66 posts categorized "TeachMeet"

May 21, 2016

Ten years on from the very first unconference for educators: TeachMeet is 10


This Tuesday, I want you to join me in the pub. It’s your homework. There will be a test.

My old tutor from teacher training college, David Muir, giggles as he types up some gems being shared over a beer between two other men: John Johnston, a primary teacher from Glasgow, and Will Richardson, an international keynoter whose formal talk earlier in the day had left us asking what they did in New Jersey that was, actually, any different from what we did in Scotland. Bob Hill from Dundee and Andrew Brown, a local authority (or school district) geek-in-residence listen in, priming the anecdotes they’ll respond with shortly. Behind me, at a different table, are a few others, snuggled around a table listening to the gems coming from an old uni pal who’s just started teaching, Grant Fraser.

152573117_26c660774b_oIt doesn’t seem like much, but this informal gathering, arranged in fewer than 24 hours, was the first unconference for teachers, anywhere in the world. As we organised it through IRC, for lack of a Twitter quorate, and blogs, we called it the ScotEduBlogger Meetup, but that very night we decided that this might be a tad limiting, given we talked about more than just blogs. We also realised that if we wanted any women to make it along, we’d have to break free from what was, at that time, the mostly blokeish pastime of blogging.


TeachMeet was born. And it was a full four years ahead of its American cousin, EdCamp. The parents of TeachMeet were, from the start, against it becoming monied, sponsored or financially supported beyond what was necessary to make it work, commercialised in any way, or becoming too formal by requiring a board, or trustees, or organisers. The lack of politics with a small ‘p’ was refreshing for teachers who mostly inhabit a world full of it. The lack of cash? Well, we’re teachers. That’s considered normal. I don’t know what I’d do with$2m, but I doubt it’d help make TeachMeet any more popular than it is today. Over the past ten years, it’s been a challenge to maintain that attitude in the heads of everyone who’s involved, but it’s managed to remain a very different beast to its EdCamp cousin as a result. It’s a difference I love.


More than just a random bunch of teachers heading out for a midweek pint, this was planned, intentionally, to be the antidote to the Edinburgh City Technologies Conference, which had left us all a bit deflated. In our classrooms, we were doing more interesting stuff, frankly, than that talked about by the experts and commercial outfits vying for business back at the conference centre.

I remember a discussion on IRC, about whether we should even invite Will along, given he was the keynote speaker that day, and somewhat occupying the podium that we were wanting to rebuke. A few of us knew Will well enough, though, through his blog posts, and thought he’d get into the ‘real’ goodies over a pint, more readily than in front of a few hundred folk in a beige convention centre.

The evening also had an unwritten rulebook, formed through the conventions of this rather twee little pub on Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile:
1. Don’t speak over someone who’s speaking;
2. Don’t hog the conversation, or someone will speak over you;
3. If you need to leave to get a pint, leave;
4. Don’t get too many laptops out: if you can tell your story without one, just do it. We’re in an Edinburgh drinkers’ pub, after all;
5. If you do need to show something, for goodness’ sake, don’t do a PowerPoint (see Point 4, above).

The most unwritten of all the ‘rules’ is maybe that of the Master of Ceremonies. In the pub setting, there’s always an MC. Sometimes they’re a total pain the neck. The loud chap in the corner, probably in a double-breasted suit, prophesying at his loudest and brashest to anyone who’ll listen, berating those who speak during his wife’s karaoke attempts, or who disagree with his political persuasion.

The more successful MC is almost invisible through their prowess. Any good pub has one. Sat, not stood, in a central position of the bar. He keeps an eye on the action, and subtly moves the pieces around like a chess master. A small utterance now and then turns potential discord between patrons into uniting harmony. His own stories normally get saved to last, until the after-hours lock-in, where a few lucky souls will get the résumé of the evening that no-one else was able to see.

