On June 13th this year, I was lucky enough to attend Northern Rocks 2015 in Leeds. I’d completely missed the boat last year and heard about it too late; thus my fate was to sit at home viridescently reading Twitter and vowing to attend this year. I’m not sure that I’ve made a healthier decision for years.
Teaching is a strange profession. We are, I think, an odd bunch. To be drawn to this job is something that leaves plenty of people scratching their heads. Me too, sometimes. The thought of giving up a Saturday to sit in a lecture theatre with other teachers might leave some people, to quote my favourite author, experiencing the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy’s Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day’s work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city’s reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle empty. Don’t be mistaken though – it was magical. The sight, sound and feel of 500 passionate, dedicated professionals with a love for their job and a crazy enthusiasm for getting better at it creates a powerful atmosphere. By 4:30, as I left the campus, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt so energised and recharged.
Being a Student again
I think that sometimes it is healthy to step back and be a student again. We spend our days dealing with the little issues that arise, fighting fires and finding time to plan, mark, attend meetings, email parents, chase up work and even on occasion, teach something. Any teacher worth their salt wants to get better all the time, but sometimes taking the time to sit and think carefully about your practice and how you can do it better just isn’t an option. The old cliché about ‘things slowing down in the summer term’ is rubbish, and at every other time of year it always seems to be time for reports, or exams, or mocks, or something. Don’t you ever find yourself thinking it would be nice to just have a day where you reflect on your teaching and then get chance to hear about and discuss loads of interesting things that can help you get better at it? I do. And yet, it seems like there’s simply never the opportunity, until NRocks. On that Saturday, back in my hometown, I was allowed to be a student again, sitting absolutely spellbound as people like Tait Coles, Amjad Ali, Hywel Roberts and John Tomsett took turns to open my eyes, refuel my fire, help me remember why I love the job and give me clear, simple but massively effective ways to do it better.
Since joining Twitter, 10,000 (mostly utterly rubbish) tweets ago, I have chatted to loads of inspirational colleagues who have helped me to improve immeasurably, or provided comfort in hard times. Not all of them were at NRocks of course, but it was brilliant to put a face to the unusual Twitter name of NooPuddles and to be cheeky behind the bike sheds in person with Rachel Rossiter after so long just knowing them as an avatar. Turns out, they’re lovely in person too – and introduced me to their colleagues and friends too. I was lucky enough to bump into Aimee again, and hopefully will be thieving many resources from her in the near future! It wasn’t all heavy pedagogical debate though. While this was not a day for tension and suspense, tracking the #NRocksPhoneWatch with Si Mcloughlin addded a certain frisson to the whole affair. Socialising with colleagues from other schools who are there just because they want to be brilliant – sounds good right? It really, really was.
Ideas above my station
I blogged once before about how a change in mindset helped me overcome the fact that I wasn’t a very good teacher. I’ve read and re-read ‘The Talent Code’, ‘The Chimp Paradox’ and ‘Bounce’ this year, and slowly but surely am turning myself into a more determined, and more focused practitioner. I feel like I know who I am as a teacher now, and have a firmer confidence in what it is I want to be to the kids, what it is I want to achieve every day. NRocks helped immeasurably on two counts here. Firstly, I heard a load of new ideas that challenged my thinking – an absolute must for the mindset crowd. The challenge of embedding them, adapting them, and bringing them to life is one I am excited to face. The other way that NRocks helped was by bringing me face to face with inspirational people who gave me something to aim at. Now, I don’t want this to turn into a paragraph of sycophantic, mozzarella-saturated drivel, but if you haven’t had chance to sit and listen to Amjad Ali talk about hooking students in with imovie, or the eye-opening emotion of ‘I wish my teacher knew’, or seen Hywel Roberts explain the different types of teacher through Jaws or espouse the merits of ‘Banter for Learning’ then you really have missed out. A look inside John Tomsett’s brain was equally inspiring, with a timely reminder to us all to know, and love our students really hitting home, merged with some practical, easy and innovative advice on how we might do better at creating the culture in which they thrive. Also, we got to solve that (now infamous) ‘Hannah has a bag of sweets’ question, so I felt clever and that.
The point to all this is that I have no wish to stay still in my professional or personal development. Northern Rocks was full of inspiration – people who inspire, who think and care deeply about what they do and share it with others, people who challenge the status quo and are prepared to stand up and shout loud for what’s right, people – in short – that I wish I was like. The whole day reminded me of what is important in this job, it reminded me of what I have done so far, and it showed me not only how much I can still achieve, but how to achieve it – and finally it did all this while letting me spend the day in the company of some wonderful people.
Right, what am I doing on 11th June next year?