TeachMeet is an unconference format in which teachers create opportunities to meet and exchange ideas at a convivial gathering.
Having spent the last few years exploring the TeachMeet phenomenon, one thing learned is a central experiential significance to those who partcipate is that it is PURPOSEFUL.
Reading Time in Minutes
Do The Right Thing;
Do The Thing Right;
Make The Road By Walking;
Don’t Wait For Permission
About Mag Amond
Mags Amond is a retired second level teacher who is in the endgame of her part-time PhD at the School of Education in Trinity College Dublin. Mags has been a long time volunteer in the Computers in Education Society of Ireland, a teacher professional network which celebrates its 50th year in 2023.
Contacting Mags Amond
You can contact Mags by email or connect with her on Twitter
By Mags Amond
As is CongRegation, TeachMeet is an unconference, a participant-driven event. It began in Scotland in 2006, now it is global. Imagine a hybrid of Barcamp and Pecha Kucha, rooted in Open Space Technology ( see openspaceworld.org). This is a social gathering overseen by an MC, at which nanopresentations on classroom practice are given by volunteers in random order, interspersed with conversation, optional activities and usually with refreshments shared. Although they are informal occasions, chaordic in atmosphere, there is a serious professional tone to the stories of participation I read and heard and analysed when I explored the TeachMeet phenomenon. Yes, people were there to meet socially with peers, but they also had deeper motives – seeking to improve themselves; offering to share practice that had worked for them; arranging to bring the same opportunities to other teachers.
The experiential significance of TeachMeet for participants, from analysis of interviews with participants, show that it is personal, practical, political, and purposeful. The first TeachMeets were driven by early adopters of technology enacting a pioneering spirit of innovation, in order to share knowledge with peers. Over time, other participants were compelled to organise events to counter their discontent with formal CPD experiences. For many, their purpose arose as a moral imperative to do whatever it is they can do, without waiting for permission. In essence, the clue is in the name – TeachMeet – which was chosen with intent in 2006 – peers meeting on purpose, for the purpose of teaching and learning with each other.
I start by using a quote from Arthur Ashe and finish by using one from Ewan McIntosh – in between I shout out to some of the many famous and not so famous people I admire because I have seen each of them took a step to lead from the spot they happened to be in at the time they saw the need to lead.
Reading Time in Minutes
Start where you are
Use what you have
Do what you can
Lead if there’s need
About Mags Amond:
Retired teacher turned researcher, on the final leg of a PhD exploring TeachMeet and the unconference world of which CongRegation is a part.
When I was young, I heard the elders around me (in person and on tv) grumble with deep disapproval when Tommy Smith and John Carlos used their medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics to protest as part of their Olympic Project for Human Rights campaign. As a teenager, me and my girlfriends heard (but didn’t listen to) the same grumbled disapproval as we cheered Billie Jean King as she went out on the court in 1973 and won the Battle of The Sexes challenge match. I found these events, and others, compelling at the time and resonant still – they woke me up to the fact that leaders could lead from the very spot they occupied, which might not necessarily be an appointed leadership role. My favourite quote has always been the advice attributed to another icon, Arthur Ashe – start where you are, use what you have, do what you can. To that I’d add ‘lead if there’s need’. To appropriate a term Irish grammar, it is a sort of Modh Díreach leadership. It is all around us (although it still meets with grumbling disapproval, and worse, from many). I don’t always acknowledge it, but I appreciate it.
I see it grow from one gesture by one person into global movements from which we all benefit – in 2012 when Malala Yousafzai spoke from her hospital bed having been shot for attending school; in 2018 when Greta Thunberg sat with a sign outside the Swedish Parliament, skipping school each Friday to protest climate change; in 2016, Colin Kaepernik first sitting then kneeling during the Anthem played before his football game, continuing the protest signal begun by Smith and Carlos more than fifty years ago.
