May 24, 2010

#tmfuture: TeachMeet hits its fourth birthday: Coming of Age

TeachMeet
TeachMeet is entering its fifth year and the unconference for teachers, by teachers has helped hundreds - maybe thousands, in fact - to try out something new, alter the way they already teach and learn, join a community of innovative educators or completely transform their way of working.

The hope was that the model would spread. It has, but as those who have created and helped pull TeachMeet together over the past four years, we want to see it spread further, deeper and with increasing quality of input from practitioners. This post outlines how we think we might manage this.
This is the beginnings of a conversation with those who care about TeachMeet. Add your views in the form of any blog post or comment or tweet - tag it #tmfuture

What are the goals of TeachMeet?
TeachMeet was originally designed to:
  • Take thinking away from the formal, often commercialised conference floor, and provide a safe place for anyone to pitch their practice
  • Provide a forum for more teachers to talk about real learning happening in real places, than one-hour conference seminar slots allow
  • Showcase emerging practice that we could all aim to undertake; sales pitches not allowed
  • Be all about the Teach, with only a nod towards tech that paved the way for new practice.
  • Provoke new ways of sharing our stories: PowerPoint was banned. We wanted people to tell stories in ways that challenged them, and the audience
  • Empower the audience to critique, ask questions and probe, all online, through SMS or, later, Twitter.

Over the years, these 'rules' have altered, leading to some great innovations, others less so. The answer to "What is a TeachMeet?" has become a myriad of meanings, some pretty far off the original goals. We need to help and support people to organise, run and contribute to events that build on previous ones. We need to make TeachMeet as accessible to newbies as it was in 2005. We need TeachMeet to once more find its focus.

Supporting the "infectiousness" of TeachMeets
Organising TeachMeets should not be easy. Taking part in them should be. But more support is needed for organisers:
  • Sponsorship is hard if there's no bank account into which funds can be sent
  • Without sponsorship, any event over 30 people becomes tricky to organise while also giving people a special night of learning, the time, space and mood that gets people over their self-conscious selves
  • Paying for refreshments and venues is impossible if there's no organisation to pay them the precise sum.
  • The best TeachMeets provide social space, social activity, entertaining MCs, good refreshments, good online coverage and some form of online 'conclusion' - this needs coordinating by the organiser(s), but it's not a skill everyone will have the first time around.
  • We've got a superb opportunity to curate the best bits from all these TeachMeets that are happening weekly - this needs a degree of oversight.

A means to make TeachMeet more sustainable, easier to use for sponsors and organisers, and have the ability to do something spectacular
TeachMeet is owned by the community that shape it - but there needs to be a body to manage sponsorship and sponsors, and provide support for new organisers so that they maintain the TeachMeet goals. We assume that if someone is organising a 'TeachMeet' they would like to emulate the success of those popular early TeachMeets, and better-supported national conference ones (e.g. SLF and BETT).

What would support look like? (is this for new organisers of events? support from the TeachMeet body?)
  • Seeking of sponsorship all year round - including ways and means to get your message to as many teachers as possible
  • Brokerage of sponsorship - i.e. one place sponsors and those seeking sponsorship can come together, in a transparent manner
  • Recommendation of onsite support (good venues at discounted rates/free, A/V, event organisation [for bigger venues], catering etc)
  • Suggestions for various formats that have worked in the past
  • Mentoring from previous TeachMeet leaders including on-the-night help
  • Featuring of content and promotion of the event in a timely manner on an aggregated, higher profile TeachMeet site
  • A group calendar so that events can be seen by geography and date
  • Promotion of TeachMeet through international and national events, using contacts of existing TeachMeeters
  • In-event publicity (e.g. if you plan an event at a regional ICT day or national event, then we can help broker paper materials for insertion into packs etc)

But, above all, TeachMeet is reaching a point of saturation in the UK - things are going really well in terms of enthusing teachers about their own learning. We have a great opportunity to carry over a small proportion of the sponsorship and contributions towards creating a TeachMeet culture in countries where teacher professional development in this way is still blocked by barriers physical, financial or cultural. This is just one idea, harboured for a long time but unable to realise in the current setup.

This body can take the form of
  • A Limited company (with a Director and shareholders)
  • A Charitable Limited Company, with a board of directors and voting rights for fellow 'shareholders' (we could work out some way of people being 'awarded' shares based on [non-financial] involvement?)
  • A Social Enterprise, perhaps formed as a Limited Company (see more information on what this means and how it might work (pdf))
  • A Charity (this feels like a lot more red tape to pull through and perhaps not entirely necessary)

As we take things forward we invite you to contribute your ideas and thoughts to make things work smoothly. We want you to comment, probe and make your own suggestions before the end of June, using the tag #tmfuture

Pic from Ian Usher

Comments

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I appreciate the sentiment (and your role in getting things moving originally) Ewan, but why must something that works well informally he made formal?

