Ignore the #DfE: Teachers are doing it for themselves! by @TeacherToolkit

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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This is a guest-post for the Labour Teachers blog.

There are many teachers across the country who are disregarding DfE models of practice promoted via The National College, the abolished TDA and the Institute of Education and so on. Out of the estimated 0.9 million teachers across the country, there is approximately just 5% of teachers (less than 50,000) using Twitter for professional networking. Within this organism, there is an underground revolution-taking place.

Tweacher Tube Map, by @Pekabelo
Tweacher Tube Map, by @Pekabelo

The recent phenomena of teachers using social media to set up TeachMeet networks and delivering CPD for each other, contrasts completely with DfE and local authority models, such as the National Strategy, London Challenge or the local authority school improvement teams providing brochures for courses that teachers can attend!

A small example of how pathetic this service level agreement is (in which my own school subscribes to) is that we pay in excess of £6000 to have access to all the CPD events for free! However, and this is a sticking point; less than a handful of my staff (a haphazard guess of about 20 – just 15%) actually use the service level agreement throughout the year. Is this value for money? Is this poor CPD leadership on my part, or simply lack of relevance for what teachers and support staff actually need?

Having just written this, I am seriously considering opting out of the agreement for 2013/14 and this is – no doubt you will agree – the implications of the academy model and the impact it is having on our local authorities.

I believe the political implications for school improvement models in the future; lay in the hands of the teachers. With the online realm becoming more and more accessible, and the world becoming a smaller place in which to network, teachers are now forming their own networks and practices, usually using social media to help, to support improving their own ‘quality of teaching’.

This is entirely free and collaborative, and from what I have witnessed, involve everyone from teachers to NQTs, from Headteachers and Ofsted inspectors to those who are engaged with education in out of school settings. For example: consultants, teacher companies and educationists.

If you were going to design a national framework to support school improvement today, you wouldn’t design anything that looked like the National Strategies or any similar top-down structures. It simply creates apathetic attitudes towards CPD currently embellished in the minds of the vast majority of teachers. But apathy is exactly what is going on! Tim Brighouse and Bob Moon recently gave good enough reason to call for a professional body, as part of the New Vision Group, and I do agree that there is a huge CPD vacuum waiting to be consumed to take teacher-CPD to the next level. I even put in a request to Brighouse to join the New Vision Group as the only practising classroom teacher. Sir Tim responded, but I am yet to hear any further news…

Is there Outstanding in your blood?
Is there Outstanding in your blood?

I dream of a day where CPD is so inherently established that it becomes part of every teachers’ bloodstream; that accumulating a feathered-cap of personal development become the norm, not a desire for the determined and those with funds liberally allocated for Inset courses, master’s degrees and those with time on their hands. That a collaborative and engaging approach to development becomes so ingrained that we cannot work without it. So vital is our development and routinely established as part of our working week, that we cannot secure jobs, promotions, pay-rises or any credibility without an accurate log of our own reflective journey. Brighouse calls this a national development portfolio, owned by all teachers, and I agree with him.

This movement doesn’t seem to have fed into the thinking of DfE policy makers. All we have are changes to school structures, which as far as I can tell, most teachers and Headteachers agree, is largely a red herring. Improved learning comes from improved classroom practice. There has been nothing, apart from some fairly vague ideas about teaching schools, on developing teaching practice and on-going CPD for existing teachers.

'I'm doing it myself...'
‘Can we do it ourselves?…’

I recently attended a local council meeting in which the vision for education was pitched to all stakeholders. However, and this is a big however! There was not one teacher present in the room; apart from myself – attending by default to represent my own Headteacher – and in not one single word of print or verbal communication, did the word ‘staff development’ or ‘teacher-training’ be cited in the £15,000 publication that included the vision statement and recommendations.

It is quite clear, that although I wish for those plans to be successful to ensure success in the borough, this cannot happen without the buy-in from the teacher-workforce within the council; nor without sufficient and adequate training in place to motivate, engage and equip teachers with the strategies to develop our students of tomorrow. I left feeling very dejected and disconsolate.

As I traveled back to school, I knew I was a classroom teacher and senior leader who was in a unique position of controlling my own CPD, albeit often out of working hours. Despite this being the issue – that I was not controlling my own CPD in-school hours – I knew I could fail-safe on my own online (PLN) professional learning network, through Twitter.