From that night, we’ve written down most the rules, sighed when we’ve seen them forgotten. We’ve run some bigger TeachMeets, snagged some amazing venues, spent a lot of businesses’ cash on free beer and pizza. We’ve seen other countries adopt TeachMeet as their own, a few claim credit for starting it. We’ve seen TeachMeets sizzle when they offer something different for the teachers who come, and we’ve seen them stumble, stutter and stoater out as hosts forget how to really make those segues shine the spotlight on the teacher (and not the MC). We’ve kept the chaotic wiki where people organise, sign up and talk about their events. It’s got the look, feel and usability of your aged granny’s family anecdotes, but it’s for that reason that we keep it and love it (it is down as I try to link to it…).

This Tuesday, 10 years on to the night it all started, I’m going back to the Jolly Judge Pub in Edinburgh. I’d love you to join me if you can. In an age of Facebook Live, Twitter, Medium and Instagram, maybe you’re expecting to join in virtually. The point is, I’m going to be in an Edinburgh pub. What do you think I’m going to do?


September 16, 2013

What if the world had a #TeachMeet on the same day?

First ever TeachMeet
In conversations with several TeachMeet organisers over the past two years, one thing is perceived as a wasted opportunity in the way the unconference operates: it's hard to be aware of what's going on in learning through TeachMeets in other countries. In many places, TeachMeet is considered "their thing", that is, TeachMeet is an Australian, American, Scottish, Danish, Dutch, Irish, Spanish thing. 

So that is why we started to ask: "What could happen in terms of heightening awareness globally if we found a date when everyone could coordinate their TeachMeets to happen over the same 24 hours, or the same week?"

To that end, using the hashtag #teachmeet, we're trying to find out that precious date when the worlds schools are not on holiday. When we find it, we'll invite everyone to set up their own event in concert, to share locally and think globally.

From my own perspective, it's a great mechanism, too, to remind people the values of TeachMeet: it's free, non-commercial, no PowerPoint and ideally in a small, non-edu-feeling venue. The first one, pictured, where we welcomed one Will Richardson to sit in with some lively Scottish educators, was held in the Jolly Judge Pub in Edinburgh. For me, it still stands as one of the best I've ever attended. I want more people to realise that they can bring teacher learning to their own community, without the need for projectors, sound systems, money and keynoters.

See Matt Esterman's (Australia) post about getting more first-timers organising their own TeachMeets as part of something global.

May 24, 2011

TeachMeet: Five Years Old Today

May 24th, 2006, John Johnston, David Muir, Andrew Brown, Bob Hill and a visiting Will Richardson were amongst a small but merry band who got together for the first time to talk about the potential we saw for learning as a relatively new set of democratising platforms and attitudes came together in a perfect storm. Between May 24th and the Scottish Learning Festival that year, I'd coined the phrase "TeachMeet" to describe this meeting of minds.

Five years on, the movement of professional development for teachers, by teachers has never been more vibrant, never been seen as so important by those holding ever tighter purse strings and looking for alternative models.

To celebrate five years of work by thousands, and to shine a light on the movement for those who've maybe still not come across it and its cousins around the world, I've brought together some voices to show the spread of ideas, and to suggest their own tips on organising the perfect 'unconference' professional development:

  • From one year ago: Open Professional Development: How to Motivate Your Staff to Create Their Own Learning Experiences
  • From me, this week: A Reader Challenge: Five Years On, Is Do-It-Yourself Professional Development Alive and Kicking?
  • Jeff Utecht: Creating an Unconference Culture
  • Con Morris: LeadMeet: an unconference for professional development
  • More posts coming this week from Tom Barrett, Iain Hallahan and from TeachMeet Newcastle, this Wednesday night.

If you want to contribute your own post, tag it #teachmeet - I'll do my best to pick up on them and bring together a summary of your favourite moments and learnings from the past five years.

