Osiris Educational is now offering a ‘free directory of TeachMeets’ and also enhanced paid-for packages to help TeachMeet organisers promote their event. Osiris Educational are a for-profit company providing CPD and training to schools and teachers.
This is simply a terrible idea. Read on for just some of the reasons why it’s so wrong.
Firstly, TeachMeets are a bottom-up grass roots movement. Formed spontaneously on the fringe of a commercial event (the Scottish Learning Festival), the idea quickly spread and TeachMeets are now held just about every evening of the week. The idea of teachers coming together to share best practice and ideas (and just have some quality time away from the pressures of the classroom) was compelling because opportunities for sharing before this were limited, and those teachers stuck in a staffroom with few other innovative practitioners could often feel a need to tell others of their work, and get some ideas from other innovative teachers. TeachMeets are free to teachers to attend, although there are often costs associated with setting them up, so limited commercial sponsorship deals have been struck. These work best when both parties (the company, and the Teachmeet organisers), understand the delicate dynamic balance between the company getting something back for its sponsorship money whilst not stomping all over the non-commerical ecology of the TeachMeet with size 9 stiletto marketing heels. Some TeachMeets run with no Sponsorship at all. The events at Heathfield CPS in Bolton (organised by @deputymitchell) have no sponsors, but teachers pay a couple of quid for a pasty and pea supper at half time. Teachmeets are not commercial, they are not a chance for companies to get lots of free advertising, sell directly to teachers or somehow muscle in.
Osiris’s move is egregious in so many ways. Firstly the ‘free service’ does nothing other than promote the event. This sounds very kind and all of that, but there is already a perfectly good way of publicising Teachmeets. There is a TM wiki at http://teachmeet.pbworks.com/w/page/19975349/FrontPage where all teachmeets can be listed. And of course there is the younger brother of the Teachmeet phenomenon, that is Twitter to help spread the word virally. Some teachmeets sell out (the BETT one for instance), some are very well attended (50+), I have been to a few where numbers are below 20 and one with just 9 of us. The one with 9 sounds like it may have been a bit of a damp squib, but it wasn’t as there was easily enough expertise and enthusiasm in the room for us all to take something away from it. So the kind offer of a ‘free service’ to promote a TeachMeet is not a kind offer, it’s reinventing a wheel that is already invented, is not broken, and belongs (crucially) to the people in the cart. Why on earth would TeachMeet organisers systematically hand over information on their events to a commercial company, I can see no reason for them to do this. And Osiris have ‘terms and conditions’ for using the site. Here is an excerpt:
Any behaviour that is deemed unsuitable or unfit to Osiris Educational’s efforts to provide quality, fair and unbiased CPD training will not be tolerated and may result in the removal of Osiris Educational’s support and sponsorship (as outlined above, but not limited to).
So Osiris have taken it upon themselves to police what goes on a TeachMeet webpage? I guess they had to do this in case clearly unacceptable material was posted (they would be liable as they host the service), but how far will they go in deciding what is ‘unsuitable behaviour’? What if a Teachmeet was organised which was expounding teaching ideas which contradicted one of the paid for courses which Osiris run? Would there be a temptation for them to remove this teachmeet, or put pressure on the organisers to modify the focus of the TeachMeet so it did not disrupt the commercial interests of Osiris? I think the answer is ‘possibly’, and whilst there is any possibility of this happening, I think a move to a commercial company hosting TeachMeet information is to be strongly resisted. And are Osiris planning to become the ‘ticketing agency’ for Teachmeets. Most events are ticketed just using the wiki; you add your name and you’re on the list, if you want to sign up to do a presentation, put your name on that list and so on. Larger events (like the BETT teachmeet can be ticketed using EventBrite which is free to use if you are not charging for your event). The wiki for all but the largest teachmeets is simple, is democratic, and it just works. What if Osiris decide you have to register to attend a TeachMeet on their site. Which means teachers adding in their information to be stored in the database of a company selling things to (wait for it) teachers. I’ll not even waste keyboard taps pointing out how problematic that idea is.
If you are prepared to pay Osiris money, they can upgrade their support for your TeachMeet.
When I started writing this blog at about 9am March 20th, I had loaded a page tweeted by @david_obst which had details of the Gold and Silver packages which Osiris were offering. Just now (having closed that page), I decided to reload it, and found that it had been modified and the details on the packages had disappeared. I can only conjecture that concerns being expressed on Twitter had Osiris to rethink their business model and landgrab of TeachMeet territory and they had retreated in order to consider their options. If this is the case then I welcome it. Before the page was taken down I had read that if you went for the Gold Package, Osiris would send a host to your TeachMeet to run the event for you. What a great service that would have been. The last event I went to was joint hosted by @dughall and @deputymitchell, who did a great job of drawing out the professional strands of learning from the presentations, keeping the audience enthused and generally entertaining us. They also did it for free (not even expenses) as all TeachMeets hosts do. And if one or both of these had been ill, I counted at least 20 other people in the room who could have got up on the spot and MCed the event. It may be stating the bloody obvious, but standing up in front of people and engaging them is a skill which teachers already have. It’s not something they lack, it’s one of their CORE skills, for crying out loud. The idea that we would need to pay a company to provide a host for a TeachMeet is bizarre in the extreme.
The message here is simple. Hands off TeachMeets, they are not for sale.