By Mags Amond.
I remember when I was young being frustrated when I could not divine sayings used by the elders, main example “It’s an ill wind that blows no good”. I eventually figured it what it meant. It came back to me recently when reflecting about bringing TeachMeet to Ireland. It was a very ill wind – the greed fuelled collapse of the Celtic Tiger – that caused us to import and adopt TeachMeet from the Scots in early 2009.
When the country was awash with paper money, I was dispatched by the Teacher Education Section to the Scottish Learning Festival. At the end of a long day of lectures, I went to the TeachMeet hosted by Ewan McIntosh. I’d signed up online out of idle curiosity; but I was tired and hungry; so, it was to be dinner or TeachMeet? I chose the latter. Good move.
The format was relaxed but not chaotic, attendees were also presenters, there was no hierarchy. Tables were round, like a wedding. The order of presenters was randomly picked by an online fruit machine app. Speakers had either 2 mins (nano) or 7 mins (micro), with a jovial but firm heave-ho when time was up, and a pointed no-no to slides full of bullet points . Half way through the evening, we had 15 minute breakouts in which a variety of people each led a focused conversation. In the background there was a screen showing tweets from far and wide, allowing a conversation between those in the room and others following online. There was a chance to chatter over a food and beverage break. All these elements – self-selection of speakers, encouragement of tales of practice rather than bullet-ridden slides; round tables; random order of calling speakers forward; the Twitter backchannel; the ‘soap box’ conversations – became, and still remain for many, the hallmarks of a successful TeachMeet.
That was September 2008. I was volunteering on the committee organising the 2009 annual conference for the Computers in Education Society of Ireland (CESI). It had always been a two day conference, with DES permission for teachers to attend the Friday. And then – swoosh – down came the Austerity Guillotine and sliced off our Friday. We had one meeting’s notice to turn our two day affair into one day. So we decided to try one of these TeachMeets on the Friday night. The call went out, and 60 of us packed into a small room in the Maldron Hotel in Tallaght and had a memorable evening. A quick check on Twitter would show that many folk joined up to said social medium that same night, as we learned the power of a hashtag driven timeline and watched as #cesimeet ‘trended’. (In that pre-hipster age, we thought that meant we were trendy. Or cool. Or whatever.)
The atmosphere was electric and energising. The people in the room were a cross section of Irish education – all levels and sectors of formal and informal education were represented. Everyone who was there that night has become a ‘frequent flier’, and many have in turn organised TeachMeets in other venues. (Current recorded count just topped 90 Teachmeet from over 50 volunteer organisers.)
And so, when we rant and rave about the ‘Powers That Were’ dropping the country and smashing it in smithereens, let’s be reminded about the ill wind that helped take TeachMeet across the Irish Sea.
Facts, figures and future: Being a truly open movement, the TeachMeet tribe inhabits the untidy worlds of the wiki (irishteachmeet.wikispaces.com) and Twitter timelines. There’s no central HQ, no ‘foundation’, no written constitution. It survives on trust among the tribe. A glance at the archive and organisers pages of the Irish wiki will show the growing list of those stepping up to volunteer, and variety of types of Teachmeet that are evolving – Kidsmeet, MakerMeet, MathsMeet, PrincipalMeet, ResearchMeet, StudentMeet, conference-connected and unconference, North, South, East, and West. It’s delightful to watch the movement grow – the past year has seen more meets here that in the previous 7 years combined. The huge curiosity is about the future; but that is for another, much longer, much deeper, conversation. A huddle, even! Join it.