Teachmeets. Hands up if you’ve been to one. Oooh – that’s quite a lot of you! And what did you find out about? What’s that? New technologies? Really? Or just some really cool websites and apps?
Heavy metal leadership acknowledges that the current trend of teachmeets is ‘happening’, ‘fashionable’ or ‘now’. But these are seemingly relatively quick fixes. They are one hit, or one album, wonders, like todays top 40 hits that will vanish into music history for future generations to turn their noses up to. Unarguably they are fun and a great way to meet other educational professionals from a variety of settings, have a good catch up with friends and can be useful. This post is not trying to say that they do not have an impact on teaching and learning.
Top 40 songs are fun, we find ourselves singing along with them, humming them without realising. Here we are likely to fall into two different camps: those of us who openly admit to loving these songs and those of use who may pretend we really don’t care. Our feelings towards teachmeets probably aren’t too dissimilar from these views, there will be those who openly gush about them, organise them, blog about them, embody the very essence of the teachmeet spirit. Then there will be those who remain cool, might attend sporadic teachmeets and are outwardly cynical of the concept. Either way, everyone gets a little excited by them, the buzz of meeting up with other like minded teachers, hearing about what other people are doing, just like everyone has a guilty top 40 pleasure that never fails to make them smile and sing along. They don’t offend, they don’t have harsh pig squeals or death growls, and they are suitable for all audiences, contrasting the the violative nature of heavy metal that carves its own dedicated followers.
Leadership is complex, vision and ideas take time to evolve and consideration to implement. There a no quick fixes in leadership and there will always be the difficult, pig squeal parts, just as heavy metal is not always an instant hit, or even a hit at all with some people. Top 40 songs can also take little adjusting to, but they grow on you and you find yourself liking them purely for their simplicity. There is no hidden agenda, no political message, just straightforward ‘listen to me and take me home’. Teachmeets can provide this uncomplicatedness. They are full of exciting, new ideas that can mostly be taken back and implemented immediately in classrooms. They have a direct impact on pupils enjoyment, interest and motivation, which in turn can maximise learning in a positive way. Just pick up the ideas and take them home.
Teachmeets inspire teachers to try new things. There are few teachers who haven’t attended such an event and come away with at least one idea, website or resource to tell their colleagues about and to try in their own setting. They shake up teachers own ideas and encourage them to think outside of their own environment, they excite them to think bigger than just the four walls of their own classrooms. If you were to speak to any teacher the next morning in school they would be guaranteed to be buzzing about something that had inspired them the previous evening. But once again, this is less like the acquired taste of heavy metal and instead echoes the charms of top 40 hits, just as Gina G inspired many young girls to wear crochet dresses, or D:ream inspired tartan suits, or the Macarena inspired middle aged men to wiggle their hips around on the dance floor.
But senior leader must ask themselves what is it that really impacts learning in their school? Is it really a new website that allows you to edit a web page? Is it really an app that lets you link a video to an image? What pedagogy do you, as leaders, believe in and hold tight to? Undoubtedly, somewhere within your own pedagogy you do believe in the children being motivated and interested, but are the tools that facilitate this truly what determine learning? Will the skills we learn from the teachmeets of today still be pertinent, relevant and useful in a years time? What longevity do teachmeets provide? Much like a Top 40 hit is deeply loved only in the ‘here and now’, we may remain nostalgic about these songs in future years, but we recognise that they no longer have a place in our current playlists. After the first blog post many of you mentioned digging out and dusting off old heavy metal records, however I am quite sure fewer of you will feel the same pull towards any of the old pop hits in your collections after this post. Yes, you may think fondly of them, and smile at those thoughts, but you would not dream of playing them aloud today.
Fundamentally the question that should be considered is whether the nature of teaching requires what we learn today to be useful tomorrow? Or is that even possible? Is the nature of teaching now that everything is moving at such a rate that what we learn today is naturally redundant tomorrow? The government are doing such a great job of changing their minds regularly, with new Ofsted frameworks and handbooks being produced at least termly and re drafts of a new primary curriculum changing each time they’re released, that no teacher or senior leader is truly sure of what is expected of them to be deemed ‘outstanding’ in today’s transient educational climate. This is where ‘heavy metal leadership’ carves its own path, keeping an ear on what is current and important, but forges its own path holding on tight to what it believes and what it thinks is right, unlike a fashionable top 40 hit that is dated as soon as it is released.
The nature of many primary classrooms with excited, inspired and innovative teachers, is that topics and material are re-planned afresh every term, with new children, new ideas, new tools. Akin to the top 40 which changes week to week and sounds entirely different year on year, these classrooms are brimming with novel thoughts, concepts and original ways of learning. But is this truly productive, or balanced, when considering the full impact on learning, progress and attainment? Is investing so many hours in ‘trendy’ tools with limited longevity in the classroom really valuable in the long run? The alternative, without the inspiration of teachmeets, may be the age old trap of regurgitating the same planning every year, with the same videos, same worksheets, same school trips. Hardly dynamic, much like Finnish death metallers Kalmah, whose sound never changes, never evolves and always sounds the same. But do people still buy their records? Yes.
So where do we stand as senior leaders? Do we encourage continuous innovation, keeping classrooms, resources and tools fresh, but which requires a greater number of hours planning, resourcing and working, and will be redundant in a years time? Or do we allow classrooms to become stagnant with tried and tested, but lifeless and unexciting activities and worksheets? Obviously a balance needs to be found. Perhaps a bare bones overview curriculum, with key knowledge and skills set, that should remain constant year on year, but allows teachers to yearly flesh it out with new and innovative ‘top 40’ ideas.
And so, perhaps as the Christmas 2009 top 40 chart showed us, there is a place for top 40 hits and heavy metal to meet together and sit side by side, and in doing so create a bigger noise about what’s important and have a larger impact on the teaching and learning in our schools.