Last May, I approached three people I had never met or seen before about organising and hosting a “TeachMeet”. If you haven’t come across this term before, it essentially means a gathering of teaching professionals to share ideas for use in the classroom. The concept began a number of years ago, when Ewan Macintosh and several others met in a pub after work for a discussion about the latest pedagogical developments in their respective classrooms. Since then, it has become something of an educational movement, spawning the likes of TeachMeet BETT and TeachMeet London (which I will be attending in a few weeks). The catalyst for its explosion has undoubtedly been social media and particularly twitter. The organic, grassroots nature of the teachmeet has appealed to many and now a plethora are available to sign up for.
Ours would be called “TeachMeet History Icons”. Identifying a need for a teachmeet exclusively for history teachers, I looked to Leanne Davison, Kate Jones and Sean McDermott (from left to right, with me furthest left). Kate, a History teacher and subject leader in North Wales with a passion for sharing child-centric teaching ideas has gathered an impressive array of social media followers through her “@87history” account. Sean, a latecomer into the teaching circuit after previously working in the insurance sector, struck me as a friendly, supportive and humorous character from his interactions on Twitter. Leanne was the final piece in the jigsaw, being a young head of history and developing leader with a gushing enthusiasm for anything teaching and learning. Meeting them all confirmed my impressions of them as sincere professionals with a passion for developing their own and others practice in the classroom. The great thing about twitter is that making contact with these people was incredibly easy. The accessibility of teacher networks has never been so open.
We met for the first time last July to plan our event and chose a venue. We approached Russel Tarr to be our keynote speaker. Russel is most well-known for founding the educational web platforms Active History and Class Tools as well as a public spat with Michael Gove in the infamous “Mr Men” scrap. Beyond that, he is also an established speaker and writer on all issues relating to history teaching.
The fact Russel was immediately keen to get involved, despite the fact he teaches at the International School of Toulouse in France and knew that we couldn’t even pay for his flights, was as surprising as it was amazing. We were delighted. Russel is history teaching royalty and interest in the event increased substantially as a result of his involvement.
Our next challenge was to find the corporate sponsors to ensure the event could be free for all teachers, sticking with the core vision we had for the day and that of teachmeets in general. David Mcdermott and his teacher coaching company, HTX, were first on board. They were followed by educational travel companies Esprit Tours and Travel Places. Our final key sponsor was the inspirational Kevin Hicks and his wife Julie, the faces behind the History education company “Squaducation”. Businesses linked to education sometimes get a bad press, but it just shows how willing many are to get involved in helping teachers to help their students.
We soon had more than 100 teachers signed up for the event and more than 15 presenters. As the event approached, some did pull out, which is one of the unfortunate side effects of making something free. Despite that, we still ended up with 70 teachers turning up, a perfect number to create the atmosphere we wanted. Amongst that cohort were Dave Wallbanks, previously involved with popular history website Schools History and Scott Allsop, the creator of the website Mr Allsop History.
Our sponsors presented first on the day and then it was time for us hosts to step up to the plate. Kate shared a plethora of ideas, including her use of Poundland pedagogy and SPaG police. Sean discussed his classroom pilot of flipped learning. Leanne talked about her classroom help stations and how she tries to promote independence and resilience amongst her students. I talked about my favourite history starters, including the use of coins, historical photographs and primary sources.
Russel Tarr began his keynote speech after a fantastic lunch. It was a brilliant presentation and everything that we hoped it would be. Amongst the more humorous ideas was his egg head challenge and history memes. The serious stuff included an amazing guessing game for students when studying appeasement, asking them to predict the opinions of the British public in the 1930s using original data and the fabulous use of Pavel Maria Smejkal’s collection “fatescapes”, asking students to identify famous historical photographs with the central image removed. My favourite was Tiananmen Square without the protest. Russel received rapturous applause. It was then time for the other teachmeet presenters, limited to seven minutes each in traditional teach meet style, to present. There were some wonderful contributions from the likes of Victoria Hewitt, Carol Stobbs, Katie Hunter, Dave Stacey, Claire Bracher and Alex Fairlamb.
For me, the event reminded me of the incredible teaching talent pool in the UK. I spent most of the day wishing I was a student in one of these teachers’ classrooms. Teachers are sometimes painted by those outside (and some inside!) the profession as a bitter and self-pitying bunch but this showed how inaccurate that portrayal is. There are so many teachers out there as fired up about teaching as there ever have been, despite the sometimes deafening background noise. All 70 attendees gave up their entire Saturday to take in new ideas around how to teach history. That in itself is testimony to not only what an amazing job teaching can be, but also how committed and passionate those who deliver it are. I’m sure the teachmeet bandwagon will roll on and I can’t wait to organise the next TMHistoryIcons.