Peer-to-peer ‘fear or hear’? 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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I attended my first ever school TeachMeet last year and during and after the event, the experience posed many, many questions to me as a school CPD leader.

“critical peer reviews [academic papers] clearly cross the line between a vigorous critique and an unprofessional attack.”


My definition of a ‘school TeachMeet’ is this:

  • A school TeachMeet is a CPD event for staff working within that school (only).
  • No other external visitors attend.
  • It is hosted within training-allocation or after-school hours (meeting cycle).
  • Staff are asked to present; coerced or simply volunteer.

I am a huge fan of the original TeachMeet concept for staff development and as a result, I have organised  11 of my own events (see TeachMeet CV) over the past academic year at various venues. I have organised one of them at my own school. I have also attended many other TeachMeets (but have not organised them) and they have been well-organised by proactive individuals within their own school settings.

Interestingly, I am also asked to speak at TeachMeets, yet often say ‘no’ simply because a) too far away or b) that my diary is simply, too busy. The most recent request was to attend the NTEN Reserach in Education conference at Huntingdon School in York and two further TeachMeet requests just this week, in nearby schools in and around London. I’m sure if you are reading this, you will be familiar with all of the above scenarios already.

Sharing best practice via TeachMeets and flipped unconferences are a shining example of grassroots education within our own learning communities. We know this, and this is why they have proven so popular. Events are bursting out of Twitter and into your inbox, advertising events up and down the country. Even leading CPD providers are getting in on the act and sometimes getting it wrong!

For the organisers, the work required to organise such an event requires a great deal of energy and many, many resources to be pulled together. This is critical, when teachers do this voluntary, for the love of learning, sharing and bringing like-minded educationists together.

This aside, the reason for this particular blog, is one that I have kept on the back-burner for the past 6 months while I gathered more evidence of what I call “peer-to-peer fear or hear“?

Peer-to-peer hear?

Photo Credit: can't stop the beek via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: can’t stop the beek via Compfight cc

Peer to peer hear, as the current model of TeachMeets, is what we have all typically grown to love. Sharing and hearing from others – most often those with a ‘growth mindset’ and with the choice to attend or ignore the presentation or the event altogether. At a TeachMeet ‘hear’ model, hungry educationalists swarm to find out more; meet like-minded individuals and socialise after working hours to listen and magpie great classroom ideas. Typically, a person(s) representing a school, sets a date; organises a meeting place or a venue and offers refreshments, a focus or theme is agreed and a few useful prizes for the classroom teacher are thrown in!

Fabulous‘ I hear your cry! And most often, curated with a very small budget that offers takeaway solutions to use in the classroom the very next day. Impact! This TeachMeet model of peers gathering together to ‘hear’ one another is advertised and the event is shared nationally here and again, spread via social media forums.

Peer-to-peer fear?

Scared?  Photo Credit: Toni Blay via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Toni Blay via Compfight cc


I am sure you know where this is going. Using the above peer-to-peer ‘hear’ model, when can flip the whole ethos of TeachMeets on its head, by organising this approach in-house via our school-based staff development systems.

Peer-to-peer fear is a TeachMeet style training event organised by teachers or a CPD leader for their staff only; within your own school. I’m sure there will be variations (from readers), such as a keynote speaker and a TeachMeet concept tied into the end of a typical INSET day and so forth, but the peer-to-peer fear event, put simply; is all staff attending and sharing in front of their peers.

For example, one peer-to-peer (fear) TeachMeet I attended, had absolutely nothing wrong with what was taking place in the room. The presentations and content were all very relevant; I observed some fantastic practice, but, there was a distinct lack of TeachMeet atmosphere missing in the audience. Was this purely down to the context of the audience? Being ‘at’ school with colleagues they see everyday? A room full of teachers who do NOT want to be there?

It has to be said, that there is a distinct difference from the ‘hear vs. fear’ style TeachMeets and the happy-clappy forum for teachers we know are hungry to share and learn more! I would love to run TeachMeet-style CPD in my own school and make this a frequent occurrence. However, even though we can and should do this, it is also balanced between our own priorities and needs. I do work with staff who crave to organise them for themselves; to push each other out-of-the-way to present and share what they do in their own classrooms. But, not everyone. I ask the reader if it should be our duty to facilitate or stipulate such a great model of CPD in schools? For all staff?

Now, I am not evaluating both models simply down to atmosphere and mindset. I am equating both CPD models (hear/fear) to feedback and the value of sharing and reflection. Therefore, what we all fear is this …

The fundamental reason:

Click to open and respond
Click to open and respond

As part of my own wider reading materials (particularly on psychology and cognition), I came across the American Psycholoigcal Assocation and discovered this article of The perils of peer review. The article discusses peer review from a research point of view and how academic proposals and publications are subject to savage and damming reviews. I have applied this stance to the TeachMeet model applied in your own schools with your own staff.

