So, what is so good about conferences. When you have a stack of work to do and a family and heck there is all that stuff on work life balance, why oh why attend a conference in London Thought I might try to justify this to myself as I return home from ASCL 2015 or #ascl2015 as we tweeters say!
1) Networking – well with so many people this felt fairly tricky. However by nature you meet people, at meal times, over coffee and in sessions. I like to somehow benchmark my own thinking on topics. So as an example when I was at a session on Ofsted, did I know:
- “most” of what we were hearing?
- do I understand and comprehend it any better?
- what does it mean to me and my school or staff or pupils?
- am I clearer what we have to do next?
That is less easy when the sessions come thick and fast. So in the informal conversations with the colleagues i just looked out; are their worries mine, are my concerns and therefore my energies pointing the right way?
2) Inspiration. I do love conferences when a speaker you havent heard about shows up and blows you away. The session by Dr Vicky Phillips was like this. Forget about taking notes, forget about nuance and what it might mean for the work we do, just be reminded exactly why you came into the job. BE inspired again to go back and make a difference to children’s lives. This session did that for me. Then there was the inner chimp. I’ve come across this at a bit of a distance but the talk from Professor Steve Peters was just so uplifting, funny, clever, and made the points so well. This made me want to consider what that all might mean for my school and me and children and so on but it also cheered my spirit. It reminded me what great people there are out there – and if I am honest, it’s probably another book to buy an not read through a lack of you know what.
3) Focus. As a relatively new head but quite a long-in-the-tooth school leader I still struggle to ensure that someone has the big vision, when you are busy with the needs of children, teachers, support staff, and…… ( I really don’t want to make a list starting with Ofsted, Governors because it reminds me of all the responsibilities) So having read the ASCL documents on their ideas which I tend to read over on a Friday evening with a nodding head ( Oh OK yes and a glass of wine). So to hear two ASCL people bring the whole thing to life and begin to capture their vision and therefore hone my own gave me a focus. staring at the slogan “Trust to transform”. It also helped me reflect a little and therefore adjust my own thinking and vision. Actually I think I could have called those sessions ” more inspiration but with a massive dose of common sense”
4) Confirmation. This may not be the right word but the session by Sir Michael Barber was good-humoured, and insightful and gave hints of life in the midst of government. It is so refreshing when you learn something knew – Well I never knew that about Anthony Blunt! But it was also clever it showed ASCL how it might actually help government and how leaders might influence very positively. It showed their ideas in the blueprint are doable, in fact he said Congratulations to ASCL ( his words n ot mine) on the work they were doing. But there were nuances which also rang true for example his points about “getting routines right” in government apply to us in schools. Much of our work day-to-day isn’t clever or smart it is routine, it is a system working. Schools are complex organisations and so routines we have such as those concerning communications need to be dependable, reliable and proven to work and not changed every five minutes. You can find a copy of “Leading the Way:Blueprint for a Self-Improving System” here.
5) Political. Any conference with three political party leaders in Education speaking just prior to a General Election must be political. we heard from Hunt for Labour, Laws for Liberal Democrats and Morgan for Conservatives ( Morgan of course being SoS for Education). I missed one but I am not sure I missed much. They tell their audiences stuff which felt to me in my cynical way electioneering so my parody ” we love teachers, we love schools we love heads and we appreciate what you do” I think every politician I have hard at such a conference says ‘we have the best generation of……’ Proof of pudding and all that though – are they listening to us? Nicky Morgan made an important point at the start of her speech along the lines that everyone you meet has a view about education ( probably because they have been through it or are in it) and no two people seem to agree. WHilst that is true I still think some of the people in the room today know a great deal about Education rather than because I once went to school I am an expert” we all have lots of views on lots of matters – try a google search for Clarkson! It did cross my mind there was a lot of very expensive people in the room and most are highly professional and deserve ( collectively if not individually) to be heard, listened to carefully and consulted. It would be naive to think those of us who work day by day year by year with children do not want the very best for them. I will judge this after the election, when we will see if the concerns expressed over these few days on serious matters like school budgets are answered in the black and white and not the vagaries of politicspeak ” there is no silver bullet etc”
6) Practicality. I guess we school leaders are practical people so a round of sessions on performance management, Ofsted, the new A Level and many others hands over sound advice and ideas. Once agin they allow a leader to think where they stand in the discussions and maybe adjust priorities or resources. I have thought a few times that a revolutionary reaction to many of the policy changes isnt helpful, in fact even my favoured evolutionary change may not be right ( albeit better or less worse than revolutionary). However a conference gives chance to have a think again.
7) The crowd and me. Well there were a lot of people in most of the meetings 800 -1200, they applauded stuff I applauded and when they laughed or muttered so did I. I have to think if that means I followed the crowd but I suppose It offers reassurance in the complex world I often feel I inhabit. I went with a colleague this year and this allowed lots of conversation about our school, and I really enjoyed that opportunity. Some supportive conversations, some challenging ones, much agreement with direction, some definite confirmation and some ‘Oh hang on’ moments. Also the definite start of a plan for this, a shelve the ideas on that. A chance to visit the exhibition together and pick up information on relevent topics and aspects of school improvement or on stuff you just hadn’t thought of in the daily hurly burly.
I don’t think organisers can plan to promise to deliver any of these outcomes and the infamous feedback sheets or these days feedback on the app probably don’t cover some matters here. So this school leader just says thank you for all that organising, inspiring, confirming, challenging and supporting – kind of glad you are there, no actually I’m very glad and gladerrer I was able to join you.
Q1 What did you gain most from this conference if you were there?
Q2 Why do you go to such Conferences?
Q3 What is the best bit of going to conferences?
You can read the speeches and catch up on presentations here.
Nice hotel but soent a lot of time waiting for or in, one of these 🙂