researchED Birmingham: an unexpected journey

Why and how I set up #rEDBrum, February 2018

I began to understand the world of edu-Twitter about 18 months ago. I had no idea what a hashtag was. Twitter handles were an alien concept. I was oblivious to arguments about whether pupils should face boards or windows; I was puzzled about what gazing at trees could teach my kids about symbolism in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, or the nuances of monosyllabic metre in Shakespeare unless Ents were rapping at the panes. And even then, I wasn’t sure their explanations would be clear enough. Such was the influence of Twitter. So it wasn’t just me who thought pupils should face the board! Huzzah! Suddenly I’d found comrades-in-arms, like Rebecca Foster (@TLPMsF).

Now my emergent understanding of Twitter meant that I became more familiar with the ‘ED’ noun-into-verb suffixes that punctuated Twitter. These ED groups and opinions are prolific, and full of strong opinions. Opinions and experiences are important, but sometimes we wander into the apple-bobbing land of Teaching Folklore. This can often be a wonderful place to be, but a tricky place to navigate. Folklore, though pretty, can trip you up.

And, Twitter, with great power comes great responsibility. In navigating the waves of voices and choppy opinions in my exciting ‘Twitter Voyage’ for the Holy Grail of understanding, I found one welcoming community of people, not all of whom agreed with each other, but with a common purpose: researchED.

I began with a small team of researchED enthusiasts at my school. They devoured research, attended as many researchEDs as they could, even Skyped with the ‘Master Magician of Visualising Teaching Concepts’, Oliver Caviglioli. Momentum grew. And with that, so did the outcomes of our pupils. Our English results in 2017 were the best they’d ever been; our history results improved twofold. This wasn’t a happy accident. Those heads of faculty had engaged with research, and had tailored teaching in their faculties in response to this. I salute you, Rekha Dhinsa, Rachael Atton, Tom Hutton.

So to the ‘how’. Much as I like maypoles and bunting, the Fayre of Teaching Folklore didn’t appeal. What did, though, was establishing the first-ever researchED Brum. There’d been one a few years back in the outskirts in Solihull, but never one here, in Middle Earth itself. I put it to Tom Bennett, who let me run with it.

I was incredibly grateful for the ‘been there, done that’ wisdom of other researchED organisers, like #rEDRugby’s sagacious Jude Hunton. Ever-patient with my frantic DMs at 11pm (‘How do I make Eventbrite do this?’), along with providing an immense #rEDRugby model to work from, his researchED cup runneth over. I had a model, and like any Rosenshine disciple knows, this is a Good Thing.

I got stuck in. First thing was to arrange a date. I did that with Tom, and with my headteacher. This was back in the hazy days of July 2017. We agreed February 2018. It was only in the December snow days that I started to lose sleep about it. Would it be snowed off? Too late, it was happening. I’d booked lunch, I’d booked site team for the day, but I hadn’t booked snow ploughs. Gutted.

I began booking speakers in August. For researchED, the work presented has to be grounded in evidence, from published work to case studies. This made sense. Everyone was unquestionably generous. researchED is grass roots. One way we try to keep ticket costs as low as possible is by speakers not being paid a penny; some even contribute their travel expenses – amazing really. And democratising, too: it means you can access fantastic professional development without forking out a fortune. It’s accessible, and it’s cheap. Another Very Good Thing.

When organising researchED, there are a few things you have to remember. Things like getting the space right, like having good IT support, like a supportive SLT who can calm your rattled nerves. Even whether or not you have enough toilet paper. That was a last-minute thing I had to rectify on the day!

We were grateful at #rEDBrum to have primary, secondary, and ITT colleagues presenting, as well as researchers and other educators. For #rEDBrum19, I’d like governors presenting too; in #rEDBrum they were well-represented as delegates. #rEDBrum was a mix of altruistic, open-minded people. Nearly 70% of ticket buyers were female – researchED is clearly perceived as a supportive space for all. It was important to us that #rEDBrum was accessible to those on parental leave. We encouraged #MTPT colleagues to come along; it was fab to see teachers and toddlers enjoying the ‘live lesson’!

Miraculously, things just seemed to work on the day. But this wasn’t by chance. I tried to ensure our speakers had everything they needed beforehand, that our IT network manager had everything he needed beforehand so his life was as easy as possible, that our fabulous prefects knew exactly what to do (I am indebted to our other deputy headteacher, Waris Ali, for this), and that I had a support network of people just to check I was OK. What I didn’t expect were so many generous-hearted delegates and presenters making a point of telling me what a great day they’d had. The vast majority of these people didn’t know me personally, or recognise me from Twitter, but they were kind enough to find me and tell me. This typifies everyone I have met that is involved with researchED: kind, thoughtful, generous. I am very proud to be one small part of such a community.

Claire Stoneman

@stoneman_claire

Claire is deputy headteacher for curriculum, assessment, and standards of teaching at Dame Elizabeth Cadbury School, Birmingham. She also line manages English, humanities, a large pastoral house and the lead practitioner team. Claire teaches English and loves it. She is a blogger (www.birminghamteacher.wordpress.com), a writer, and occasionally an opera singer. Claire’s interests in education include narratives around teacher wellbeing and the concept of ‘authenticity’, curriculum development, and the development of middle leaders.

If you have been inspired by Claire’s story and want to host a researchED event of your own, get in touch with us at contact@researchED.org.uk.

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