When is a TeachMeet not a TeachMeet?

  • When the TeachMeet is only open to participants from a particular organisation
  • When the TeachMeet is advertised as free to teachers from a particular organisation (implying that at other events teachers have to pay to attend TeachMeets which they never have and never will!).
  • When the TeachMeet does not allow anyone to sign up to deliver a presentation (subject to time constraints)
  • When it appears that the presenters for the TeachMeet have been decided in advance.
  • When the TeachMeet has not been added to the TeachMeet wiki at http://teachmeet.pbworks.com/w/page/19975349/FrontPage



This is, most likely, NOT a TeachMeet!!

This is NOT a TeachMeet...

From http://www.affinitytsa.co.uk/sites/default/files/flyers/Affinity%20TSA%20Teachmeet%20Leaflet%2030.10.13.pdf


You are not doing an iPad project

ImageYou are not doing an iPad project.

You are using iPads in your classroom, but that by itself is not a project. If the project is more specific, then name it so. If you want to find the 10 best apps to use with for literacy in Year 7, with a particular focus on boys, then call it that. The iPad is something shiny which may or may not enable you to achieve your aims. Nothing about the iPad is remarkable in pedagogical terms, there is no magic learning dust. If the devices allow you to achieve something different, interesting and exciting in your classroom, then focus on the full range of interventions you made to enable this to happen.  Then ask yourself if the iPad did the pedagogy, or you the teacher did.  If the iPad did the pedagogy, then Steve Jobs (rest his soul), was even more of a genius than we ever gave him credit for, but if you did it. then examine how you did it and see how you can push that kind of innovation right across your practice, either with or without a shiny flat digital thing in the hands of the students.

You are not doing an iPad project.

Because even if the shorthand you use to refer to your project when talking to other people is ‘the iPad project’, then you’ve put the technological cart before the pedagogical horse once again.  The very act of naming the project after the technology inverts the order in which you should be doing things, which is looking for innovative pedagogy first, through the medium of new technology.  And if you’re finding is that ‘students were motivated to learn when using the iPad’, then that is piss piss poor. Of course they are motivated, they are human like you and I and given a shiny device to use, we all get a bit excited.  Try and tease out a little more about what important was going on when the devices were being used, and then remember that it’s not a iPad project, but a project to achieve something new in your classroom.

You are not doing an iPad project.

Because as remarkable as it seems, one day in the not so distant future, the iPad will no longer be the shiny, must have, fetish object du jour. Its lustre will have faded and something else more shiny, or thinner, or sleeker, or cooler, or ‘whateverer’ will have come along and people will be buying into that vision with gusto. And if you think that’s a ridiculous thing to say, you show me teachers today going weak at the knees at the sight of their interactive whiteboard. Once upon a time they did, but now they don’t anymore.  So one day, the iPads will languish in the cupboard, oversize coasters missing their final vocation, or the kids will have taken them home and overloaded them with apps they’ll only even open once. So make your project about teaching and learning, and think about the technology not as something essential or fundamental which underpins your goals, but simply as a convenient way of getting from A to B.

You are not doing an iPad project . .  . you are doing a teaching and learning project


Image is creative commons (so I’ve not robbed it), by Wolf Gang. Available from Flickr here

Twitter as a professional development tool. Love it or hate it?

This week I attended a conference about professional development in Scotland.  The participants were Community Learning and Development workers (CLD). I was there to show how the various ways in which a SMARTboard could be used for teaching, training and groupwork. There was also a focus on the use of ‘social media’ as a professional development tool and a way of engaging with individuals.

What struck me most forcefully is the way in which ‘social media’ (mostly defined as Facebook and Twitter), polarised the audience, with strong emotions on both sides. Many were strongly in favour of these engagements, but others felt ‘social media’ is more of a force for harm than good. Many of the debates were about using social media to connect with young and vulnerable people, a topic which does require sensitivity, and which is not the focus of this blog post. Instead I choose to focus on social media as a tool of professional development, an aspect which I think the conference neglected.

