Every year the world of education invests billions of dollars in professional development. A large amount of that cash is wasted, given that the best professional development in the world might be under your nose.
A year ago to the day, I started a debate on GETideas.org around the potential of expanding “Do It Yourself” professional development. The live teleconference we had was amongst the most vocal, enthusiastic, and inspiring, with teachers from around the globe reacting positively to the notion that, sometimes, the best way to learn is simply to learn from each other, in informal environments, with no timetable, keynote speakers or, vitally, PowerPoint presentations.Some of the most vocal supporters of this idea were from the U.K., and it was here, five years ago this May 24th, that some of the first “unconferences” for teachers, by teachers, were created, events I coined as “TeachMeets.”
Initially, it was just a handful of us over a pint of beer and a modest bistro meal: Will Richardson was in town for a keynote, and we thought it’d be as good a time as any to bring fellow educational bloggers around the table. Along with a small group of teachers, we discussed what we saw as the huge innovations of the time and how we might help more people understand their potential: blogs, wikis, podcasts, and self-directed learning were top of the list, as well as the power of really getting to grips with digital photography and filmmaking in the classroom. The discussion, sadly, might well have happened last week. Education policy has barely moved on, and in some countries it could be argued things have slipped decidedly backwards.
Unfortunately, too much of this “free” professional development of the masses is still undermined by the policy decisions of the few. There are some chinks of light in the battle to liberate the web in the hands of teachers, and let the discussions of five years ago have more of an impact with more of the people teaching and learning in our schools. The professional potential in Facebook was this week recognised by the government of New South Wales in Australia, who encourage teachers to harness Facebook for professional learning and networking, as well as to better understand how young people interact online, by opening access to all forms of social networking to teachers in their schools. At the same time, however, stories emerge every evening on Twitter and Facebook of yet more frustrated educators unable to harness in their classrooms what they are so expertly handling to further their professional development in their own time.
In terms of professional development, we’ve moved a long way from the initial stuttering starts of our TeachMeet model. There used to be two unconference events a year; there are now at least two per week. They used to be solely in Scotland’s pubs, hotels and restaurants; they’re now taking place in civic buildings (and, yes, pubs) all over Europe, Australasia, the U.S., and Canada. They used to be all about teaching; we now have specialised evenings around leadership, technology, behaviour, and the great outdoors, to name a few.
Over the coming weeks, in the run up to TeachMeet’s fifth birthday on May 24th, we’ll be hearing from some of those who have helped developed TeachMeet and its siblings around the world. We hope that you might be inspired to create your own unconference, for teachers, by teachers – there’s some guidance on last year’s post — and join a movement that has the potential to transform the understanding and ambition in teaching and learning the world over.