Ideas meetings are nothing new - now let's use them well

3rd June 2011 at 01:00
The chance for pupils to put their heads together is a no-brainer we must exploit

I recently attended an in-service meeting about how to organise ideas conferences for teachers. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but unfortunately it turned out to be something of a greetin' meetin'.

Colleagues tell of similar experiences. Yet, in other sectors, ideas conferences have become quite popular and productive. The aim is to bring workers together to generate improvements for the organisations they serve.

While working in America, I had an opportunity to participate in a "thought leadership symposium" which, if nothing else, equips you with useful terminology for a job as an education officer or government adviser.

At my "thought leadership symposium" I heard people talk about "parking their thoughts", "raising anchors" and producing "thought grenades" (explosive good ideas).

There was also reference to "blamestorming" (passing the buck) and "sunsetting ideas" (improbable ideas which shouldn't see the light of day).

In Japan, where I have also worked, I took part in several of those "Quality Circles" which are dedicated to making continuous improvements within schools or other organisations. QCs are an excellent idea but the Japanese ones, in my view, involve too much talking and not enough improving.

Then there are those annual TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conferences which are dedicated to highlighting "ideas worth spreading". Jamie Oliver received $100,000 (pound;61,000) from TED to help him improve school dinners.

Some education authorities, meanwhile, are spending large amounts of money encouraging schools to set up Professional Learning Communities in which groups of teachers get together to support each other. I thought we were already doing this quite satisfactorily!

But ideas meetings are nothing new. I remember reading somewhere about the "Poker Club", which David Hume, Adam Smith and other prominent figures of the Scottish Enlightenment attended.

Teachers certainly require more opportunities to get together for fruitful discussions. Indeed my "big idea" is that we also provide pupils with opportunities to meet and generate ideas for improving their schools and communities.

Pupil conferences would provide our young people with an ideal opportunity to learn how to present their ideas in a clear and logical way and to deal with the scrutiny and scepticism of their peers and teachers. At the same time, pupils would learn how to organise meetings, delegate tasks, listen to others and master all those other skills which will equip them for future life, work and, of course, meetings.

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