Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.
– Cecil Beaton
It is a simple idea, really. Get some interested people together – probably in a pub – to talk about their work and share ideas on how they do it. Add a hint of structure (to keep it short and snappy, if needed), advertise it a bit through a common website so busy people know what’s going on, add a hashtag. If it’s teachers participating…You’ve got a teachmeet.
A slightly directed conversation at a pub with a few, through to massive unconference-style gatherings of hundreds, it can be a teachmeet.
Or can it? When is a teachmeet not a teachmeet?
This was essentially what drove me to think about needing a national conversation about what teachmeets are, involving a bunch of people who have hosted one over the last few years in Australia. We had a bit of funding from a grant we in Sydney had won from the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), we had an offer to run the meeting from Social Ventures Australia (you can see a case study on teachmeets HERE), we had a venue donated by BVN Donovan Hill architects in Sydney, we had keen members. A little organisation and we were off. Some couldn’t make it, some weren’t invited (my fault), many were involved through a Twitter conversation #tmforum.
The meeting itself went through three distinct phases:
1) a discussion of where we have come from and what we think are some challenges and concerns about teachmeet
2) brainstorming the Why, Who, How and What of the teachmeet concept
3) establishing some shared principles, common to all teachmeets in Australia, and some opportunities or aspirations we may have
I won’t go into each in depth, but it was interesting to have debates about the nature of an organic or “starfish” organisation (see this blog post), whether we should have a strategy at all, whether there should be some kind of organising committee or support group, whether we should try to sustain or grow something which will do so depending on need (or will it?). Some excellent self-reflection as a group ensued.
What we left with was a surprisingly clear set of principles that I think apply to any teachmeet anywhere. This is a list of shared features that any new host should attempt to live by, regardless of the model they adopt, the presentations they organise, or the space they have available. There are other elements and clarifications we made, which will be presented at a later date.
Naturally, this is not the start nor the end of these conversations. Every participant, every host, every person interested in teachmeets in Australia and beyond (we talked about the whole Asia Pacific region, and the world communities to come in future) should have their own flavour of teachmeet to suit their interests and context.
However, I firmly believe that we need a shared vision from which we do this thing so that there is accessibility for all, so that there is equity and fairness and that we are part of a community, rather than just providing a series of disembodied events. If a new host or participant comes to me asking what a teachmeet is or what they need to do to host, I feel more confident I can answer regardless of their sector, experience, location or philosophy.
As mentioned above, there will be more information provided from the meeting for everyone interested to digest, and the group involved will keep throwing ideas together.
What you, dear teachmeeter, might like to think about are the following:
- Does TeachMeet Australia (whatever that is) need a core group of people committed every 6 months or each year to be the “support team”, maintaining and growing the movement?
- Do teachmeets in Australia need a funding mechanism? What would that look like and how would it be managed? (There is precedent for this in America with Edcamp Foundation… but do we really want or need it?)
- Do we need a regular meeting each year of key people (who change each year) in different locations to discuss progress/concerns/issues?
- How do we maintain our starfish sensibilities and form, whilst clearly requiring some drive, direction and organisation.
We don’t need answers to any of all of it, but we do have to think about it.