The virtual staffroom

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
DIY training: TES website forums are packed with resources and informal CPD

Would you like "true peer support and peer planning, and professional development" made easy? Can every teacher's idea of nirvana really exist? Yes, The TES website's staffroom is available 247, 365 days a year and is hugely popular.

Peecee's love of The TES staffroom is pretty typical: "I've found empathy, humour, debates, great websites, camaraderie, and satisfaction in knowing I'm not the only one that crazy stupid things happen to. I've sorted out my TLRs, thresholds, whiteboard, and planning (well, I'm getting there). I've shared oodles of resources and gained oodles as well. I have to admit, I'm addicted."

Let me tell you about this fantastic resource for professional development.

The TES staffroom is a massive place, although it feels cosy, as if you're listening to real friends. Anyone can pop in and an astonishing 130,000 people do so each week, viewing 2.3 million pages. Lots of them just read: kmay83 says "even though I don't post here very often, I read most nights".

To post a message you join the 137,881 people who have registered. There are between 5,000 and 7,000 postings a day, with more than 600 an hour at the peak times between 4 and 5pm and from 7pm to midnight. Bill Hicks, editor of the website, is justly proud: "After five years of struggle, the forums are now an indispensable part of the fabric of UK education."

Registering is easy - the hardest part is choosing a witty username that hides your true identity. Some of the site's success must be down to the freedom that comes with this anonymity. People can ask the questions that they'd be too embarrassed to raise elsewhere.

There are 50 virtual corners of the staffroom where people with the same interests hang out. As well as different forums for 19 subjects, there's a place for every type of school staff - not just teachers, but trainees, admin, teaching assistants and governors as well. Scotland and Wales have their own patches. Bill Hicks reckons: "They're one of the few places where teachers and support staff can say what they need to say about their own jobs and the world beyond, where anyone in education with a problem can seek and usually find help from their peers or from experts, and where anyone with an educational axe to grind can get their 15 seconds of fame."

Some parts of the staffroom have "experts" popping in to give advice. I led the way with the newly qualified teacher forum, Selwyn Ward advises teachers panicked by the imminence of inspection, and Joan Sallis answers governors' questions from the forum. Oriel, who looks after the graduate and overseas teacher programme section, says: "The way everyone is so quick to share experiences and help other trainees is wonderful."

Schools can be lonely places where people don't have time to have professional conversations or share fantastic resources. But the posters on the forum are the very opposite. Want some ideas for tomorrow's lesson? Ask and you'll get 10 top tips in no time, as well as worksheets and links to websites. Fiona Duncan, head of English at Longdean school in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, describes it as a real learning community, "a kind of multi-coloured swap shop of ideas and resources". This has become formalised in the new TES Resource Bank, an area where people can share materials and recommend resources and web pages.

Ronan Dunne, deputy at St Gregory's primary school in Liverpool, is one of the many regulars giving so generously of resources and advice that he's seen as one of the saints of the staffroom. A self-confessed addict, he says: "I've spoken to literally thousands of people by email and getting on for a hundred on the phone. This has broadened my horizons, educated me, challenged me, stretched me, and given me a window into hundreds of other schools."

Fiona Duncan agrees: "It's nice to receive emails from people outside your daily sphere telling you how much they enjoyedwelcomed your resources.

We're now getting to the stage where we recognise our work in others'

schemes. I love it. It's what makes teaching great."

It's often said that the best thing about courses is meeting other people.

Nowhere is this social side seen more than in the busiest parts of the staffroom: opinion and personal. Here you can have a chat, put the world to rights, do some verbal sparring, play games and have a drink at Bauble's bar. As Miss Communicate says, it's great to have "a place to go and have a giggle without having to leave the house". Many friendships and even romances have blossomed in this way. Egyptiangirl has gained, and given, heaps of ideas and advice on many topics including job applications - and bagged a brilliant boyfriend to boot.

You can't say that about many courses.

Next week: More DIY training *

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