I see it online in those who take time to share their expert information and experience with others in a time of crisis – there are many but my shout out of pandemic gratitude is to those who take the time to care and share their expert information (professors Trish Greenhalgh, Orla Hegarty), recount their reality (school principals Simon Lewis, Caitriona Hand, Trina Golden), and advocate for those otherwise without a voice (union official Linda Kelly). With this list, as Beckett said, I could go on …
I see enacted in many I have encountered in education networks and communities (looking at you, people in cesi.ie, and non-hierarchical systems especially TeachMeet). My experience participating in and now researching informal self-organised gatherings has introduced me again and again to the person who takes that first step when they see the need – allowing others to join in and ‘make the road by walking’, to tread a desire line shortcut from where they are now to where they know they need to be. It is servant leadership, voluntary, humble but very powerful – the meeting leadership that facilitates democratic agenda setting and ensures that voices are heard organically in a convivial setting; and the practice leadership that ensures teachers benefit by being both audience and presenter, sharing with peer practitioners. It is leadership that begets leadership.
I have seen it here each November at the Congregation unconference – individuals who takes turns leading from a chair in a huddle in the pub or the shop in a small village in the west of Ireland – simply by telling their story.
To sum up in a practical way, I borrow a quote from (one who is a role model for what I am describing) Ewan McIntosh’s crowdsourced and very useful Middle Leadership Manifesto – “Leadership is what you achieve by trying something out”.
Thinking about Society 3.0 in preparation for gathering at CongRegation 2020.
As a Chair, I will spend the day in a virtual space, listening and learning in a series of huddles – experiencing how it transfers to the differently connected space, and adapting to weaving gracefully (I hope) thru it is something I am looking forward to.
I offer a brief personal insight on ‘society’, which arose as part of another conversation with a dear colleague and friend this week. I am a member of CESI, the Computers in Education Society of Ireland, one of many ‘subject associations‘ in Ireland. It is unique in many ways – until this year it didn’t have any specific subject or curriculum, rather a focus on any or all possible use of computers in education; it is one of the oldest – founded in 1974; it is a mix of educators from all levels and sectors, active and retired; and it is the only one which is a Society in name (most other teacher professional networks in Ireland are associations, network or cooperative).
Althought I have been a CESI member and volunteer for a long time, the uniqueness of word in our name only struck me recently. It makes sense however – CESI events have always had a focus on workshop / discussion / let’s ty it out / show and tell over, and was one of the first groups in my experience in which online frank discussions, open to everyone, featured. CESI was personal learning network and community of practice before we knew those as entities. The current use of ‘online’ is not at new to us, we have been using it for housekeeping, planning meetings, and remote connecting to events for a long time before it became the only way currently possible.
For me and many others the most common reason to try and get to annual conference and occasional CESI TeachMeets is the society atmosphere built in, the reminder of the wonder of spending personal time in the company of professional colleagues who are a joy to be with. Up with this sort of Society ?
CongRegation is described as an unconference.
What does this mean in terms of the growing community of Cong participants? At the simplest level, we don’t know the agenda ‘til we arrive. We begin the day with an outline of what may happen – each person has submitted a blog entry on the theme (this year it is Community), is allocated a number on arrival, and is handed a ‘dance card’ with their name one one side and a schedule printed on one side. All each one knows is that they will be offered a chance to speak their thoughts during one of four ‘huddles’ to which they are assigned over the day. The only micromanagement in this unconference is the allocation of participants to their venues throughout the day – a logistical necessity, as the spaces (of varying sizes from small to smaller!) are located across a small village. Each huddle has a chair (who has no idea what will unfold apart from sharing of a speaker’s thoughts, listening, and responding) to maintain a chaordic momentum and manage the time.
ConGregation is a situated example of the glocalisation of a global phnemomenon. Looking across and down the history of modern unconference formats ((oh yes, I have a spreadsheet!)), they fall into three structural bands
(i) broad discursive unconferences with long time slots devoted to community conversations in an agenda agreed at the start of the day (Open Space, World Café, BarCamp, EdCamp, CampEd);
(ii) narrower sessions with very short time frames and strict rules for each speaker (Pecha Kucha, Ignite, Gasta); and
(iii) hybrids with elements of both (TeachMeet, Pedagoo, BrewEd, MeetUp, ConGregation, Vconnect).
