Last year I had to resell my ticket to the inaugural Northern Rocks conference as I was triple booked. I wasn’t overly bothered at the time – it was the first time the conference was running and I wasn’t convinced it was worth the effort to get there. Catching up on it later via Twitter, I realised how wrong I was. This year I put it on my calendar as soon as the date was released – I wasn’t missing it for anything and I’m so glad I went.
There’s a danger at events like Northern Rocks that there can be a sense of self-congratulations – that ‘we’re so amazing, just look at us’ vibe. The atmosphere can be a touch forced. I’m so pleased that that does not describe my Saturday in the slightest. I was genuinely inspired, and felt so positive and re-energised about teaching by the end of it all.
I started my day in the speakers’ green room (imposter alert!), waiting for Mark Anderson as I had brought a load of iPads to use for filming workshops. From there I headed over to the opening address and was so pleased to see the mix of panellists ready to debate the questions. It was a good mix of left and right wing (my dislike of Jonathon Simons notwithstanding), and I was interested to hear what Mike Cladingbowl had to say. Debra Kidd did a really good job of moderating the discussion – everybody was heard but nobody seemed to dominate the conversation.
From there I headed over to hear Richard Keiran and Lisa Hinton talk about leading with kindness. I was a bit torn about which workshops to attend, but decided in the end to go with things that I wasn’t likely to pick up through Twitter (sorry Amjad!). I really enjoyed this session. Richard and Lisa clearly work in a school that is managed so differently to most. A lot of it was exactly as described in the programme – Richard giving his perception and Lisa giving the reality(!), but it was so great to hear, especially as a fledgling school leader myself, that it can be done with trust and investment in staff instead of a focus on punitive appraisal systems.
I was feeling pretty good about things after that workshop, and then I went it to see Hywel Roberts. There’s only one word to describe that workshop: wow. None of it was rocket science, it wasn’t ground breaking – but it was about putting the heart and soul back into teaching. The creativity, the ‘imagineering’, banter for learning (I’m still hoping that become a real Independent Thinking course!) – Hywel is exactly the type of teacher I aspire to be more like. I mean, who doesn’t rate someone who starts their workshop with, “I’m the man in the Matalan suit”? The balancing goats/learning walk analogy was bang on, as was the use of Jaws (Jaws for learning!) to illustrate the difference between traditional and progressive teaching.
From there it was lunch, and a catch up with some fab people who I never see in the same city twice. And of course there was cake!
After lunch I headed over to see Chris Waugh and his team of staff and students. This was brilliant. If I’d wanted to work for Richard and Lisa earlier, and with Hywel, it was Chris who really got me thinking about what and how we teach. And why, for that matter. He’s so clearly passionate about how he does things in his department, and in giving students ownership of their education. He was rightly proud of his students, who absolutely shone. They were clearly confident writers and speakers and definitely deserved their badge!
The final workshop I saw was John Tomsett‘s. I’ve long admired John’s work and have read so much of what he’s written. Again, it wasn’t rocket science, but a bit of a different perspective on things. The mental health of students is so, so important, and yet so often overlooked in favour of achieving targets. He also spent a lot of time showing off his visualiser, and I’m pleased to say that I’ve been doing similar stuff for quite a while now. It’s good to hear someone else demonstrating it though, as it kind of confirms that I’m not as useless as I sometimes think I am!
The debate in the afternoon between Sean Harford of Ofsted and Mary Bousted of the ATL probably didn’t hold my attention as much as it could have. I was pretty exhausted by then and it was so warm in the gym – no excuse, but it’s the truth! I certainly perked up afterwards though with performances by Rachel Orr (rocking her ORRsome shoes), Hywel, Mick Waters and David Cameron, and David’s DJ set at the end. What a great way to end it all!
Of course, there was the Staffrm catch up in the pub afterwards, but those memories need be locked deep in the vault, never to see the light of day again…
It’s probably not a coincidence that the best CPD I’ve had in recent years are the events I’ve found myself, usually taking place on a weekend – not what my school see as best. I don’t know if it’s because my school, and many others, have an outdated view of what good CPD is or who offers it, or if it’s because I spend so much time learning from people via social media in a way that most SLT don’t that alters my view of what is best for me. Either way, Northern Rocks will be going straight back onto my calendar for next year. And in the meantime, I have Pedagoo London to look forward to!