Snapshot of the first ever UKFEchat conference

 I’ve had this idea of how to report on the UKFEchat conference in London last week. It involves capturing a random set of images and impressions that give just a flavour of the event. I was going to call it ‘Snaps-of-the-Chat’ but that sounded a bit clumsy. So I might call it ‘snapchat’. Catchy phrase, eh? Who knows, maybe I should copyright it?

Party Bags

Friday afternoon spent with @mrssarahsimons and @clyn40 stuffing goodies into UKFEchat conference bags: hessian bags, kindly produced by the TES, bags that smell like digestive biscuits, almost edible. After a hundred or so children’s parties I consider myself a master of the party bag. Stress balls, pens, and programmes are just some of the items on the production line. @AnnGravells pops in to add some order to the chaos and a passing Director of Diocesan Education ends up hole-punching name tags and threading them onto lanyards. That kind of sums up UKFEchat for me, @JPAMDG. Teamwork is us.

Registration
Meeting twitter people in the flesh: always a bit disconcerting. You build up this relationship with @someone online and then have to start all over again when you meet them in the real world. Does @treezyoung really look like her Charlie Brown avatar? Or Snoopy? We have a good division of labour. The welcome team, people like @Bex83 or @patricemiller who will reliably, genuinely, smile at people and make them feel welcome, steer the new arrivals in our direction. Carolyn does the induction. I tick them off the list. No smiling required. We keep registering as the latecomers arrive, and from the Council Chamber upstairs we catch the first distant whoops as Sarah’s ‘Welcome’ starts the day.

Hosting

I host two conference sessions. You will never know how good one of these sessions was because I was also in charge of pressing the ‘on’ button on the digital recorder. I did. Then I pressed it off again. They say that for some classic events you had to be there to know how good it was. In this case, I’m afraid, it’s true. @furtheredagogy (who can make Powerpoint look like a real medium) had them standing in the aisles, waving their arms madly in response to questions about English and maths. @sewdarngood had them sitting in circles conjuring up killer questions for Learner Voice. There was a genuine warmth in both sessions and some real thinking too.

Bluff

@bobharrisonset is a FELTAG folk-hero to many in the sector. He has forgotten more techie stuff than I will ever know. He is a relentless sponsor of teachmeets and an advocate of learning, particularly if an ‘adult’ tag is attached to it. The session is packed. Even free-thinking twitter types have their must-sees. Bob is unfailingly entertaining in that bluff northern way of his. He has the audience at ‘hello’. For a moment though he is unnecessarily rude about a couple of other speakers. This could go either way. Then back on track he urges the audience to become ‘paradigm pioneers’. He’s not wrong. But how? Once the session is over I’m still asking “What next? How does that happen?”

Heroes
The tweets tell you that Geoff Petty is another hero to many. I slip into the back of his session to see what all the fuss is about. Evidence based teaching. He is talking about research informed practice. It’s a good session, another thought-provoking session. I agree with almost everything he says. Maybe I’m suffering from confirmation bias too? He talks about ‘supported experiments’. Says it’s what turns research into improved teaching. I called it action learning sets for teachers in my last college. It worked. Whatever it’s called, he’s right again. It is the way to go, the way to enable teachers to grab hold of their own professionalism. And he seems pretty cool with it too. Almost a hero.

The debates

I arrive too late to catch much of the Reputation and Professionalism debate, but not too late to notice that @gillersn has been masterful in her chairing of it. She looks like the Dimbleby family’s favourite daughter. The next debate is about Strength in Unity and is led by Carolyn. She is flanked by our various representatives: Tutor Voices, the ETF, the College of Teaching, and UCU. She soon has them eating out of her collaborative hands, as they discuss what each brings to the party and how they can leverage the maximum impact from their collective work. And what of UKFEchat? Where does this informal cross-section of FE practitioners on social media fit in? What role do we have to play?

The lunch

I collect my plough-person’s sandwich, crisps and cuppa and mingle. I catch up with Paul Joyce on his very interesting week, and that’s before the conference Punch-Up. I take issue with a former colleague telling everyone who will listen that I am her old boss. Former please @jacquirayner, not old. Then I help Andrew Harden from UCU  track down a previously mentioned and uniquely Tory-votin’, huntin’ and shootin’ land-based colleague. We are a broad church. You’re very welcome as long as you love learning and are loving FE.

There’s a real buzz about the place and informal feedback from all the sessions I’ve not been able to catch up on yet are telling the same story. I sense a slight frisson of excitement though about the last debate of the day. @stephenexley from TES has turned up to referee what some fear might turn into a bare-knuckle punch-up.

The Punch-Up

IMG_5690Dan Williams introduces the last session of the day as if he is anticipating the Rocky to end all Rockies. Many of us are. @drmattoleary and Paul Joyce from Ofsted are debating the nature and use of classroom observations. Surely it can only end in tears? But here’s the thing. If you put two people from our sector together who know clearly what they’re talking about, and care about it too, more often than not they’ll end up talking about the same truths, saying the same or very similar things. The fighters clinch; the referee is about to yell “Break!” when he suddenly realises that they aren’t fighting. They’re dancing. Strictly dancing. A world in union. That’s what UKFEchat does to you. So damned positive, even when the darkest clouds are in the sky…

And there you have it. The first UKFEchat conference. But only a glimpse. There were so many presentations I didn’t see, people I didn’t meet, friends I haven’t name-checked (sorry). Was it all that? Well, in my eyes at least, yes, it was. So what’s next?

The pics and tweets I’ve lifted from my timeline were from Sarah Simons, Scott Hayden, Julia Smith, Rachel Irving, Jay Derrick, Kay Sidebottom, Hilary Nunns, as well as three of my own. If you’re not happy with that, DM me or sue! On second thoughts, don’t tell Sue.

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About dp40days

A senior leader in Further and Higher Education, now based in Moray (pronounced "Murray") on the coast of the Scottish Highlands. (I know, I love paradox). We have more sunshine and less rain each year than my previous home in Manchester, and our football team is doing better too! You can find me on Twitter as @DP40days. Blogs so far have either been about FE, or about a Trans-Siberian Journey to Japan that I took last year. Fáilte romhat!
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