Because it's not working? The interpretations of "what makes a TeachMeet" have taken it into territory that does not reflect some or all of the original values. The balance with 'evolving' and 'contradicting' the original values has to be met, otherwise people will walk away with the wrong idea of what TeachMeet is about.

What kinds of things? Sponsors taking over the event, implying events can't happen without sponsorship, people calling teacher-organised conferences "TeachMeet unconferences", product pitches rather than actual classroom practice...

It's not really about formalising things, either. There's no desire to 'condone' or 'approve' events.

It's about reinforcing and supporting people who want to make one happen. Making a good event happen is actually down to some good old fashioned formal thinking things through. I think those who reckon it's easy to crowdsource together haven't done one yet or haven't done it properly. It's hard work, and people need a place to learn from previous successful examples.

There's also a real chance to harness a brand (and a brand is not just the logo, but the values onto which I and others hold so dear) to do some good elsewhere. Currently there's no mechanism to make this scale. This blog post is the starter for ten for making that happen.

What's not working? We held a Teachmeet last week and it worked very well. Sponsors were there and we couldn't have held it at that venue without them. We wanted to launch teachmeet in Hampshire with a bang, and we did. But to do that, we needed a venue for 100 people and that doesn't come cheap or free)
Sponsors provided goodie bags and I discussed the contents but related it back to classroom practice at all times. Everyone was happy and learnt a lot, sponsors were there, but the main emphasis was on classroom practice.
I think it was a lot of work to organise my first one, but could organise another with very little trouble. I'm also discussing passing on tips to other TMs due in the next month or so.
I appreciate the thoughts about moving it forward, but it's only just started here in Hampshire and people love it.

As I've said, there are some TeachMeets that don't come close to what you achieved last week in Hampshire, and it's vital that we provide better support and, where appropriate, a hand in bringing together sponsorship.

For comparison, the first really big two or three TeachMeets we did required cash sponsorship of the mid-four figures. For that the sponsors got one mention at the beginning, one at the end. That was the deal. No sales pitches.

The first one we did had over 70 people in a small, free room gifted by the conference which was on during the day.

Others had 150-250 people. The venue was always gifted for free. Money was used for AV, a technician and refreshments.

The fact is, you could provide a free venue, drinks at a bar and provide your own AV through the larger network and not part with a penny. That takes the kind of connected thinking that we're not taking advantage of at the moment.

The challenge when sponsorship is not pooled is that less is given for more of a piece of the event. It works well for one event but can make it harder for others to garner support. Sponsors can also end up spreading thin and/or links into those sponsors can become tricky. Currently one might think there are only three or four companies interested in sponsoring TeachMeets. Nothing could be further from the truth, but it's hard to spot 'em!

One might also think that events 'couldn't happen without a sponsor', but the TeachMeet brand is strong, and has been for some time - I'd not worry about brands wanting to be associated with it.

My initial thoughts are quite scattered and random, and therefore a longer more coherent comment will follow I am sure!

I have to agree with Ian, in that the most inspiring thing about TMHants was that the vast majority had never been to a TM before - as I mentioned here http://chrisrat.com/blog/?p=368 it was great to see the reluctant people being the ones that hung around at the end working out what Ideas to try out first! Therefore I don't agree with the 'saturation' point. The danger has been that TeachMeet is a model that needs new people to attend all the time - and events like TMHants have provided just the sort of thing that will develop and enhance the brand. Although TMBett was inspiring, preaching to the converted only has a certain shelf-life.

The only other thought I had was that the events I have attended (and sponsored), the commercial companies have been on best behaviour. There haven't been any sales pitches (and if there were I would be with you and think they shouldn't happen!); and the companies haven't jumped on people to sell to them (cf reaction to the TMTakeover at BETT). The companies that are sponsoring are the ones who believe in TeachMeet and therefore should live within the spirit of the rules...

On a positive note, there are some really good ideas, more support, more specialist help in marketing of it (as you know, a few sponsoring companies have made a formal offer of support here); easier interaction through a proper website with easy interaction, rather than the hurdle of the wiki (which although functional, could easily put off the uninitiated!). Having a centralised system could be very time consuming, and costly.

As I said, uncoordinated random thoughts after a long day of meetings...I am sure more coherence will follow!

Hopefully the answer that dovetailed your own comment clears up some of the concern.

On a related note, there are already plans for a new site that gets over the stramash that the wiki has become.

Worth remembering also that some of the best TeachMeets for a lot of people were not at BETT at all, but at Scottish Learning Festival - about time you get up there ;-) (now I'm just being cheeky ;-)

Indeed cheeky! We sponsored it last year!!!! That said, I am really looking forward to this year - small stand, but hoping to spend a lot of time off the stand talking to people!

New site is good, can't wait! As I said, many good things - need to keep the enthuse/amuse angle, but I would still say that TM in the UK has only just got started! So many people don't know about it, and would love it!

