Another Saturday, another dose of inspiration, brain fizz and questions…

‘Things are changing in this world because of the people in this room.’ Val Hall – HertsCam TLDW Annual Conference, 25 April 2015.


Today I took a group of teacher colleagues, Aniela, Katie, Evie, Shila and Carrin, to the TLDW annual conference. Most people outside Herts and Cambridgeshire I have spoken to haven’t heard of it, so, in brief, this stands for Teacher Led Development Work. The principal, the brainchild of David Frost and Val Hill, is that in every teacher there is a leader; that it is the teachers in the classroom, not the policy-makers at government level, who are the experts on what is best for our young people. The Neo-Liberal Agenda is called directly into question in favour of a ‘flipped’ model, and the initiative is mushrooming, with links with an increasing number of countries, including Palestine, The Netherlands and Serbia. At teacher-level, the brief is just as straightforward – each teacher identified an element of their own classroom teaching that they’d like to develop. It could be anything from questioning in A-Level Biology to word-walls to support literacy, to encouraging independent learning with Year 8 boys in Music lessons. They work on this for a year, which includes regular tutorials with an in-school tutor, the opportunity to attend six networking events with local schools and the Annual conference. That was today, and that’s what I’m here to write about. (There’s a link to their site here, for those who’d like to know more background:

So, the usual mixture of excitement and questioning-of-sanity when the alarm went off at 6.45 at the Travelodge this morning. And the sense, as with most of these weekend events (N.B. I limit myself on these, and am not someone you’ll find at every TeachMeet out, but have never regretted attending one).

The themes of the day: trust, teacher empowerment, learning cultures, learning power, collaboration. All absolutely inspirational. There were a number of seminars, and it was just a shame we could only attend two. I saw two hugely contrasting, but equally fascinating ones. David Bullock, a Deputy Head who worked to change learning culture in the 6th form by explicitly, with students and colleagues, identifying the dispositions students need to succeed at Key Stage 5 and explicitly modelling and nurturing these. Particularly serendipitous was the fact that Ofsted marked both the beginning and the end of the journey and acknowledged the huge impact David’s project had on the learning culture of the students.


From David Bullock at Veralum School

The second, a new Headteacher, who gave us the most honest, searing, funny and ultimately optimistic insight into the first term of Headship.

Vall Hall spoke with the same passion and energy she celebrates in us all, of moral purpose and the vital importance of agency, which is something we must claim, not wait to be handed. She reminded us to never underestimate the importance of the role we play in making a difference – a pertinent reminder, as I fear we do all-too-often lose sight of the difference we are making, day in and day out. ‘Never underestimate what you do. It changes lives and it changes landscapes.’

René Kneyber and Jelmer Evers talked to us about flipping the system, and the hugely influential work they’ve done in the Netherlands to achieve just this.

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The essential role of trust is very close to my heart:

‘Trust should be guarded to the end. Without trust we cannot stand.’

My decade-younger-self is a little sniffy and scornful. And there is something apparently slightly iffy about spending our Saturdays, away from our families and talking about ‘work’. But it’s more than work. It’s moral purpose and it’s collaboration and it’s a reminder in the form of a community of people with shared values of why we embarked on the teaching profession, and why we continue to be determined and hopeful. And it’s more than an ideal, because we were surrounded by a group of people actually DOING IT, day in and day out. And I’m very proud that our school is a part of it and proud of the colleagues who have put themselves forward and who are breaking new boundaries, talking in front of enormous groups and being in a position to inspire others. We noted what we took away from the day like this (always wonderful to have an Art teacher to arrange these things!):

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What we took away – how we felt, what we learned, what we’ll do

I end with a question which has been playing at the edges of my mind since the beginning of the course and to which I still haven’t quite managed to find a satisfactory answer. Almost by definition, the people in this room represent schools with a clear vision and a willingness to commit to a model that, for so many of us, chimes with our very reasons for entering the profession. These are schools which have clear potential for success, or indeed a clear history of stability, brimming with staff with leadership potential and energy. What about the schools we hear of, where our friends and our families work, where the demands of the ‘neo-liberal’ agenda this model claims to reject are simply inescapable? Schools which, for whatever reason, don’t meet the targets set, aren’t yet giving the students the best possible deal, and who simply aren’t in a position to reject the targets and benchmarks to which we are ALL, ultimately, accountable? The schools which, arguably, would benefit most from a course like TLDW?

This isn’t a hypothetical question – I’d genuinely like your thoughts. Fire away!

Thank you. Counting (Twitter) blessings…

I’ve been fairly quiet in the Twittersphere of late, but a brief exchange has just brought home to me what an impact it’s had on my research, career and life. As a direct result of being on Twitter, I have, in the last two years:

Accumulated dozens of practical strategies and ideas which I’ve taken directly to my students and colleagues.

Kept abreast with the most up-to-date education news and developments.

Collected original and fascinating research data for my Doctorate.

Visited several wonderful schools and met numerous inspiring teachers and leaders.

Had my research published in various forms.

Had numerous free offers from quality proof-readers.

Spoken for the first time – and many times since – in public about my research and work.

Received personalised, cost-free and quality coaching from a volunteer.

Had on-call advice and support from some of the most respected professionals in the UK.

Been invited to attend and present at numerous conferences and TeachMeets, which have been, without fail, inspiring and exciting.

Been given regular ‘Friday hugs’.

Had direct contact with heavyweight educational idols.

Had out-of-the-blue contact with people I’ve met and found interesting or clever.

Initiated conversations with some of education’s biggest ‘heavyweights’ which would otherwise not have been possible.

And most importantly, I have:

Had my assumptions and complacencies regularly challenged.

Been jolted out of negative or stagnant thinking.

Received genuine and meaningful empathy and solidarity during very difficult periods.

Put words to challenging or difficult ideas or concepts I wouldn’t have discussed in any other forum.

Had reality checks that my bravest of friends might not have dared voice but that I needed to hear.

Realised I’m part of a much bigger and more vibrant educational community than I was previously aware of.

Made some truly superb new friends.