Pic from Ian Usher

January 18, 2011

If you truly want to engage pupils, relinquish the reins and give them the chance to learn by doing

I was delighted to be offered the op-ed for the BETT edition of the Times Education Supplement. I chose it to highlight the potential of thinking about learning as construction, rather than a series of activities that need 'done', and I'll be developing its ideas for my opening keynote at this year's Naace Annual Strategic Conference:

Ewan McIntosh In The TES Harnessing entirely pupil-led, project-based learning in this way isn't easy. But all of this frames learning in more meaningful contexts than the pseudocontexts of your average school textbook or contrived lesson plan, which might cover an area of the curriculum but leave the pupil none the wiser as to how it applies in the real world.

There is a line that haunted me last year: while pupil-led, project-based learning is noble and clearly more engaging than what we do now, there is no time for it in the current system. The implication is that it leads to poorer attainment than the status quo. But attainment at High Tech High, in terms of college admissions, is the same as or better than private schools in the same area.

The assumption that pupil-led, project-based learning offers less success in exams is a false but persistent one. John Hunter was the anatomist who defined modern medicine because, frankly, no one else had. He had a saying that has since become the mantra of the modern surgeon: "Don't think. Try the experiment."

In the piece I cite just a few of the examples I've been lucky enough to see through 2010, and as a result I've started hearing about other maker-curricula on my own doorstep: Oliver Quinlan's students, described in his TeachMeet BETT talk as they created self-determined projects around the theme of London's Burning, is just one more prime example.

What are your contributions to a maker-curriculum? Let me know, and I'll be sure to include more glorious examples of students engaged in making to learn rather than doing to learn when I open the Naace Annual Strategic conference with my keynote, Don’t think. Try: How brave teachers around the world are making change for themselves.

May 25, 2010

#tmfuture: Wednesday night live web chat

I'm using my regular monthly webchat on GETinsight to talk about how teachers and school leaders can create more informal, more worthwhile forms of professional development along the TeachMeet model. It starts on Wednesday, May 26 - 12:00 p.m PST, 3:00 p.m. EST, 8:00 p.m. British Summer Time.

Given the post yesterday from many of those who have hosted them in the past, discussing how we meet some of the challenges in getting things off the ground for a TeachMeet (including the pain of teachers having to invent headed notepaper to pay for venues or refreshments), the platform will be an ideal one to take some of the discussion off Twitter and into some live chat and discussion, talking about how formal things need to get in terms of pulling an event together, the tricky elements and the parts that work best left to local groups.

If you want to learn more about the background of TeachMeet there's a great article written by Iain from the GTCS magazine.

The 45 minute format will be:

  • short introduction from me on where TeachMeets came from and why;
  • what the point of them is (as opposed to traditional conference type events);
  • discussion around some of the challenges faced: starting off a local event, dealing with sponsors, venues and AV techs, understanding and translating the vision into local circumstances.
  • more discussion around what people thinks works particularly well in their own local areas and why.

If you can join us it would be great. Sign up a little bit in advance and make sure you're near a phone and computer at the time of the event. Wednesday, May 26 - 12:00 p.m PST, 3:00 p.m. EST, 8:00 p.m.

May 24, 2010

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

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

May 14, 2010

GETinsight - Open Professional Development

It's that time of the month again where I try to lead some education leaders onto their next actionable task on the GETinsight forum. This time around: how to motivate your staff to take  on the organisation, implementation and undertaking of continuing professional development (CPD) themselves.

DIY CPD is the most successful breed of development I've seen. My blog post explains how you might want to go about doing it.

There will be a live phone/web chat on this topic, a chance to share stories of DIY CPD and ask for advice from those of us who've (un)organised (un)conferences before on May 26th. If you are an (un)organiser and want to share your stories, or a newbie to all this who wants to give a TeachMeet or edu-unconference a bash, then reserve your place now for May 26th's session.

September 28, 2009

Size does matter

I get sent a lot of ideas for web services that will "appeal to a niche" and, thanks to that book, we're all expected to bow at the Alter of The Long Tail and drink the nectar of the microbrand. I've never been so sure. If you ask me to make the call between a half-empty macrobiotic boutique restaurant and a packed, noisy French bistrot with music that's just a tad too loud, you know which one I'd go for. For ideas to come into existence you only need two. To thrive and survive towards a sustainable future it needs more than village.

