Why I attend ResearchED.

What’s not to like? A conference run by teachers for teachers, which costs less to attend than a premier division football match, which offers around 100 speaking slots and for which the speakers- teachers, thinkers and politicians give their services gratis?Much, apparently, as I thumb through my Twitter timeline recently. 

So in a world where teachers can be roundly castigated and belittled for showing a view from their classroom – not for the view, but for the temerity of actually arranging chairs in her room which face the teacher… In rows; in which the word ‘good’ (as in behaviour) becomes an offensive political concept and in which the ever binary skirmishes between trad and prog teachers continue to through up heavily personalised arguments, I value the exercise and so do many of my colleagues- hundreds prepared to lose their weekend and shuffle off to Stratford – not the picturesque Shakespeare theme-town but the gorgeous world of railways and Westfield in East London.

I don’t know the reasons my colleagues and friends from @teamenglish1 make this journey, but for me it is a mixture of things- the range of speakers, the chance to network and meet face to face teachers who have helped me and to whom I have passed on my material and to get myself out of my bubble- the safe space of my school to look towards not inwards and to recognise the quite astonishing breadth of my profession. Critics of the event say that all the presenters are drawn from the same stratum of political and educational theory. Maybe. So choose carefully and have your preconceptions challenged. Who knows, you might hear something which alters your thinking, however slightly. 

It worries me that so many in my profession see themselves as ‘right’ at all times and tha this gives them the right to use Twitter in particular to wage war against those in the profession with whom they disagree. The joy of a day like today is the positive atmosphere in which people actually connect and share. Maybe the talk was a little disappointing, then something may be regained by chatting with a colleague from a different discipline over coffee and realising how little ALL of us know, and how much we believe or assume. It’s the whole point.

All conferences are like car-boot sales. They cannot be 100% thrilling, but there might be a nuggets among the dross which you will treasure for the foreseeable future. Sometimes we sit and listen and drift – not quite what I expected from ‘The practical use of Water voles in the assimilation of good practice in the KS3 classroom’, and we behave like naughty children in a BYOD classroom and flick through our thread while pretending to take notes, only to see a tweet from next door about how wonderful a certain speaker is. Great. So we seek them out at lunchtime and ask for a quick summary. We share and we benefit, and if we hear something with which we disagree, we can talk to the speaker, not just fire abuse from behind our avatars supported by the echo chambers which so many of us find comfortable but which ultimately hinder our development. 

So today is a chance to put my preconceptions behind me and to go with an open mind to assess what I hear over time. I loved rEDOxford in the Spring, an English and MFL event. I use maybe 1 item I took from that event almost every day. The rest is now in my memory, lodged against the day when my practice needs me to recall it. I go to my notes and I dredge it up, polish it and use it, just as I use things from NATE16 or an IBDP course in 2005. Before any of us feel we know what goes on at an event like this we should attend with an open mind and question. Yes, it’s easier to react from afar and hurl abuse, but that’s lazy. It suggests an unwillingness to shift a position and to coerce all to your own. Life is not binary, let’s not reduce it in this way.

The recent reaction to David Didau’s work on hereditary traits of intellect was interesting. The work was flawed. Maybe David wishes he had spent longer on his research and recognised a key element of this research for the racially bigoted work it is, but he didn’t. He published. Attached and pilloried as a racist he dug in, given the chance to explore further sources he responded, went back to the work and published an apologia on Twitter and the web acknowledging his error and apologising for offence. Not enough for the Twitter-posse who want nothing other than public walks of shame, but an interesting moment- a teacher publishing flawed research who is willing to acknowledge error and to apologise. We are waiting for the minds behind brain-gym and VAK to be big enough to do the same. 

I hold no beef here. I have met David twice and we get on over a pint- neither of us know the other, but I like him. I value his work, especially the #notbook and hope to bump into him today to say hello. I am not of his party ( whatever that is) because I would not presume to say that I know him that well. My point is that on balance I do not believe him to be a racist, but he has used racist research and, whether carelessly or otherwise, published it. He has retracted. Hopefully for him, people will begin to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Because this is missing in EduTwitter much of the time. People we do not know publish 140 characters and are slayed by those who know better. Repeatedly. Twitter is brilliant. It is my external CPD and support. But it can be vile. People are scared to use it and there are bullies who delight in humiliation of their victims. Today is my antidote. I will meet up with members of @team_english1, which has become a true friend, and I will get the chance to talk to colleagues. We may disagree, but we will be civil, we will give people the benefit of the doubt, and we will leave in some way improved by the experience.

Thank you @tombennett71 for bothering to put your life on hold and to organise #rED17.