In terms of deploying the unconference format, at least five methods have crossed my horizon since I began to observe, each with varying degrees of openness and inclusion.
1 – Independent unconference events:
As in this annual event in Cong, most MeetUp, BarCamp, EdCamp, Pedagoo, BrewEd, World Café, and Open Space Technology gatherings are organised as stand-alone events, independent entities with open access for all interested parties to attend
2, 3,& 4 – Unconference events attached to conferences:
(i) many unconferences are doing what their names suggests and getting attached to an established conference as a fringe event outside the published timetable – some TeachMeets and MeetUp are organised this way; these may or may not be restricted to those attending the parent conference.
(ii) other formats have evolved within the conference setting: using an unconference format for some activities during the conference schedule – one way is to include a TeachMeet, Gasta, Pecha Kucha, or Ignite session to vary the pace, inject energy, and open the floor to voices and ideas that might not other be included.
(iii) another emerging idea is to offer a Vconnect session so that those not at a conference in person can digitally connect and join a conversation with those at the conference.
5 – In-house unconference events:
Many educational, community, business or special interest groups are adopting the unconference ‘caucus’ approach for team meetings and professional learning events. Access is limited to the relevant community, but speakers and presentation come from within the working group.
Switching the brain to unconference mode can take a while – timetables and agendas are built by assent and participant choice – some patience is needed, and confidence, and there may be bite marks on the teeth of a control freak for the first while. It can demand a leap of faith, and provide a giddy sense of freedom. Trust is the key – trust the community, let the community trust you, and trust yourself. Trust the CongRegation.
The fact that there is only 32 seats in the private cinema in Ashford Castle is the biggest weaknesses and strengths of the beginning event of CongRegation. The luxurious surroundings and the ‘pulmanesque’ seating allows for a level of intimacy that connects speakers and attendees closely but the night is always oversubscribed.
This year five speakers shared their unique stories of ideas in an evening which started with a prosecco reception in Ashford Castle’s Connaught Room.
Daphne McKinsey stared the evening with a presentation exploring fear and its impact on ideas noting that sometimes we need to completely step away from an idea before we can reassess and implement it. Generating something new challenges us and Daphne’s story behind the Sean Edwards Foundation deeply resonated with all. Daphne lost her son Sean in a tragic motor accident which inspired her to create a foundation that would improve driver safety in the motor racing sector. Daphne also shared the plans for a new communications and collaboration platform that could revolutionise driver to spectator the safety with enhanced first responder and incident data.
Peppered with a lifetime of tips and stories of products he developed David Gluckman shared insights on what inspired new gins, vodkas and wines. Contrary to a systems led world he suggested that ‘sometimes it helps to take something right to the wire. The cold sweat of panic can concentrate the mind wonderfully.” The search for ideas is a 168 hour a week undertaking he also noted. “Wherever you look, you can find something. Just keep looking” said David describing how he has found inspiration from ordinary things like a crossword puzzle. He also told attendees to look at the information you already have rather than continually looking for new data. David also revealed that for him the process of ideation it was “never a team game’. Acknowledging the role of buyers of ideas he advocated the need to learn how to buy as well as sell ideas. David finished up with a final piece of advice for all to implement the morning after test on ideas – what seems like an inspired concept might not seem like such a good idea the next day.
Speaking without slides but based on a lifetime of stories from working in the media Valerie Cox shared how headline grabbing stories come about. By pulling bags of rubbish out of ditches around the country, searching for clue of ownership she tracked down dumpers to interview them for ‘Ditch Watch’. Over 5 years this caught nationwide appeal and radically changed behaviour. Aligned to this she also narrated uncovering a series of illegal dumps based upon following up on rumours that led to high court actions. She also spoke about gate crashing wedding for scoops to following numerous lines of query to gather enough information to make a story worth while. Valerie also shared how the media worked to extremely tight deadlines that forces journalist to rapidly work contacts, gather information, turn them into a coherent narrative and make them readable. The life of a journalist is not for everyone with its multiple rejections and sometime dangerous reactions. One of Valerie’s final stories was on revealing the practices of Irish psychics that prayed upon people vulnerabilities after weeks of recording interviews.
