Sunday, March 4, 2012

4 Pubs and a Bar: A TeachMeet Tale

This is 1 of 300+ possible tales about the (world record breaking) TeachMeet in Sydney on Friday 2nd March 2012. Hence it is by no means definitive but may offer a bit of insight into the background, lead up and team that contributed to such an amazing event that has already gone down in TeachMeet folklore. The night itself was simply awesome but the build up was a truly amazing, humbling, emotional, collaborative experience of the highest order!

As has been well documented, nearly 6 years ago @ewanmcintosh was one of a handful blokes attending what became the very first TeachMeet in the Jolly Judge pub, Edinburgh. Last Friday night, 300+ teachers gave up their own time at the end of a long, wet week to brave some filthy Sydney weather and get to Australian Technology Park (ATP), Eveleigh to participate in the world's largest ever TeachMeet (the previous record was about 280 at BETT 2010, facilitated by @tombarrett). It was an amazing evening but more on that below. First, how did we get to making this happen?

Back in late November, I (will try to limit the use of the first person preposition) found myself in the Beresford Hotel (pub), Surry Hills, with Tom, Ewan and a few colleagues. One of my colleagues, @obrikate, was booking Ewan and Tom to work with our SSNP schools around Design Thinking plus keynote at the Early Years Conference being arranged for 2nd and 3rd March at ATP. The hiring of ATP was serious $$$ but did include use of the facilities into the evening of the first day if we so wished.

Kate suggested we have a TeachMeet on the first evening to get bang for our buck. To me this was a no-brainer! To have an awesome facility like ATP paid for by someone else (thanks Kate!) plus the 'Godfathers of TeachMeet' present was too good an opportunity to pass up! A few jars into the evening, after hearing more about BETT 2010 from Tom, the thought occurred that we could attract more than the 280 educators at the BETT TeachMeet and in effect break the world record!!!

Previously I'd been involved in organising 5 TeachMeets amongst our schools and had become very much aware of the whole Sydney TeachMeet movement occurring in all sectors across the city. Straight away it was obvious this was the perfect opportunity to bring together all teachers from the State, Catholic and Independent schools (the equity across the board I was perhaps overly paranoid about #CEODECAISBFF :) and really springboard the whole TeachMeet culture for 2012. To achieve this a canny team was required behind the scenes. Enter TeachMeet stalwarts @mesterman, @henriettami, @7mrsjames, @liamdunphy, @pipcleaves, @edusum, @townsey77, @malynmawby, @cpaterso, @rolfek, @pehogg, @mickprest, @jpilearn and @benpaddlejones (mega-unconference edupunk). What an awesome, cross-sectorial group (known latterly and affectionately as the 'Blue Team')!

Cue the start of millions of emails and tweets, many Google Docs and pub #3, the Commodore Hotel, North Sydney, in early December where Henrietta, Summer, Liam and myself got together for a confab about our ambitions. Just before Christmas a bunch us got out to ATP for the first time. Importantly, Matt Esterman was there. Matt had been the main driving force of the TeachMeet Sydney subculture. We had communicated many times electronically but this was the first time we had met face-to-face. What an all round top bloke! We were partners-in-crime throughout the whole process and it was the special connections made with Matt and many others that made this such a fulfilling and positive experience.

So things started to shape up. Ideas, flying in from all directions, were synthesised and a shape started to form, all the time with the healthy critique of Mick and Ben ;). Megan did amazing work on the flyers and posters. Henrietta took the lead with the 'sandpits' (plus organised our blue team t-shirts plus the show bags plus the new website). Jeanette was a recruiter extraordinaire including Skype-ins from @abfromz and @largerama plus @betchaboy for what became a 'Chat by the Bar'. Mick and Phil worked on the USTREAM. Malyn had a million ideas and did an excellent job with the registration. Pip worked on her 'Anarchy Room' and the program flyer and all the time Matt calmly organising, providing excellent communications to all educators involved and keeping myself and my bossy boots bullet points in check. (And all the while, scheming in the background, Liam was arranging a sneaky flash mob!)

So, come 2nd March, we had over 330 signed up, an article on page 5 of the Sydney Morning Herald (thanks @jcsymington, Ewan and Kim Arlington!) and a lot of anticipation from educators from all over Sydney, plus visitors from country NSW, SA and NZ. On the night there were educators from DEC, CEO, AIS, various unis, Board of Studies, pre-service teachers, casual teachers, education consultants, freelancers, media, vendors (not allowed to sell/promote their wares) and even a few sticky beaks plus a student and his mum!

Great panoramic shot by Rolfe Kolbe

It was a truly special night. Beforehand we all congregated in the cavernous dining room with super cool, blue-lit walls with nibblies and of course the bar. Teachers aren't used to being wined-and-dined in cool venues the same way corporate people are. Everyone really seemed to respond to the atmosphere, vibe and excitement about the evening, they were part of something special.

After the intro in the theatre we jumped straight into some 7 or 2 minute presentations from Ewan, @BiancaH80, @KatyO1983 then an outstanding flash mob from the gang at NBCS plus a description of their 'Audacious Classroom'. When the video of this flash mob comes out it will go viral!

Essentially being behind the scenes, I didn't get to see as many presentations over the evening in the various rooms as I would have liked. Having said that those I saw from Bianca, @whartonag and @karlao_dtn were incredibly inspiring. The highlight of any TeachMeet is the networking. It was brilliant to finally meet people face-to-face for the first time when I'd already been following the excellent work of many from afar. People like Cameron (we'd been collaborating on preparing for the event without ever meeting!), Bianca, Alex, Karla, @Steve_Collis, @cwoldhuis, my study buddy @enzuber plus many more and many familiar friends and contemporaries.

At the close there was a very simple message: anyone can run a TeachMeet! Do it! You don't need permission, just a venue and the drive. Maybe focus on niche subjects or geographical areas but do it! (and in the process of organising a TeachMeet you will meet some wonderful people and go through an emotional roller coaster after which you'll be a better person and educator).

Aside - whoever shouted our 'BEER!' when the moment, nervous energy and sense of being part of an outstanding team were making my voice waiver is a genius!

So at the end of the night we all knew we'd been part of something special. To celebrate we adjourned to the Alexandria Hotel, Eveleigh. But here's the irony, TeachMeets started with Ewan in a pub in Scotland; this world record TeachMeet idea was born in a pub in Sydney in the company of Ewan and Tom; yet, because they were keynoting the Early Years Conference the next day, Tom and Ewan missed the post-TeachMeet well-earned beer and feed. (Never mind guys, the rest of us enjoyed the unwind :-).

In conclusion, the March 2nd TeachMeet was a truly wonderful event. This was the highlight of my career thus far yet I love my day job. With further irony, this was after-hours, not strictly speaking part of my job. Ultimately, the camaraderie that came from helping organise the TeachMeet is something that will carry into the future and I cherish dearly.

Postscript - as pictures, videos and blog posts about the event appear I will endeavour to add links. Must dash, this baby is surely coming soon!!!

All of the great blogposts and resources seem to be through Pip Cleaves' Storify