As a fairly recent newcomer to TMs I have been struck by how the TM concept appears to have hit the point often hit by small businesses or voluntary groups which almost outgrow their initial set up ideas.
I have attended several TMs and watched even more online and have been struck by the fact that many of the stated original aims come to the fore and are still clear to see.
It is such an inclusive way of working together that it appears to this newbie that some of the strengths of TM could almost be its weaknesses.
What I would say though is that it will be very hard to make changes without accusations of being controlling, seeking to re-establish direction, pursue personal agendas (these are not aimed at TM people they are accusations aimed at a non education group I worked with)

So how do things move forward? - one of the issues is that twitter will be one of the main conduits for discussions and at times it is not the best medium for this.
I suspect that much of what has been suggested isn't that controversial nd actually could be very helpful to those considering hosting their own. But I do have a concern about what happens should someone be hosting an event which is deemed to be contrary to the spirit - will events be 'defrocked' by some higher group?

I am afraid that I have posed lots of questions rather than given opinions but hope that I haven't come across as negative. I love TMs and believe that they have made a massive impact on my practice in a short time.

It's not about "defrocking" TeachMeets that aren't (though I'd love an excuse to use the word defrocking legitimately :-). What it would be about is

a) providing clearer guidance in the first place to help people set out on a path that works, a path that reflects TeachMeet's values

b) give a polite prod to those who seem to be abusing the name, the model - otherwise we end up with swathes of teachers thinking that what they're experiencing is a TeachMeet when it is not.

Both these things have always been done by the wider community. Now that community is so wide, the message needs unified, coordinated through a website. That's about as controversial as this gets, I think.

People may not like it. A few folk have even said that they're not sure they 'get' TeachMeet as described in these posts. Well, they may have spotted a new type of event that needs taken forward. I don't know what it is, but I do know that the original ethics and values of TeachMeet work, are valuable but risk getting lost amongst mixed ambitions.

I have commented at http://bit.ly/aTDnRN
Its all very exciting!
#tmfuture: TeachMeet hits its fourth birthday: Coming of Age

I went to my first TM 2 years ago and still remember the experience and the 'buzz' that was in the room - it certainly inspired me and gave me the confidence to do things differently.
I agree with lots in the post- that help organising one - pooling sponsors and ensuring that what lies at the heart of TM does not ever get 'lost'. It hasn't at the 3 I have attended in person or the 6 or so I have attended virtually. However as things 'grow' then I feel that you do need to ensure that the buzz and experience does not get lost. I know I have not added much to the 'debate' I just wanted to say thank you for providing me with the experience in the first place and to look at ways of taking this forward.

I've been to three or four
Spoken at one
Sponsored a few
Was a bouncer at one too ;-)
Arrived or reviewed some through flash meetings or other means when I could not get along.

Model works well with up to around 100 folk
But needs about 30 of them to do session.
More than that and the excitement of being selected dissipates.
I was disappointed twice - when I didn't get a turn. When it was a small gathering I felt unlucky when it was a huge throng I felt like a wall flower ;-)

Disappointed at last years BETT when I could not get anyone to take sponsor money which seemed fishy at time especially as drinks and nibbles were sparse.

What about a Teachmeet Foundation
Use the organising framework/wiki
Commit to preserving the URLs , Video, Record of meeting ( the means are all there delicious or diigo - youtube channel , tagged images on flickr and dare I say prezzie or ppt on slideshare ( camel coming my way) use teachmeet logo and tag all stuff ). What about tenner or equiv as contribution for each teachmeet - - to support modest cloud infrastructure.
Be a teachmeet founder in your school, your area, country, continent etc - A wiki and a few prominent channels that capture and cascade the goodies that can change practice.

The model is one that can go right around the world.

What about an "I've been to teachmeet facebook or other community ..etc list could go on ..

There are lots of folk around UK and in other bits of the world who are up for this.

Have a few foundationers to review model etc

I've just blogged in response to this (started to comment but then it got too long!)- http://classroomtales.com/2010/05/30/tmfuture-where-next-for-teachmeet/

Thanks for this post Ewan.

Having looked at the wiki recently I do agree for certain that it's time for a new site as the volume of activity does seem to be out growing the current system.

As for your proposal regarding a more formal TeachMeet Social Enterprise/Foundation...while I appreciate some of the concerns raised above, I feel that there could be many benefits to this model from the perspective of TeachMeet organisers.

Whilst organising TeachMeet East Lothian earlier this year I encountered some of the challenges you describe. Finding sponsorship was difficult, but not having a bank account was even more difficult. I do feel that I understand the priniples of TeachMeet and strove to apply these to TeachMeet East Lothian, however I did feel that I was always trying to find the balance between these principles and the need to get the event to happen. I think in the end I managed to find this balance, but I think this was aided by the fact that the sponsors happened to be quite happy with the lack of sales pitch etc.

I for one would certainly have appreciated the support that the organisation suggested could provide - and I also agree that this could help to preserve the 'brand' and help to better coordinate our efforts.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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