The size of the communities around us does matter. That's why more and more of us head to the city, for sure. The more people, the more opportunity to interact, the more opportunity to make good things happen. Or so we'd like to hope, anyway.

I like this WSJ colour piece by former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, who features in the video above, as he describes what makes the perfect city. His opinion on size is revealing in the physical world, and sends a reminder to those designing communities in the virtual one: size does matter:

A city can't be too small. Size guarantees anonymity—if you make an embarrassing mistake in a large city, and it's not on the cover of the Post, you can probably try again. The generous attitude towards failure that big cities afford is invaluable—it's how things get created. In a small town everyone knows about your failures, so you are more careful about what you might attempt. Every time I visit San Francisco I ask out loud "Why don't I live here? Why do I choose to live in a place that is harder, tougher and, well, not as beautiful?" The locals often reply, "You don't want to live here. It looks like a city, but it's really a small village. Everyone knows what you're doing" Oh, OK. If you say so. It's still beautiful.

There's a lesson in here for lots of online initiatives in education: the attempt to encourage rather than lead by mandate the use of Scotland's national intranet Glow, the desire to evolve the TeachMeet form of unconference professional development towards something that 'makes change happen', the desire to shake the often unnecessary constraint of national testing in the US and elsewhere.

I still stand with my gut firmly in place: the niche is useful for getting a new trend or fad started, but to move beyond the fad and into the mainstream, for general acceptance to occur and change to follow, you need size. You need the distractions and noise of the city, the niches you don't appreciate, to make your own ideas fly.

Read more of David's piece on the WSJ site.

August 06, 2009

Why it's important to (want to) know Where Good Ideas Come From


This is the first of eight posts on the theme of Where Good Ideas Come From

The creative industries in the UK alone are worth some £70bn each year, about 8% of GDP and growing at about double the rate of the rest of the economy, made up by everything as diverse as television production to game-making, book-writing to advertising, public relations to jewellery. For the past year I've been contributing to this industry, learning the art and science of commissioning new media ideas, turning internet, mobile and gaming ideas from paper dreams to running code realities.

In the workplace, we have a variety of processes, individual talents and skills to ensure that most of these dreams turn into good ideas in the real world, from designing efficient challenging structures through which people pitch their ideas, to the knack of producing a contract that not only makes sense but is fair to all parties. A fair dose of gut instinct and knowing the shifting sands of the vast new media landscape contribute to building, hopefully, more excellent ideas than fairly good ones. The processes hopefully eliminate the really dodgy ones altogether.

But given the aims of the initiative with which I'm working - Channel 4's Innovation for the Public - to change people's lives for the better, to have a lasting impact, to achieve technological and social firsts, and to do so with a trademark slug of trouble, finding and generating good ideas in the first place is something that, if we could define it, would make life a lot easier.

Knowing Where Good Ideas Come From in any walk of life leads not just to a more pleasant experience in life, but a better experience for others and a more profitable life for everyone.

Knowing what makes an idea good is one thing. 95% of ideas get rejected, a large number fairly swiftly and, say, 5-10% after having looked in more detail at the issues involved. Few, if any, seem to appear elsewhere suggesting that either the ideas are too costly to get off the ground, leaving a Government or private investor struggling to see their investment have the desired tangible result, or they are cheap to produce but aren't seen as Good Ideas by the intended users or participants.

Knowing what we could do to improve those conditions of creativity is another goal, perhaps more tangible. These conditions, these physiological, physical and mental places are Where Good Ideas Come From.

What's important to consider, though, is that "being creative" is not, as is often the assumed case, a result of some form of change management. All too often, change management and the overpriced consultancies that help you get from there to here are in the business of selling the change of a more creative company or self. If tapping into creativity is reduced to change management, then we are indeed in for a rocky journey. Only 30% of change management programmes achieve any change at all, let alone the intended one and not necessarily a change towards a more creative one. Creativity is something most of us can unearth in the right circumstances with enough time, effort and stamina to see us through the darker moments of our "crappy ideas" being mocked or left out to dry.