During the debate, I chatted to a participant who said: ‘you don’t do that twitter, do you?’  I felt a bit like the man who was asked ‘when did you stop beating your wife?’.  The question felt very leading, and the questioner was fully expecting me to confirm that whilst ‘cruelty to animals’, ‘being a Jedward fan’ and ‘parking in disabled spaces’ were all little vices of mine I was happy to admit to, I would not be caught dead sending a tweet. Awkward.  I shrugged and admitted that I did go on a twitter ‘a little bit’, which got me a very disappointed look.

But I can totally understand hostility to twitter, especially when its use is brought up within the context of a professional community with a vague but palpable notion lurking in the background that people should really get an account and start tweeting.

Twitter is opaque in the extreme to the outsider; a welter of unfathomable terms and a clique of weird rituals.  Evoking religious metaphors is not completely out of place here.  Just as believers wrap themselves in a cloak of flim-flammery which makes it hard for neophytes to penetrate, so twitter users appear as a ‘cult of the initiated’ in which newcomers are bound to make fools of themselves.  And twitter is very like Marmite, most people have a sufficient taste of it and declare themselves to love it or hate it.  Paradoxically for the social network which appears the most ephemeral (140 characters shot out into the ether), twitter requires hard-work and a strange dedication for it to work, and this contributes to the ‘love it, or hate it’ vibe.

Twitter can be a fantastic professional development tool though. I can think of no other way to find people working in your own area so quickly and have such a direct contact with them. They will tweet links and articles and thoughts which will be immediately useful to you. It’s like duplicating yourself many times over. The slight time penalty of checking your timeline should be more than paid off with your enhanced view of what is happening in your area right now. And the paradox is that you can do this without ever sending a single tweet. Simply follow people who tweet about stuff you are interested in and these benefits will accrue immediately.  Some will follow you back, some won’t.  But you get to earwig the conversation like a bystander at a cocktail party. Once you start to tweet, your following should increase quickly and you’ll be drawn into the virtuous circle of sharing, debating and conversation which is twitter at its best.

But explaining the power of twitter to those who have not tweeted is a little like forcing toast and marmite into the mouths of your breakfast companions whilst shouting: ‘taste this you bastard, it’s bloody gorgeous!’

In other words, not the done thing.

The Myriad Confusions of the Godly Mr Gove

Not the kind of books which Mr Gove has in mind for deep study

Michael Gove continues to bemuse and exasperate in equal measure. This week his madcap plan to send a King James Bible to every school in England has made the headlines and he has annoyed both those who campaign to keep schools secular and those who are against wasting money in times of austerity in equal measure.

When not bowling for immortality as the man who outdid the Gideons’ hotel-based stunt and instead put a bible in the desk drawer of every headteacher in the land, this week Mr Gove has been addressing Cambridge University on the question of elitism in education (http://bit.ly/uOdgXz).  When Gove was in opposition he made grand gestures about not telling teachers what or how to teach and trusting the profession to raise standards. The reality once he has power is very different as he makes regular speeches setting out what should be taught and how it should be taught. He also makes great play of criticising the current curriculum, particularly in English Literature and History which he believes had been dumbed down by New Labour in order to keep exam results artificially high.   Gove mentioned many works of literature and history in his Cambridge speech, George Eliot, Jane Austen, Wagner, Matthew Arnold, Pericles, Pythagoras, Balzac, Pinker with the clear message that he wanted to see works like these taught in schools, in order that young people, in the words of his hero Matthew Arnold, should have access to ‘the best that had been thought and written’.  The more cynical part of me, on reading this roll call of the great and good felt that Gove’s speech has more to do with his intellectual insecurities than any real attempt to shape policy for the better. Put bluntly, faced with an audience of dons, he just tried way too hard to prove he was well read and cultured and any serious links the speech could have with what actually happens in schools were severed by his ridiculous pseudo-intellectual posturing and bluster.  And to return to the central point here, I can still see no explanation of why a minister who is obsessed with granting some schools freedom from the national curriculum, and believes all schools should take responsibility for what they teach, would spend such a long time talking about what should be taught. Gove talks of elitism unashamedly but seems unwilling to face the fact that an elite system can only function if people are excluded from it. Elites need a lumpen-proletariat of excluded in order to exist, yet in the wacky world of Gove, he can call for a return to elitism without having to address this uncomfortable truth.