You may have never heard of a TeachMeet; although I suspect you have heard of Twitter. If I told you, that after 20 years of teaching and five years of school leadership, it is the best form of CPD I have ever experienced, would you believe me?

'CPD: What do you want?'
‘CPD: What do you want?’

During this time, I have developed, evolved and grown; I have increased, shed-skin and reincarnated myself as a teacher each year, every term and every other day, in some cases. Predominantly, for the greater good of my students and for my own career, in order to maintain on-the-pulse professionalism for the benefit of the schools I have worked in. This could quite possibly be down to my own mind-set, or perhaps the motivation and moulding I was given earlier on in my career. Development is simplified into ‘what do you want?’ Regardless of the factors, TeachMeets are quite simply, the recent phenomenon of my own CPD.

A TeachMeet is an informal get-together of teachers, educationists and consultants who are taking self-development into their own hands. They are part of an underground revolution. A TeachMeet is organised by anyone willing and enthusiastic enough to lead and host the event, curated for those who want to listen to inspiring teachers who do amazing things in their classrooms every day. It is also a chance to network, share thoughts and join a growing community of like-minded people who are at the forefront of education at grassroots level. Just watch this!

'Do I really need to tweet?'
‘Do I really need to tweet?’

Not so long ago, I was a sceptic… I signed up to Twitter in 2008 and then, one year later, decided to create a professional Twitter account, @TeacherToolkit. I initially shunned invitations to attend TeachMeets and was quite content to observe from a distance; but then an ex-colleague, Headteacher Tom Sherrington (@HeadGuruTeacher), relatively 6-months old in the Twitter-world, was hosting his own TeachMeet as his own school, #TMEssex. I had no excuses or reason not to attend; 40 miles away from home, on a cold-wintery Monday evening in November 2012!

Driving home, I had finally attended my first ever TeachMeet and now, looking back over the past 6 months, I see why you never forget your first! I was even brave enough to present on a leadership topic too! Within the space of 4 weeks, I set about organising two of my own TeachMeets, one at my own school for 100 teachers across North London and have since organised and hosted a further 7 events. This has led to many requests to design and host several other events across the UK; something I find quite natural to do as CPD leader for my school.

TeachMeets are becoming so successful and a such a popular form of CPD, that I could easily consider stepping out of teaching in order to just curate CPD for hungry teachers desperate for this model of professional development. However, this would defeat the purpose entirely! TeachMeets are all about current classroom practice and I would not wish to go against the ethos and character.

Reasons to attend are only comprehended once you have done so. Since hosting my own, CPD bodies such as Teaching Leaders, The Education Foundation and BELMAS have become so enthused, that they are now keen to have me be part of organising a TeachMeet for their own national summer conference, involving teachers from around the country.

It is only a matter of time before the other 95% of teachers (not on Twitter) across the UK, eventually sign up to Twitter for professional purposes and ultimately attend their first TeachMeet. No doubt the DfE and the National College will soon follow suit by curating their own version of TeachMeets… If that happens, we need to be part of the process or TeachMeets will become commercialised and they will die a death!

Edinburgh (2006) - curated by @ewanmcintosh
Edinburgh (2006) – curated by @ewanmcintosh

The conventions of TeachMeets are gradually becoming steeped in tradition and follow an original format dating back seven or eight years. However, despite the tradition, they are incredibly innovative and highly engaging events to attend. TeachMeets are curated by hosts (or simply very keen teachers); bringing a group of between 50 to 200 teachers together at an agreed venue, typically at a host-school, after working hours, or sometimes at a pub or company office in order to share best practice.

Of those that attend, some are brave enough to present and share educational topics, innovation, strategy or day-to-day work across the curriculum. What makes this the best CPD there is, is that it costs nothing and the event is a simple and an alternative to mainstream CPD… It won’t be long before they are commonplace formats for virtually all manner of CPD events you attend.

Six months ago, I spawned @SLTchat – bringing together 500 senior teachers online every Sunday evening – as an outcome, #SLTeachMeet was born, and henceforth, a strategic version of TeachMeets for senior teachers and policy-makers. You can find the terms of reference for this particular event on my blog, with my recollection in images and video format here.

In collaboration with Deputy Headteacher Stephen Lockyer (@MrLockyer), we set out to coordinate this event as a senior leaders’ version of a TeachMeet. We aimed to bring together teachers who connected each week on #SLTchat and curated our first ever event in December 2012. To add a twist, the event was hosted – away from school – on the back of The Guardian Innovation in Education conference, with facilities and overheads provided, for free, by The Guardian Teacher Network team. In some ways, a win-win situation for us organising the event and equally, for The Guardian, targeting senior teachers to their venue and their conference event. My opening video presentation is here.

