Reflections on TLAB13

It was during the Autumn Term that I first heard about preparations for a new conference called Teaching, Learning and Assessment to be held at Berkhamsted School. Its supremo, Dr. Nick Dennis, Deputy Head at the school, asked me whether I would be interested in leading a workshop at the conference. Without thinking twice, I said yes not realising the impact of this decision. Although, I am, by nature, quite an introverted person I had led a few teaching and learning workshops at school, district and county level and though this experience would be another string to my bow. Quite frankly, I did not realise what a rewarding exercise this would be.

The decision to focus upon activities that help show progress came from a number of influences –

– The current emphasis by OFSTED on showing progress in lessons. Modelling effective strategies in showing progress seemed to me a very attractive workshop that would be useful to others and make the basis for an effective raft of resources.

– The work of Jim Smith, David Didau, Andy Griffith, Marc Burns and Steve Garnett. Their ideas had revolutionised my teaching and make me think more radically about my teaching and how students learn. Their activities have influenced me as much as anything in my career and I have used/adapted/stolen/bastardised many of their ideas.

– The idea that CPD must focus upon practical activities and offer delegates who make the effort to choose and attend your workshop on a Saturday morning something which they can take away and use almost straight away with minimal preparation. Too often, I have attended CPD sessions and workshops that have either offered me very little to use or what has been useful meant that lots of preparation was in order – very off-putting.

I put together a series of the best starters/plenaries and main activities which I had used over the past couple of years and created a booklet which I was rather proud of. I was able to test this workshop with some staff at my school then for teachers in schools across the town. The reaction to the activities was extremely positive but I felt that the workshop need streamlining and I edited accordingly.

Now I was ready and was scheduled to present the workshop during the first round of workshops on offer. Unfortunately, I missed the wonderful Alastair Smith’s presentation as I wanted to get set up and ensure that everything was running smoothly because I knew if I did not take time over this then something would go wrong during the presentation.

The workshop was fully booked and the room was crowded as I did my thing. The reaction from the delegates was fantastic and during the workshop, I was given some great twists and alternative applications on what I was presenting – particularly on word clouds – which I am going to certainly use in my teaching. I think what went down really well was the freebie I had prepared – a 12 sided die. I thought that to make the session memorable one had to do more than produce a well presented booklet which could be easily forgotten. The 12 sided die came in to the workshop as part of the Learning Grids activity which I presented and must come close to my favourite activity on show. Giving something unusual like that gives the session a bit of a boost and it is always good to give a little something away.

The feedback via my Twitter account was extremely positive and showed me that I am working in the right direction in my teaching and this leads me onto the real value of TLAB13. I found meeting like minded teachers at such a conference so inspiring. The atmosphere was buzzing and showed me that there others like me out there that are passionate about the areas of teaching that I care so much about. That they are willing to share, discuss, debate and enthuse just made it a fantastic experience.

After my workshop, I must admit to taking a back seat and soaking in the atmosphere and chatting to teachers and what I would call the ‘teacher faces’ like David Didau and Mark Anderson, whose work I admire. I really enjoyed Neal Watkins workshop. I have read his book The Exam Class Toolkit, which I would fully commend to anyone who teaches upper school classes. His TOWER principle of teaching essay writing skills gave me food for thought and his drama techniques in encouraging the development of literacy skills are certainly something I am going to use in the near future.

The main keynote speakers that I attended were class and offered something different. Prof. Bill Lucas I found engaging but too many times he seemed to be trying to sell you something – either a book or membership to an educational initiative he is leading which did grate alongside his fascinating ideas about knowledge. His idea of ‘teachers as enquirers’ certainly resonated with me and this I believe is the future of CPD for many teachers. Bill Rankin’s performance was pure charisma and certainly made me consider the differences in technology from what I started teaching in 1998 compared with today and how this is impacting upon education and its potential consequences for the future.

TLAB was certainly the gold standard in CPD and hugely rewarding and memorable. For all those who either attended my workshop or who I chatted with during the day you made it an absolute pleasure. But my biggest thanks must go to Dr. Nick Dennis for inviting me and having faith in my work. Thank you.