I’ve attended a few TeachMeets in the last few years. I’ve been to the behemoth that is TeachMeet Clevedon three times and I went to the very brief TeachMeet at the Schools History Project Conference last year. I like the idea. I love that it’s free, it’s crowd sourced and its full of positive keen teachers who want to improve.
In the last few years I’ve become frustrated at times with the provision for history teachers to collaborate and share ideas in the south west. Those opportunities that existed were few and far between, often exclusive (either all state or all independent) and often quite static. Therefore about a year ago I decided I would run a TeachMeet for history specialists in Bristol.
With encouragement from Sally Thorne (@MrsThorne) and Robert Massey (@DrMHistory) I went about planning. I called in all my favours. Long standing links with Bristol University PGCE course meant I found a room to hold the event in (and lovely it was). I arm wrestled a few people to present so we had at least a few guaranteed presentations and begged Chris Culpin to do a keynote. I persuaded Rob Attar (@RobAttar) who is the editor of BBC History Magazine (and coincidentally an old uni friend) to give me a year subscription to the magazine as a raffle prize and through a few pestering emails got the Historical Association to front some money for a few refreshments. TeachMeet History South West was born.
Sally and I thought that if we were lucky we’d get thirty people turn up. In the end we had over seventy! People came from as far away as Swindon and Taunton. We had a lot of history teachers but we also had trainee teachers, a wealth of heritage sector staff and a scattering of RE teachers.
And it was great! The atmosphere was beyond positive and the presentations and ideas that were shared were amazing. People went home buzzing. But don’t just believe me, read the comments below:
- @leighalmey – “Thanks for a t’riffic evening: I got loads out of it.”
- @cassysaletes – “Had a fantastic time at #tmhistorysw tonight.Feeling thoroughly inspired and wanting more of the same!”
- @historc – “Loved the #tmhistorysw today- great ideas to take back to school after”
- @sandra1stanclif – “#tmhistorysw was inspiring. Thanks to @kenradical & @BristolSHF. @educationgovuk & @Michael_Gove should see the quality of teaching in Bristol”
- @drmhistory – “#tmhistorysw off to a cracking start. More good ideas than at which a stick could be shaken”
- Kathryn L – “I thoroughly enjoyed the Teach Meet and came away bursting to try out some new ideas tomorrow!”
- Kate H – “I don’t remember the last time I was in a room with so many historians all so committed and interested. Amidst much of the madness in education at the moment, I found the session altogether uplifting and inspiring. If those teachers are teaching children we will be getting something right. Roll on the next one …”
- Hayley Y – “ I absolutely loved it, I’ve had a spring in my step today [the next day!]”
If you’d like to see the presentations that were given you can as I’ve uploaded them to www.bristolschoolshistory.wordpress.com
So what made it so successful?
a.) Military level planning.
I knew with eleven different presenters and only two hours for the entire event we’d be pushed for time. So all presenters were asked to submit presentations in advance. I created one master presentation with everyone’s slides in it. This meant there was no monkeying about with memory sticks etc. Additionally all presentations were uploaded to the Bristol Schools History Forum website before the event so they were ready too.
b.) Good keynote speaker.
Chris Culpin is a legend in history teaching and was certainly a big draw for many. It’s not normal you get a free talk from Chris.
c.) Holding it in the evening.
Holding the event in the evening meant only people who really wanted to be there were there. If we’d had it in an afternoon we might have got the people who just fancied a lesson off. I know this sounds blunt but I think it’s true.
d.) Decent presentations.
As it was the first event I knew it was fundamental for its success to have really engaging and decent presentations. Therefore I arm wrestled a lot of people to do it that I knew would deliver. This doesn’t mean that as with other TeachMeets random people didn’t offer and sign up to present – they did, e.g. Leigh Almey who I’d never met before and did one of the best presentations on the Argument Tunnel. But I arm wrestled about 60% of the presentations and it meant that I ensured a level of success beforehand.
e.) Lots of break time.
One of my Bristol colleagues Andy Steward told me to schedule in lots of mingling time. We had 30 minutes at the start, 25 minutes in the middle and we arranged for a pub get together after. This time was as useful or more so than the presentations for me, getting to know people, putting Twitter tags to faces and networking.
Our old friend Michael certainly played his part. The atmosphere in history teaching isn’t great at the moment and we are bombarded by messages from on high that we are incompetent. People are bloody fed up and I think this meant a lot of people came out as they wanted a bit of solidarity from their comrades. Hayley Yelland who presented at the event has blogged on this and agrees – find her blog here.
So in summary, onwards and upwards. I’ve already decided to do another one in Autumn with the provision title Dr StrangeGove or how I learned to stop worrying and love teaching history. See you there!