And, of course, some of us (most of us?) tend to come up with fairly crappy ideas most of the time, and that's alright, seeing if they work before moving onto the next one when we realise we were heading down the wrong path. Not just in the world of new media and technology, though, is the potential for heading down too many different paths and tangents at once so ripe. Never have the options opening up been so great, the tools at our creative disposal so varied. Creativity is attempting to go exponential when often our more analogue brains and bodies aren't really in a mood for catching up.

With this, change management, that sudden jolt of inspirational energy (or brush of quasi-guru-like consultant fluff), is even less appropriate a model on which to base an rebirth of creativity in our organisations. As George Church put it:

"In a changing world, inaction can be the radical 'action'" (cited by Tim O'Reilly)

Or, as Euan Semple cribbed it:

"Don't just do something: stand there."

It is no happenstance that our first main areas of investigation of Where Good Ideas Come From are nearly all about time (and the lack of it) and the need for us to stand still, do nothing and drink it in. Someone, I can't remember or Google who it was, once said that they were in the habit of taking a day return flight, at least but no more than four hours long (the time of the laptop battery) in order to get things done without interruptions. Sometimes it's just the practice of regularly, say, every Tuesday morning, of taking a flight at 35,000ft to see the world move by a little slower and take it all in, before joining the land at a seemingly faster speed later. Of course, that's not really how it works. We all fly faster when we're taking in the overall view of things at 35,000ft and that seems slower than when we're on the ground, 'only' going at 10mph at sealevel but things seeming too fast to take in, let alone control.

Nor is creativity some elusive black art available only to the few, while the rest of us trudge on with our lemming-like routine. As Colin Anderson, MD of Denki Games in Dundee, puts it:

Today we run the risk of thinking of creativity in the same way as we once thought of electro-magnetism – magical, unknowable, a black art. Poppycock, I say again! It’s a series of deliberate choices – some serial, some parallel, some conscious, some sub-conscious – made by assessing the values of many variables simultaneously through the filters of knowledge, experience and aesthetic appreciation. More variables than we can currently define and measure perhaps, but that doesn’t make it magic. I subscribe to the school of thought that says “art is a science with more than seven variables”, and from where I’m looking creativity is precisely that. (emphasis added)

There are indeed more than seven variables to creativity and therefore knowing Where Good Ideas Come From. I'm going to make an attempt to understand what some of those variables are and would ask for your help in the comments to fill in the inevitable chasm-like gaps.

August 03, 2009

Where Do Good Ideas Come From?


If we all knew the idea we'd not be writing blog posts like this, reading them or doing workshops on the matter. We'd be busy pulling that limitless supply of creativity out of its hole to see the light of day and bring us riches, joy, learning and new friends.

However, given that we're not, over the next month or so (or however long it takes me to splurge out those thoughts) I'll be summarising on this here blog some of the best online and offline reading and viewing that has attempted to answer that question, throwing in my own unresearched but tried and tested notions (and a few that haven't even got that far). This post will change to reflect the updating posts that will take a peek at:

  1. Why it's important to (want to) know Where Good Ideas Come From.
  2. Stand There And Do Nothing: Designing beautiful solutions rather than solving ugly problems
  3. Creative Genius. Man At Work: Arguments for not working as a team
  4. Getting Creativity Done (GCD): How to get productive and clean down the mental decks
  5. Nurturing creativity: Worrying about "Tanya's Bow" or the Dinosaurs: Some arguments for caring about the team, not pissing them off and really understanding what failure is
  6. Finding your tribe
  7. Creating visions, not missions

As they're posted, please leave comments, disagree, add your own links, videos and pictures. I hope that by the end of it we'll have a resource to which we might come back with the stories of how the works, thoughts and attitudes of others have changed the way we operate.

Bookmark this post and come back to it for updates, and subscribe to the blog to get a daily email or RSS feed in your reader every time there's a new post. Take a look at my instructions on how to subscribe.

Brill pic from Chris Metcalf

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.

Recent Posts