I studied English Literature at university and took it very seriously indeed, I have read most of the works Gove mentions in this and other speeches, and one of his favourites Middlemarch happens to be one of my favourite novels too and I have read it more than once (quite a feat as it is not an easy read by any means as narrative is often subsumed by the exploration of ideas). I taught English too and well remember the dawning realisation that teaching people to love literature, even a short accessible poem by Philip Larkin is a very hard task indeed. But in the light of our current economic situation, and with the crisis in youth employment, I find it just plain embarrassing that the Secretary of State for Education can have missed the point of his job by such a huge mark. Loving Middlemarch or appreciating the unresolved tension in the Tristan Chord really will have to bloody wait when over 1 million young people are unemployed and there seems to be no credible economic or political policy to find them jobs.

Gove rarely talks of skills which can be used in the modern economy, he does not mention collaboration and teamwork, communication skills and the ability to use a range of technologies to get a job done. He does not talk of creativity and entrepreneurship, of engaging with the information society and introducing young people to the rigours of engineering or computer programming. Presumably as his own education did not cover these elements, and Jane Austen wrote very little in JavaScript, these disciplines have not entered his purview.

So one of two things is going on here. Either Gove is so out of touch with the economic reality of modern Britain that he seriously believes that young people can be forced to work at Poundland for nothing yet can console themselves afterwards by reading passages from Balzac and marvelling at the elegance of Newton’s laws. Or he is taking the piss out of all us – an education secretary faced with the real and pressing challenge of how to run an education system which needs pushing into the 21st century if the nation is to have any hope of survival, but who can only offer rehashed ideas on the curriculum from the 1950s and waste his time on speeches proving how well read he is.

Image is Creative Commons from Remy Sharp, available at http://flic.kr/p/6yvFBn ,

What is the purpose of education?

The black and white Purpos/ed logo which features speech marks...
Here is my contribution to the Purpos/ed project. This is an unsolicited 500 words answering the question: ‘What is the purpose of Education’.

The purpose of education is to perpetuate and strengthen democracy.

We take democracy for granted in the same way as we take going to bed with a full stomach, or not having our houses totally destroyed and our families killed by an enormous wave which arrives without warning. It’s all too human to take things for granted and some would argue it’s a necessary psychological adaptation, as constant anxiety can paralyse us. But history tells us that democracy is not some kind of everlasting stable state, it is rather an ongoing project which needs people’s contribution. Democracy can disappear and be replaced by oppressive regimes (rise of Fascism in the 1930s), or it can decay and be eroded. Many would argue that democracy in the UK is undergoing this decaying process now; particularly in regards to movements of powers to the EU, or the power of multinationals to override the wishes of the population. That is a debate for another project. I merely assert here that compared to so many other societies in the world, ours is a democracy where the rule of law is upheld (we put MPs who fiddled their expenses in prison!), and there are many checks and balances to prevent tyranny and oppression.

The purpose of education is to perpetuate and strengthen democracy, because without democracy then knowledge, understanding and skills would be worth nothing or a fraction of their true value. If we are not free, then what we ‘know’ cannot be free either. And as democracy is a project, the purpose of education is to prepare people to take part in this system. And I don’t mean some cobbled together lessons about the importance of using your vote or the history of the UK parliament squeezed into the gaps where young people are not being shoved through the hurdles of the GCSE and E Bac or whatever other measure the politicians of the day have deemed to be important. What I mean when I speak of education for democracy is an education which starts with teaching an individual how to value themselves, how to see their potential and realise this potential. Democracy, which we tend to think of as a collective entity, begins and ends with ourselves. Democratic education should also help people learn how to relate to others, how to communicate effectively and plan and execute projects. Luckily many of these skills are transferable to the workplace and can be ‘cashed in’, particularly in a knowledge economy

The purpose of education is to perpetuate and strengthen democracy because this project is not finished and we need new generations to uphold the gains made so far and contribute to further work to ensure that people are treated equally and groups cannot oppress other groups.

The purpose of education is to perpetutate and strengthen democracy. It’s not to teach people who Miss Havisham is.