‘Teachmeet’ was a term used first for an ‘unconference’ organised by teachers, for teachers in Scotland in 2006. Teachmeets are rooted in reflecting on current practice and sharing ideas, are free and accessible, with multiple contributors and an informal style, and this year they came to Eton.
2022/23 has seen us host 13 teachmeets, reaching an average of 17 teachers each time, across 16 of our academic and co-curricular subjects. Whilst the concept of a ‘teachmeet’ is not a new one, they are the right PD format for our current journey because they offer the chance to raise the profile of peer learning, a school-wide Teaching and Learning priority.
What did we learn?
- Teachmeets need structure to deliver pedagogical value – a specific T&L focus, some killer questions and some carefully invited co-hosts help
- Teachmeets can provide a platform for colleagues – for example our last teachmeet of the year saw 28 colleagues join us to hear about four Action Research projects and their findings
- Teachmeets require thoughtful advertising – time is precious for teachers, so it needs to be immediately clear how their attendance will benefit their practice
- Teachmeets need ‘glue’ to hold them together – for us, the obstacle to getting colleagues in the same room to talk about their practice was a lack of time, so the ‘glue’ was: holding them over lunch and providing the literal space (in our Centre for Innovation and Research in Learning), time (no more than 35 minutes) and food!
Why did we choose this PD format?
There is extensive research on Professional Development (PD) for teachers, and we were particularly interested by the Education Endowment Foundation’s 2021 report on what makes PD effective, for teachers and their pupils. They concluded that
‘PD has great potential; but it also comes with costs. We know that teachers engage in professional development activities whilst balancing multiple and, at times, competing commitments and time pressures. The need is clear, therefore, for PD to be well-designed, selected, and implemented so that the investment is justified.’ (Professor Becky Francis, CEO EEF, report available here)
If we wanted to create a space for teachers to learn from other teachers, we knew it needed to be underpinned by clear and careful design, including the four mechanisms recommended by the EEF: building knowledge, motivating teachers, developing teaching techniques and embedding practice.
The format of a teachmeet, we hoped, would build knowledge by checking teacher understanding of fundamental teaching strategies and clarifying misconceptions (sometimes known as ‘lethal mutation’), would motivate teachers through peer advice and collaboration, would develop teaching techniques by anchoring evidence in classroom reality, and would, in time, embed practice by challenging teachers to trial and evaluate the ideas they had discussed.
How did the format evolve?
The first five teachmeets revolved around generic teaching techniques and were deliberately informal, with an opening presentation of no more than five minutes, and a series of 2-3 questions to encourage structured discussion around a theme.
1. Building positive relationships with new groups
3. Making best use of homework
4. Retrieval practice
5. Worked examples (co-hosted with colleagues from Art and Maths)
The Spring term brought an opportunity to develop our teachmeet format, so we decided to home in on an area of teaching practice that was top of our colleagues’ priority list, namely assessment, marking and feedback. These five teachmeets were more focused:
1. Emotional responses to feedback
2. ‘Closing the Feedback Loop’
3. Comparative Judgement
4. Peer assessment
5. Tips from other subjects
They also included pre-reading for colleagues to engage with, for example:
If you’ve got 15 minutes – read the editorial from Cambridge University Press’ journal Research Matters on the ‘Comparative Judgement landscape’
If you’ve got 30 minutes – consider this study of the application of Comparative Judgement to English and Statistics marking in New Zealand.
We are looking to open our teachmeets to teachers from partner schools, advertising the themes in advance so colleagues can attend lunches most relevant to their developmental goals. We’re also aware that our lunchtime slot meant that colleagues who had pre-existing commitments couldn’t join us, so we need to think carefully about how to share some of the exciting ideas (this year we used our weekly T&L email to do this) more systematically, and look at alternate times to ensure accessibility.
If you want to know more about teachmeets, these blogs contain some useful advice:
Ross McGill – Planning a TeachMeet (teachertoolkit.co.uk)
Kirsty Turner on subject-specific teachmeets, Royal Society of Chemistry – How to organise a successful TeachMeet | Ideas | RSC Education