This week was a good one.

Although it happened, on Thursday, I just wanted to share a funny story with you before I get into the meaty part of the post.

We’re in my Year 12 Modern History class debating the impact of Mikhael Gorbachev on the collapse of the Soviet Union when a girl comes to the door and asks to speak to me. I walk outside and she has an earnest look on her face. She says she’s spoken to the Year 12 coordinator and she’s wondering if it’s too late to join Modern History.

I pause, thinking that surely she’s kidding as it’s only two school weeks to go until the end of the HSC year, and that I’m about to be punked.

Sure enough, when I turn around to my giggling Year 12 class, they are all holding paper beards against their faces and burst out laughing when all I can say is “…well this is weird!”

Of course there is someone standing behind me with a video camera – I was indeed punked – but I look forward to playing some role in the Year 12 farewell video that is hopefully the point of the activity.

I did get a bit of a buzz about that though, as it hopefully shows that despite only being at the school for 9 months I’ve made enough of a connection with my students that they feel comfortable taking the mickey. I think it’s a good sign.

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This week also saw me attend the Social Ventures Australia (@Social_Ventures) Education Dialogue in Sydney. This was an event where about 90 people gathered together to listen to various talks on successful projects and progress in education reform and evolution from around the world.

I was one of about a dozen educators in the room, most of the participants being academics, leaders in the non-government organisation (NGO) sector or other interested bureaucrats, think tank reps, etc. We were welcomed by Tony Mackay of @aitsl, and Michael Traill and Suzie Riddell of SVA.

The opening talk was from Dr Vicki Phillips (@drvickip) of the Gates Foundation. She spoke of the many projects and partnerships that the Gates Foundation has joined or started and the good work that they are doing to enhance the lives of young people around the world to get a decent education. Although I was, and in some ways always am, wary of any kind of philanthropy that can influence the education world, I am not against it in principle and think that it can work if educators and communities are not overrun or overawed by the power of philanthropy. These “uncommon alliances” between NGOs and schools – especially those that educate students from low Socio Economic Status (SES) families – can be quite powerful as the many examples given by Vicki showed us.

I felt quite lucky to be able to go up and shake hands with Vicki, to whom of course I plugged teachmeets (as I tend to do to anyone who will listen). It is of increasing importance that people in positions of influence and power understand what is going on under the radar. Or, if they don’t understand it, at least they are made aware of its existence. TeachMeets are similar to EdCamps which are quite popular in the USA, so I used that as a quick bridge to understanding. People like Vicki are amazingly busy and must shake hands with dozens of people a day, so I try to be as short, sharp and positive as possible for the moment I get to chat to them.

Another absolute highlight of the day was listening to the stories of Stephanie, Thomas and Kristian: three students from Victoria and NSW who live in contexts that reflect the different landscape of Australian schooling for regional and low-SES areas. It was, and always is, truly inspiring to listen to young(er) people speak about their experiences of the education system and how it does or does not cater for their goals, dreams, aspirations and potential. Stephanie (@stephasaurus96) was a particular standout, amazing the crowd with her eloquent attacks on a system which is sometimes not agile enough to maximise her learning experience.

We heard various case studies and reflections of many groups – the most impressive being those who work in schools that make me absolutely speechless in how they make learning happen in the most difficult circumstances. The story of principal in northwest South Australia Louka Parry (@loukaparry) and the community is now a part of was humbling.

There are many things I worry about, dream about, and aspire to, but stories like Louka’s make me stop dead in my tracks and rethink exactly what my priorities are, and whether I am focusing on minutiae or making a difference.

I felt truly privileged to be in the same room as outstanding educators like Louka, who immerse themselves in the culture and community of their school, and who don’t just turn up to churn out content on unsuspecting young people.

The panel discussions, case studies and presentations for the rest of the day were stimulating and thought-provoking, with all of them pushing a central message: that schools can benefit from philanthropy and “uncommon partnerships” without compromising who they are or what they do.

In a climate of stagnant or reduced real funding for schools, it is clear that partnerships with business, community and non-government organisations is one way that schools can create sustainable change for the positive benefit of young Australians.

As was made clear at the start of the day at #EdDialogue, there was a keen awareness of the need to make it more than just a dialogue, more than just talk. As such, I hope use some of the connections I have made to bring the teachmeet model to those in regional and remote schools by getting in touch with the Education ChangeMakers network and having them come to a few events here in Sydney, then taking the model back and seeing if it can work in a more sparsely populated region. It may result in the growth of an alternative PL@NE environment, where teachers can host their own online teachmeets across Austraila. But that’s a job for tomorrow.

For tweets relating to the day (apologies for my saturation of the day – too many good ideas to refuse!) please go to sfy.co/hQrc

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Also, a big thanks needs to go to @LeanneCameron and @7mrsjames for representing TeachMeet Sydney (and the wider TeachMeet Australia community) at the #iiipl13 AITSL Innovation, Implementation, Impact Professional Learning Symposium in Melbourne yesterday.

@LeanneCameron needs additional praise for her effort in going to Perth to help run the first #TMWA event – hosted ably by @BhavneetSingh and company, Western Australia now has a platform to expand their teachmeet community and connect with those already growing in other states. Currently teachmeets have been held in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, the ACT and now WA.

Our Innovation Project is going well, investigating the value, impact and sustainability of the teachmeet model and community as a form of organic professional learning. For updates, check out #tmimpact for ongoing tweets about the project and #tmeng for the upcoming TeachMeet at the Wharf where we are trying to respond to some of the feedback given to us through the survey and interviews conducted thus far.

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