In 2013 I was feeling frustrated as a teacher. The CPD on offer in my school didn’t come anywhere near to meeting my needs – or, as far as I could see, the needs of many of my colleagues. I was starting to engage on twitter, to read new things about education and think about my school experience and I was desperate to connect with others. And so, after attending ResearchEd and chatting with Emma Hardy, we decided to set up Northern Rocks. We didn’t mind paying for our own CPD on a Saturday, but we were tired of trekking South for it. So we built it up north. And people came.
They came in their hundreds. And they’ve come ever since. May 19th will be the fifth Northern Rocks. And the last.
The explosion in Saturday events has been a wonderful and worrying thing. There is something on almost every weekend. And I’ve started to feel uneasy. Have we unwittingly created an expectation that teachers will see Saturdays as their training day in an already overloaded week? Are we creating a culture that you’re “missing out” if you’re not at as many of these events as possible? Is it becoming an expectation that not only will you give up your time, but also your money? Have I, along with others, ended up creating an additional workload burden?
I’m torn. Northern Rocks is joyous. It is full of good will and good spirit. From the generosity of speakers, helpers and Leeds Beckett University, to the warmth and wisdom of the delegates – there’s a special atmosphere that I think is unique. And we’ve raised thousands upon thousands of pounds for charities. All of that has been amazing. But it was set up to support and champion teachers. I think we need to press pause and think. I feel bad relying on the same people to help me every year – most of them classroom teachers themselves. I worry about the unspoken assumption that people will just give up their precious family time both to help and to attend. I hear those teachers on twitter who say they feel sad they couldn’t be there, but they have commitments and a life… There has to be a better way.
If the problem is that teachers need (at least for one day a year) to have an element of choice over their training, why not have that in the working week? Why not have a National Teacher Learning Day as one of our allocated Inset days? Could we get enough schools to sign up to that? And on that day what if we have a whole variety of events going on that teachers can choose to meet their needs, their budget and their location? What if we co-ordinated our efforts and worked together? What if?
I don’t know what will happen, but I do know I’ve always had a nose for when things are going off. And it’s usually when they’re looking most rosy. Saturday events are thriving. But I’m seeing teachers work themselves into the ground. And much as I love getting all those amazing people together on a Summer day in May or June, I think it’s time to rethink. I’d love to know your thoughts and feelings on this too. so please do comment. If you are an event organiser who would be happy to think about signing up to this, let me know. If you are a school leader who would be interested in sending their staff along to a National Teacher Learning Day event, let me know. If you are a teacher who is thinking “I’ve had enough of training on a Saturday – let there be a national event during the week” then let me know. If we build it…