to give a short presentation on something they have been doing or finding out about, and at the event talks are selected totally at random. Generally at a TeachMeet, these presentations come in two lengths – 7 minute ‘micro’ presentations or two minute ‘nano’ presentations. This allows for short, dynamic delivery meaning that a greater number of presentations can be delivered in a short time, as well as reducing the likelihood of spectator disengagement; should a topic not be of interest to them, it is only a matter of minutes till something else is being discussed.

Of course, if there is a presentation that doesn’t interest you or apply to you, there are loads of things you could do instead – you can always talk to the person next to you, check out the online tool the last presenter was talking about, tweet or blog your thoughts about the event so far or even grab yourself a beer and some nibbles. Perhaps you could even join the virtual participants of the TeachMeet in the FlashMeeting or video conference and say hello? All of these things are actively encouraged at TeachMeets – whilst somewhat less formalised than many other CPD events, TeachMeets aim to be equally effective, if not more so.

From humble beginnings in Scotland during 2005, TeachMeet has both grown and spread very quickly. Originally running twice yearly (once in Edinburgh, once in Glasgow) there are now numerous TeachMeets each year; 2009 saw at least 20 TeachMeets , whilst there are already 20 TeachMeets run or planned for this year – and it’s only March.

Similarly, whilst Glasgow and Edinburgh were the original venues, TeachMeets have now taken part in (amongst other places) Yorkshire & Humber, Sussex & Kent, Moosejaw in Canada, Galashiels, Stockholm, Orlando, Newcastle, London, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Falkirk, Wrexham, Blackpool, East Lothian, Stirling, Perth, Oxford…… the list goes on and on. There have also been TeachMeets run purely online, and also using mobile devices. There is even a virtual TeachMeet planned to run in Second Life.

TeachMeet feedback from Twitter

Image courtesy of Iain Hallahan http://h-blog.me.uk and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share-Alike license

Looking at the number and range of TeachMeets, it is fair to say that the concept has truly established itself in the world of twenty first century education, and when you examine the feedback from those who have attended TeachMeets, you can see the effect they have on people. Sinclair Mackenzie, a Physics teacher from Thurso, writes “Have attended three TeachMeets in person, and many by FlashMeeting. TeachMeets promote long-range collegiality beyond your local goldfish bowl”, whilst Neil Winton of Perth Academy says that Teachmeets are “proof that we always have something new to learn, and something new to teach……and that not all teachers are cynical!!!” A recently qualified teacher from Falkirk, Cassie Law, states that the first TeachMeet she attended was “the best CPD experience of my probationary year. Great to hear about other people’s experiences, and it put my mind at rest”, whilst Jim Maloney from Blackpool recounts the effect that their first TeachMeet had on a Head Teacher from his authority, who said “The greatest impact on teaching and learning in my school in the shortest space of time. We are now reaping the rewards and our learners are more engaged in the learning process, and this has impacted on engaging parents too”. Jim goes on to say that the HT is now “TeachMeet’s biggest advocate in the borough. She raves about it.”

So where did TeachMeet come from? The idea originated with three Scottish educators – Ewan McIntosh, David Noble and John Johnston – who knew each other online, but had never met face to face until SETT (the precursor to the Scottish Learning Festival) in 2005. After their initial meeting, there was a desire to meet up again regularly to catch up on what they had been up to, particularly with regards to how they were using new technologies in education. When the eLive conference was going to be in Edinburgh in May 2006, another meeting was proposed and this time 10 people signed up (with another 8 sending apologies!) and in the Jolly Judge pub in Edinburgh a legend was born – although the name TeachMeet didn’t arrive till later.

In the Jolly Judge, for what has come to be regarded as the first TeachMeet

Image courtesy of Ewan McIntosh http://edu.blogs.com and is licensed under a Creative Commons Non Commercial license

Identified by many as the driving energy behind TeachMeet, Ewan recalls how the first meeting of these online colleagues led to the desire to come back and discuss what they had been up to since. “What we ended up with was a kind of regular event that we could have where people were sharing stories and trying to share some practice as well, but in a really laid-back, informal environment”. John backs this feeling up, recollecting an optimism among the attendees and a connection that was hard to achieve at the time – “It brought about a very powerful feeling of togetherness, especially as there was little networking about technology, very few Bloggers and no Twitter, so one could feel quite isolated.” David remembers the early TeachMeets being cosy affairs, but that they were still pushing the boundaries even back then “We were having presentations on Skype, and that was four years ago!!!”

