SLF09 Post 2: TeachMeet – is there a time to break the the rules?
Sep 27th, 2009 by H-Blog

This is a post which I was saving for later, because it seemed to make sense to talk about the Scottish Learning Festival and TeachMeet before doing any kind of analysis. However, as we all know, best laid plans gang aft a-gley; in this instance because I went to read this post on John Connell’s blog, which directed me to read this other post first. As it turns out, I felt a need to comment on the first post, and the responses from Neil Winton and Ewan McIntosh, but instead of a short response to a blog post, I found myself writing and writing, and wandering further and further from the original point. So much so, that not only did I decide to turn it into a blog post in its own right, but I also still haven’t managed to read the post I went to read in the first place! (I’ll get to it later!!!). Who knew I had so much to say???

For those of you who might not know about TeachMeet, here’s a quick explanation for you by Tim and Moby as premiered at TMSLF09 (the TeachMeet fringe event of the Scottish Learning Festival this year).

Tim and Moby explain about TeachMeet

Now, it’s fair to say that I am a huge TeachMeet fan – and evangelist too – and have been since my first one at the Glasgow Science Centre. They are an amazing thing to witness; events put together and attended by enthusiastic and committed members of the education community, and I have learned so much from each and every one I have attended. It’s easy to see why TeachMeet continues to expand. The format is really something – short, snappy presentations mean that even if the presentation that’s on has absolutely zero relevance for you, something else will be along in about 6 and a half minutes, and you can talk to the person next to you while you’re waiting anyway. Learning conversations, round tables, breakouts, distance presentations – all help to mix it up a bit and of course the ‘intervals’ are good too.

While this all might seem easy and obvious to come up with, it clearly wasn’t. The innovation and imagination to come up with the TeachMeet model is something we should all be very grateful to its architects for. It is an unconference – meant to be subversive and a bit ramshackle as Ewan points out in his comment on John’s post. Something that is a bit different to the conferences or talks that we are all sent along to on a fairly regular basis. All in all, TeachMeet creates a very special atmosphere or spirit amongst those attending (and even some of those who aren’t).

And it is this spirit, surely, that is TeachMeet’s strength. Whilst rules have been put in place to create the event and indeed this atmosphere, clearly an evolution has now occurred. Is there a point at which the rules stop being part of the solution and start becoming part of the problem?

I watched the other night as 2 different presentations ran close to their allotted 7 minutes. Both presentations had clearly struck a chord with the audience and had everyone engaged. They weren’t going to last 15 minutes, or even 10, but both needed perhaps 7 and a half or 8 minutes to come to their natural, elegant and effective conclusions. So, decision time: do we allow these brilliant presentations to over run slightly, or do we cut them off in an abrupt manner citing the Jobsworth Mantra (“Them’s the rules……”)?

My own feeling would be that we can be flexible, and afford them that little bit of extra time – it is, after all, our time we are giving – and indeed this seemed to be the prevalent attitude on the night. However, I know that there are those who think that a rule is there to be enforced. Is this what the original organisers of TeachMeet intended? Somehow I doubt it (although I am willing to hear that I am wrong on that issue).

On top of all that, at the moment, we (inadvertently?) put up a number of barriers to participation for the non-tech-savvy classroom practitioner. Apart from the fact that the TeachMeet blurb – and indeed the logo – have a strong focus on technology, there is the way we market and administrate the event itself to consider. How do you know when the next TeachMeet is coming up? Check the wiki? Keep an eye on Twitter? Read blogs? And if you want to go? Easy – sign up on the wiki. All this when there are still teachers – and good teachers at that – who through no fault of their own may struggle to access an e-mail.

A related Twitter conversation has been going on recently regarding the subject matter of TeachMeet presentations. The model has proven successful so far, but are we currently ‘preaching to the choir’ by focussing on technology? We have asked how we can widen the TeachMeet audience, and perhaps opening up the subject matter is a way to go? A sustainable ‘family’ of TeachMeets after all, do not need to have the same people attending. We have seen a number of distinct TeachMeets evolve already: TeachMeet ASN, TeachMeet Physics, TeachMeet Student Edition and even TeachMeet Mac!   Surely a mix of Primary TeachMeets, Subject-based TeachMeets (I have heard rumours of a Techie TeachMeet for months, and I would also have thought Geography would have been right in there….) and local authority based TeachMeets such as that suggested by some teachers in Falkirk would be a good and sustainable way to move forward. Add in the ‘spinoff’ events like LeadMeet, GregMeet and even BeerMeet, and that adds up to a pretty healthy  and varied scene.

So, is it time to relax the rules a bit? Throw things open to a bit more innovation and adaptation, in the TeachMeet tradition? Perhaps if we do this, the TeachMeet alternative that John talks about may just show up itself. But to do this, the enthusiasts and forward thinkers need to know that it’s ok to try things out and to make mistakes, and that by doing so they are not going to annoy, upset or even offend others in the education community, particularly those who came up with the original concept and those who have helped build it into what it is today. After all, we don’t want TeachMeet to turn into the precious crockery that’s never used and just for looking at.

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