Lee Tunney Ware in his presentation on ‘New Mindsets = New results’ used a series of audience participations that had everyone on their feet to demonstrate the connection between know and believing. ‘We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are’ he said acknowledging the role of belief over perception. He brought the exercise home to attendees by asking them to see how many ‘F’s they saw in a sentence. Most missed a couple of them demonstrating that the mind does not always see everything. Lee maintains that beliefs are the barrier to truth and are only summary commands. He finished up telling the audience that ‘your limits only exist in the mindset that created them’ and encouraged everyone to take a new and open view on what they could achieve.
The evening finished with Joan Mulvihill narrating her new journey as an artist. Joan was better know to the attendees as the CEO of the Irish Internet Association and more recently as centre director of IC4. With only 24 hours to prepare for the presentation she also discussed the role of ‘fear’ and ‘acceptance’ of exposing new ideas. Illustrating the progression of her paint from photo realistic to more emotion fueled impression she articulated the movement from ‘Someone who can but someone who doesn’t…..’ to ‘Someone who can and someone who does…’ She also questioned who decides if someone is or isn’t something. When is someone a Musician, author, Poet, Comedian, an Entrepreneur or in her situation an Artist?
Is it defined by the ‘effort’ or the ‘output’? The reaction by the attendees to her work answered some of this but people willing to buy her work was perhaps a better indicator.
She also spoke about embracing how some people will hate her work and the honest feedback this provides. She finished by talking about the difficultly of giving something away that she has created, although financial payment helps.
Following the evening in Ashford Castle the group retired to Danagher pub where Mags Almond, Richard Millwood, Chris Reina and Stephen Howell brought the group through making simple electrical circuits and explaining the role and function of diodes, conductors, semi-conductors. By using the now infamous fluffy chicken Pieu Pieu showed how our bodies can act as conductors followed by hands on making of glowies. In the course of 20 minutes the impact on sparking curiosity, understanding and questioning was clear to the attendees and even clear how this can be transformation for children. Deep electronics concepts through fun and experience.
I. Ideas that are most simple may be complex
D. Different perspectives enrich ideas
E. Empathy enhances ideas
A. Allow time for ideas to ferment
About Mags Amond:
Retired from a first lifetime as a second level teacher, currently pursuing PhD (part time and from afar) at Trinity College Dublin. Researching TeachMeet, an evolving unconference during which teachers share ideas in a convivial atmosphere..
The idea for my blog post came from my reflection on acting as a Chair at the CongRegation unconference.
Unconferences turn the standard conference upside down, shaking out its pockets so we can gather up and keep the good stuff that falls out – the breaktime chatter, the social discourse, the cross-pollination that enhances DNA. The central attraction of the unconference concept (introduced in the 1980s by Harrison Owen as Open Space and adopted and evolved widely (think Barcamp, think Pecha Kucha or Ignite!, think TeachMeet)), is summed up nicely in Winer’s Fundamental Law of Conventional Conferences – The sum of the expertise of the people in the audience is greater than the sum of expertise of the people on stage.
Switching mode from conference to unconference, while suggesting a simplification of the process – inviting attendees to also be presenters, rotating the menu from hierarchical top down to a more democratic landscape – calls for a more complex level of curation and nuanced management of people, space and time. The chair, cathaoirleach, facilitator, while staying on the edge of the forum and letting the participants engage, needs an ‘always on’ approach combined with the light touch that leaves participants feeling that everything has been aired, and everyone has been included.
Weaving these complexities well is what can make an unconference format like the ‘huddle’ of CongRegation such a successful idea. Simple!
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