Kristy Turner gives her advice for successful subject-specific CPD sessions for teachers, by teachers
I have watched the TeachMeet movement grow since coming across it on Twitter a couple of years ago. TeachMeets are informal gatherings of teachers. They provide CPD for teachers by teachers – and technicians, parents, alumni, and others – at low cost.
I started running a TeachMeet in 2016 when I became frustrated that local schools were preparing for A-level changes in isolation, without a space to collaborate and discuss approaches to the reforms. The events took off, and now we have teachers joining us from across our local area, and even from as far away as Blackpool and Stoke.
Our third TeachMeet of this year was the largest and most diverse yet. Our subject-specific meetings diverge from the traditional TeachMeet model, but I feel we’re part of the movement to reclaim our CPD from whole-school targets and initiatives.
The traditional model allows a number of contributors the stage for only a few minutes each. Enough to share an idea or resource. I find science needs longer sessions as they often involve some practical work. A large number can also be difficult if you’re growing a group from scratch. And it doesn’t matter if you have 5 or 50 people there to begin with.
If you start your own science or chemistry TeachMeets, tailor it to work for your group. Here are some other practical tips from my experience.
Choose a suitable venue and time
Practical work means a school is usually the best option. The equipment and set up is familiar to attendees.
My Teachmeets have always been after school. Teachers can rarely make meetings within the school day and have other commitments at weekends. We found starting at 4:30 too early. School traffic and distance meant some were late. So, we moved it to 5:00.
Many schools are now open out of hours for community use so you might not even have to lock up.
Plan your sessions and speakers
The first meeting is often the hardest. An open programme requiring people to get up and share can be intimidating.
Ask a senior teacher willing to share their experience to present a session. Our deputy headteacher is an iPad whizz and shared some virtual reality apps. Consider experts you know. Our biology technicians did a session about the science of the eye with a parent who is a professor of optometry. Don’t be afraid to approach guest speakers from other organisations, too.
You could pair people up. An inexperienced teacher gave a great session with an experienced colleague on revision lessons, bringing new energy and perspective to an age-old problem.
Consider local or current issues. Our first TeachMeet was a series of discussions about the changes to the A-level chemistry curriculum. We knew we were worrying about the same things so it made sense to get together to discuss them.
This could be controversial. Most TeachMeets are free. But free meetings have low attendance – about 50%. That wastes any pre-ordered food and drink. We allocate funding from the local section of the Royal Society of Chemistry and Institute of Physics to refreshments, but also charge £5 to teachers.
Why £5? We want the meeting to be accessible to teachers who fund themselves or have school support. We also want trainee teachers to attend. We then use that money to negotiate bulk discounts on books or teaching materials. We’ve bought TLC plates in bulk and spilt the packs so teachers had a starter supply for teaching A2 chromatography. More recently, each teacher got a ‘very short introduction’ book. Attendees get a goodie bag worth more than their fee.
Reach your audience
Has there been a network that has waned because of funding cutbacks? We had a rich tradition of collaboration through initiatives with the Triple Science Network and Ogden Trust. The funding for these died off but we still knew enough people in local schools to be able to send personal emails rather than mass mail shots about the first event.
Give thought for food
Catering doesn’t have to cost the earth. Even if you dig out the departmental kettle and mug stash and buy large box of tea bags you can make a spread. Encourage people to bake and bring along their wares.
Our TeachMeets have a pizza buffet dinner – also a bulk termly deal from our local takeaway. It’s easy to eat and clear up. Add cans of pop from wherever on offer, and it’s a feast. Strangely enough, the pizza attracts sixth formers. They are handy volunteers who we put to work at the registration desk.
Keep in touch
Make sure you have up-to-date email addresses for everyone. They are your future presenters as well as your future audience. Find out what they want from future meetings and keep them informed of other interesting meetings or events that cross your desk.