Learning to love teach meets

There is a growing momentum in education driven by a desire to share our practice and learn from our colleagues. Increasingly teachers are finding ways to break free of their classrooms and share their ideas. Collaborations in the interests of unlocking the collective potential of the profession are spreading within and importantly between schools. For many these collaborative endeavours and desires are satisfied by online communities but for many the possibility for a face to face conversation is more alluring.
This is where 'Teach Meets’ come into the picture. Originating in the mind of Ewan McIntosh the first teach meet as it came to be called occurred in Scotland a little over ten years ago. Since the first meeting the idea has been to provide a venue for teachers to gather in and to discuss and share their practice. The simplicity of the idea has caught on and teach meets are now an important source of professional learning for teachers the world over.
A small degree of structure brings a level of predictability to teach meets. The normal routine is a brief introduction by the host followed by a series of short presentations around a pre-selected theme. Presentations typically are in one of three lengths, two minutes for quick snapshots of practice, five minutes or seven minutes to allow for more complex ideas. The relative brevity of the presentations and the option for the quick two minute one removes the anxiety and need for detailed preparation that comes with longer, more formalised presentation models. Naturally the rules are there to be broken and bent to the needs of the community. Some teach meets are followed by a teach eat which is not as frightening or cannibalistic as it sounds.
And it is the community that matters most. Teach meets are a construct of the teaching community, relying on hosts and presenters from within it. More than likely if you attend a teach meet presented by a particular teaching community you will find yourself attending others by the same group. In the times between the teach meets social media plays the role of maintaining and strengthening the connections between community members. A popular model is for a teach meet to be followed by an online Twitter chat where participants reflect on what they have learned from the teach meet. 
Attending your first teach meet can be a little daunting. Joining a community of unknown teachers can be a little frightening, as is joining any new group. What you will find is a collective of passionate teachers keen to expand their learning community and eager to share and embrace new ideas. On your first visit you may choose to just attend, sitting in the audience and joining the conversation afterwards. Making the move from a member of the audience to a presenter is highly recommended and requires little else than an idea worth sharing and the understanding that if you found it valuable, so too will others. Remember that teach meets rely on community participation and the willingness of its members to share. 
The rapid spread of teach meets ensures that you are likely to have access to one in your area and in most cases to have access to one that specialises in areas of education that you are interested in. Searching online for teach meets will produce a list of results and there are sites such as TM Sydney where communities can publicise their events. If you are looking to host a teach meet publishing the details through social media with a #tag relevant to and used by the community, you are targeting will bring attendees. Adding the details to online lists will help too. If starting out be prepared for a slow initial growth that gradually accelerates; don’t expect 100 teachers to attend your first event. Much of the charm of teach meets comes from the smaller size of the groups and the close knit communities that they create.  A real benefit of the teach meet community will be the connections that you make.
With increasing demands on teachers to involve themselves in documented professional development teach meets are now a way to engage in learning by choice. A typical teach meet will last about two hours including time before and after for discussion. Most teach meets are free and the cost of hosting one is minimal; a little catering. For the host comes the opportunity to support the community and to bring teachers into your learning environment. For schools interested in encouraging their teachers to attend teach meets being a host can be a positive first step and an accessible one at that.
Over the past two years I have attended many teach meets and made numerous friendships and collegial relationships along the way. My teaching practice has improved as a result and I have shared my ideas with real audiences who have provided valuable feedback. The team of teachers with whom I am lucky to work have embraced teach meets too and the collective experience has strengthened us as a team and allowed us to better see ourselves as a community of learners. 

By Nigel Coutts