Spot the difference? TeachMeet BETT 2010

Image courtesy of Ian Usher http://www.flickr.com/photos/ush/ and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike license

Although much of this will sound familiar to TeachMeeteers today, there are many differences as well. As has been discussed, there are now many more TeachMeets and they are spread out nationwide, internationally and even globally. But beyond that, the TeachMeet model is evolving; over the last year or two, educators have begun to put their own stamp on it in a number of ways. Perth hosted the first stand-alone TeachMeet (the others all having been fringe events of something or other) as well as the first subject based TeachMeet (Physics, if you’re interested). Since then there have been Student TeachMeets, online TeachMeets, TeachMeets for Mac users, GregMeet and even TreeMeet! “The evolutions of it are essential to continuing to survive, otherwise it becomes irrelevant,” says Ewan, continuing “TeachMeet was never about technology 100%, it was about the Teach first of all, and the tech was instrumental to achieving what we wanted to achieve pedagogically and never the other way around.”

Both John and David are also keen advocates of the evolution of TeachMeet. “I think they are already becoming less techy and more about teaching,” says John. “Evolution needs different models to choose survivors from. I think the Islay conference sounded great, while TeachMeet Falkirk and TeachMeet East Lothian brought in a new local audience. I very much enjoyed Con’s LeadMeet.” David agrees. “I think anyone who is interested in the evolution of the TeachMeet idea should really go back and look at the LeadMeet which was organised in the middle of last year by Con Morris, around the Scottish International Summer School on School Leadership. Various things were tried out there which I found put a smile on the face of every participant for the entire night, just trying out some great new ideas for involving you, particularly in getting conversations going.” Given the success of LeadMeet09, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for LeadMeet10!

The famous LeadMeet “Lego Leader” task and Leadership Wordl

Images courtesy of Mike Coulter http://mikecoulter.com/ and licensed under a Creative Commons Non Commercial license

Wordle image courtesy of http://www.wordle.net/ and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License

And so the TeachMeet story continues. But there are challenges. John feels there is a danger that TeachMeet might be in danger of becoming too mainstream, not different enough, or too dependent on sponsorship. “There’s also the possibility that it might become too self congratulatory, self-satisfied and less innocent.” Ewan agrees. “When I’ve been running events it’s been as irreverent as possible, in a bid to distance itself from the hierarchies we’re used to, and the reason for doing that is to try and generate alternative discussion to what we’re used to.” He also feels that the TeachMeet ‘brand’ may need some protection from commercial exploitation, and is instead investigating ways to use the revenue generating potential of TeachMeet to further the model elsewhere in the world, places where having a TeachMeet would not be so easy, but that the benefits of such an event could be massive.

“I think my main concern is that it needs to diversify beyond the very large, but still very ‘niche’ group that attend it.” says Ewan. He suggests a Jamie Oliver-esque ‘Pass it On’ approach, where anyone who has attended a TeachMeet has to bring three of their non-TeachMeet friends along to the next one. “If we all did that twenty five times over, we would have the whole of Europe having been to a TeachMeet, and that could be a very powerful thing for education.” Of course, if the leaders of schools were to take up the cause and organise school-level, cluster-level or authority level TeachMeets, that target could become a lot easier to achieve, so why not take up the challenge and help shape the future?

Links

The TeachMeet wiki where you can find out all about upcoming TeachMeets, previous TeachMeets (and even how to organise one of your own!) is here – http://teachmeet.pbworks.com/

John Johnston gives a potted, personal history of TeachMeet at the beginning of this video – http://johnjohnston.info/blog/archive/2009/11/24/teachmeet-falkirk-09-video

The full audio of the Ewan McIntosh TeachMeet interview is available here –

http://edutalk.cc/edutalk365-66-iain-hallahan-speaks-to-ewan-mc

David Noble reflects on TeachMeet here –

http://audioboo.fm/boos/110917-david-noble-reflects-on-teachmeet

The LeadMeet Wordle of leadership characteristics is here –

http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/1022729/Leadmeet_09_Final

Iain’s TeachMeet weblinks can be found here – http://delicious.com/IainH/teachmeet

Iain would like to thank the following people for their help with writing this article:

Eylan Ezekiel, Chris Bradford, Tim, Moby and everyone at BrainPop UK for the Tim & Moby image, as well as their TeachMeet movie.

Stuart Meldrum, Alan Hamilton, Pete Mulvey, Danny Nicholson, Chris Ratcliffe, Kevin McLaughlin, Sarah Brownsword, Sinclair Mackenzie, Neil Winton, Cassie Law, Jim Maloney and everyone else on Twitter who responded to the #tmtwt appeal

Ewan McIntosh, Ian Usher and Mike Coulter for the use of their images, as well as David Muir, Robert Hill and Andrew Brown for saying it was OK to use the photo with them in it!

Con Morris and Margaret Alcorn for the opportunity to write this.

And of course, the original Three TeachMeeteers – John Johnston, David Noble and Ewan McIntosh – for not only bringing us what became TeachMeet in the first place but for the amazing help they gave me in writing this article

Due to licensing conditions, this article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share-Alike license


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