I have always enjoyed a conference. Over the years I have been to many: PHAB, Inspiring Leadership, Primary Rocks, and now, I can add Northern Rocks to the list. Conferences are great. You get to meet up with lots of friends and make new ones along the way. Since Twitter, it is also a chance to get to meet the people behind the accounts that you follow; although this prompted one person at Northern Rocks to point out that ‘going out to a strange place to meet people you’ve never met before and who don’t use their real name’ probably means we don’t understand anything about safeguarding.
The real draw of a conference, however, is the people from whom you learn during the talks, workshops, debates and panels. I’ve always been impressed by success. As in, people who have been successful due to talent, hard work, creativity and their all-round cleverness. I sit there in awe, and wonder if I will ever be able to demonstrate such success. I also, as is expected, steal as many ideas as I possibly can.
I’m sure it is the same for any Head going on a conference: the staff wait with trepidation for me to return, wondering what I’ll announce that we’re now going to start doing. It’s very easy to be inspired by the people that present at conferences. And, at the time, it seems so simple: do what they’re doing. I have, over time, learnt that this is not an effective strategy for successful implementation of new ideas. It would be like trying to go on tour as a tribute band after hearing their greatest hits CD once: stupid, ill-conceived and likely to be abandoned after one week.
But it’s so tempting. For me, I know why it’s so tempting. I want to be successful. Not for fame or fortune but because I want to be good at my job. And, when I see people who are brilliant at their job, I can’t help but think: I wanna be like you.
Take Northern Rocks 2016.
I want to be as calm and measured a strategic thinker as @johntomsett who exudes warmth, strength and security even as @HuntingEnglish tries to reassure us that he is in fact a pessimistic doomsayer. I don’t care. I look at John, quietly commanding the attention in the room, and I ask myself if I will ever attain such stature in my own headship. Then I go along to see @Sue_Cowley and witness her energy and passion for helping teachers with behaviour and learning. I sit in awe of the sheer volume of ideas she has at her fingertips for fostering good behaviour and, as I wait to be called down to the front so I can claim my two marshmallows and raffle ticket, I scold myself for not having learnt and retained as many strategies as she has. Then I make the mistake of seeing @HYWEL_ROBERTS in action. For 60 minutes he reminds me of why I went into teaching in the first place. It’s the second time I’ve seen the weeds and overgrown greenery get hacked away to reveal the rusted ‘WW’ on the abandoned factory gates, yet still I feel a rush of emotion as I realise their significance. Why, I ask myself, have I left the classroom? Why am I not changing the world, one lesson at a time, like Hywel? Finally, I witness @pivotalpaul and am simply stunned by the man’s deep understanding of behaviour and the complex web of issues that can affect children’s trust of the adult world. Paul’s explanation of counter-intuitive behaviour management is rooted in his understanding of human beings, and all I want to do is sit down and listen to all 150 of his podcasts in the vain hope that this will make me more like him.
Afterwards I think about my way forward. Am I going to rush back to school and put in place everything I’ve seen? No. If I did that, not only would it all fail but it would not be in the best interests of the children or staff in my school. Because, if I did do that, it would be self-serving. It would be because I wanted to emulate their success in order to call it my own. Despite my deep respect for these individuals, I have learnt that aping and imitating are not worthy pursuits when it comes to leading a school.
Instead, I will look beyond my own admiration of the people and focus on those times when, after hearing an idea, an individual’s name popped into my head. Many times, when listening to the stories, advice and pedagogy that flew around the conference, I would picture the child or member of staff in my school that they might benefit. All I’ll need to do is to consider some tiny changes, a slightly different approach or a small gesture that, if actioned, could really make a difference to a handful of children. No need to change policy. No need to hold an Inset. In some cases, no need to tell anyone else about it. But little things that might just work. And if they do, maybe then I’ll think about taking them further. If I do, I’ll not only be indebted to the speakers at Northern Rocks, but I’ll be a little bit closer to becoming the Head I want to be.
That is the joy of a conference. And that is why, thanks to @emmaannhardy and @debrakidd, Northern Rocked.