Teacher-stamp: 'DfE - Your work is....absent-minded'. by @TeacherToolkit
Teacher-stamp: ‘DfE – Your work is….absent-minded’. by @TeacherToolkit

The DfE archetypal to support school improvement should, quite frankly, adopt this model. In the absence of any policy initiatives from the DfE around improving classroom practice, thousands of teachers around the country have set up networks to share ideas and techniques. Within the space of 6 months, my professional learning network has increased from my own school(s) experience of 500 colleagues or so, to approximately 18,000 across the world! The ideas published on my blog – no better than anyone else’s – have been read over 160,000 times and like many others, teachers who are blogging about grassroots practice through their own networks. The DfE ignores much of it, like my own and we continue regardless…

Without a nationally recognised and useful forum to share good practice, CPD will be left in the hands of all teachers to share concepts that ‘make a difference’ to the lives of children we teach, including our own practice and reflection. People like you or I are spurred on because, for example, TeachMeets do not belong to anyone but us. Professionals are meeting voluntarily from different schools around the UK to share ideas and come together. Why?

A common feature is that they are not following any prescribed models or DfE plans for CPD, instead they are taking their professional development into their own hands. What does this means for the future of school improvement? Will CPD policy become more defragmented than ever?

How should the DfE be responding to this? Well, for example, private companies are now getting in on the act, commercialising ever opportunity and looking to exploit this fabulous practice. I can only imagine that the DfE would, by default, look to mimic the same merciless custom and hijack the revolution! We will stand against this!

In conclusion, one possible glimmer of hope may rest with the Royal College of Teaching. According to SecEd, a weekly newspaper: Ms. Leslie, a Conservative member of the Education Select Committee, said “that the College would be apolitical and independent of government, comparing it to medical institutions such as the Royal College of Surgeons. She told the debate: ‘A Royal College of Teaching would complement the work of the unions in raising the status of teaching. It could be a research base, it could be a place where CPD could really be formalised.”

"£53.25p, for a single teacher, each Wednesday afternoon for CPD"
“£53.25p, for a single teacher, each Wednesday afternoon for CPD”

If the government provided funding, we could assume there are 900,000 teachers across England and Wales. The costs (for one Wednesday afternoon) to allow TeachMeets to take place for teacher CPD would be £4,725,000M per annum. For the chancellor, this would be a small drop in the ocean of pounds and shillings expended from the education budget.

The following areas of CPD needs could be identified nationally:

  • Raise the standing of the teaching profession.
  • Safeguard high professional values.
  • Close the gap between classroom practice and research.
  • Promote evidence-based initiatives.
  • Stipulate stability throughout political succession.
  • Inaugurate a respected voice to preserve professional standards. (Source: SecEd)

If you would like to take control of your own CPD – whilst the DfE scratch their heads for something pertinent to impose on us all – I would highly recommend that a) you get in touch here and I will help you curate your own TeachMeet or b) take a browse at all of the TeachMeets taking place (right now!) across the UK.

Temporarily, let’s put CPD back into our own hands and do it ourselves!

@TeacherToolkit by Ross Morrison McGill is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.teachertoolkit.me.


An email from a Deputy Headteacher.
An email from a Deputy Headteacher.
From @cheesypopsC
From @cheesypopsC

4 thoughts on “Ignore the #DfE: Teachers are doing it for themselves! by @TeacherToolkit

  1. I love phrases like ‘Underground Revolution’ or ‘Tweetcher’ but really do not want to see Government involved… Naturally it would be wonderful for basic funding for venues, refreshments, equipment… this shouldn’t have to come from teachers. Equally, Deputy Heads, incharge of training budgets, need to be encourgaed to show support…

    Your recount of Local Education Authority planning meetings is so concerning. Decision making being made non-teachers or educationalists about teaching is not a situation I would like to see continue. Why don’t they harness a little bit of technology and broadcast their meetings via uStream or other platforms?

    1. I agree! What’s worse, is some of the funding mtgs I have attended, flippantly discuss budgets on a whim with no evidence. Jobs and livelihoods resolved (or not) haphazardly and nonchalantly!

      Every CPD leader must get involved with TeachMeets; it’s that simple. The next task is to involve your staff and organise local authority events for teachers in the borough.

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