The article by E. Benson suggests:

“critical peer reviews [academic papers] clearly cross the line between a vigorous critique and an unprofessional attack.”

The article suggests several reasons for savage peer review. Anonymity; vested interests; unclear expectations and overwork (i.e. lack of time to digest the information correctly). This can certainly be applied to the TeachMeet ‘hear versus peer’ model. Do we lose or gain some/all of these when working with those we know/don’t know?

The article then goes on to discuss what I have translated to be applied to internal school CPD events (INSETs) and TeachMeets:

  • Attacks that focus on the teacher instead of the learning.
  • Bias.
  • Superficial review.
  • Dismissive or inappropriate critique.
  • The article suggests, that if academic-psychologists consistently undervalue each other’s work, funding agencies will shift their support to fields whose researchers don’t. Could this be applied to teachers teaching teachers within schools? Absolutely!
  • Discouraging beginning researchers / or those sharing at TeachMeets (hear or fear) can only discourage them from participating again if they receive any damming critique.

Piaget and Vygoysky:

Could we turn to Vygotsky for any sense of peer-to-peer hear/fear explanation and how childhood may still influence our mindset at adults within a ‘learning’ community? Or perhaps to Piaget’s theory for his views that biological maturation and stages the notion of ‘readiness’? i.e. certain information is taught. Could I translate this to suggest that some institutions may not yet be at a stage of cognitive development to move internally from peer-to-peer fear to a model of peer-to-peer hear and embrace the model of TeachMeets we all know so well?

Vygotsky’s theories stress the fundamental role of social interaction in the development of cognition. He believed strongly “that community plays a central role in the process of making meaning.” What do you think? Does your school host internal TeachMeets and do all staff attend and embrace the event? How does the event compare to TeachMeets you have attended voluntarily, beyond your own school gates?

This 90-second summary of Piaget and Vygotsky is also worth a watch:



McLeod, S. A. (2007). Lev Vygotsky. Retrieved from


10 thoughts on “Peer-to-peer ‘fear or hear’? by @TeacherToolkit

  1. Interesting to read, Ross. Am generally a fan of peer review but I can see that there are times when it can go badly wrong.

    On the professional development front, I do quite a bit now, as you know. My tack is to facilitate structured reflection on whatever the topic is (often leadership related) rather than coming in as an external ‘expert’ to tell teachers/leaders what they should be doing. However I will sometimes make suggestions about some things they might think about doing (such as using Twitter and blogs for CPD!).

    Sometimes I have a group who all opted to be there – they’re keen to learn and receptive. They have exercised a choice about their professional development, rather than it being imposed on them, and that’s always a much more positive beginning.

    Sometimes I’ve spoken at events for all staff/all Middle Leaders, or whatever, and it’s usually harder to engage all members of the group (though I do my absolute best!) Typically, some are receptive and some are more resistant.

    Occasionally I’ve had people in CPD events who have been MADE to go because of aspects of their practice which their managers consider to be deficient, and that’s the least likely context to achieve anything at all! Again, I will try, and hope to plant seeds, but if people are in a negative frame of mind and predisposed to be defensive it’s hard going.

    My point is that if teachers/leaders at all levels have a choice they are much more likely to contribute positively to/gain something constructive from a CPD event, whether it’s a TeachMeet, a staff day, or whatever. It’s feeling out of control of our professional lives that causes so much stress for the teaching profession, I think.

    Thanks again for the post.

    1. Agreed. The key is making CPD varied, relevant and an open-house. All this coupled with impact and relevance for the classroom. It’s a tough gig, but not impossible.

  2. I recently attended a voluntary breakfast where my colleagues shared how they were assessing students. It was good and there was some ideas I felt I could apply to my (maths) classroom. I have only just started at this school but already feel there is a supportive culture amongst staff at all levels.

    However there have been times when seeing brilliant (and often time consuming) ideas from colleagues has knocked my self confidence or left me feeling a little guilty. I assume that those teachers who act like year 9’s during CPD are feeling this way. I also taught at a school in special measures where there was a compulsory session every Wednesday before school. Each week someone who had been observed doing something well shared this whilst the rest of the staff sat at the exam desks.

    Your blog has also got me wondering how different my lessons would be if I only taught students who had chosen to be there?

    1. “How different my lessons would be if I only taught students who had chosen to be there”

      What an appealing thought! I remember in my second year of teaching running voluntary revision sessions before school for my Year 11 groups and I couldn’t believe the difference in the atmosphere in those sessions compared with the usual lessons!

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