The Northern Grid conference was a success. That’s to say we had more delegates than ever before, more speakers than in previous years and a real sense of purposefulness and enthusiasm amongst delegates and suppliers.
It was a year ago that I had the idea that we should try to create a CPD experience based around 2 keynotes and short, focused workshops led by experienced practitioners from across the UK, sourced from Twitter, with track records of delivering outstanding CPD. This proposed structure was influenced by the teachmeets I’ve attended and I was hopeful we could generate the same sense of mutual support, sharing and fun.
In other years this may not have been such a challenge but with everyone, including Northern Grid, suffering from the The Cuts, it has been a tense and challenging process. We had no budget for this conference and, if my proposed structure and content for the conference was not seen to be appealing, I was in real danger of being the cause of a debt of tens of thousands of pounds for Northern Grid. The only significant source of income we had came from the suppliers’ sponsorship and the charge we make to exhibitors. It’s important to take a moment to thank them for their contributions to the conference as without them the event could not have happened.
I know for many in education, commercial companies can be seen as only after one thing; your money. I would maintain that genuine partnerships with suppliers can be of equal and mutual benefit, and as such should be nurtured. Northern Grid has excellent relationships with our commercial partners and if it wasn’t for their clear understanding of what we are striving to achieve then there would be no Northern Grid conference. My advice to you, if you don’t trust your suppliers, is to find alternatives – there are some excellent companies out there who are committed to helping to improve teaching and learning outcomes. That said, partnerships need to be nurtured and managed. In these financially restricted times we cannot see our suppliers as merely cash cows.
To help meet the needs of the companies who agreed to exhibit and sponsor our awards, workshops, accommodation and catering costs, we created a somewhat complex yet necessary programme of staggered workshops and, with coffee and lunch served in the exhibition area, we were able to provide exhibitors with an almost constant footfall of delegates.
How did I choose the speakers? Let’s start with the keynotes. Russell Prue has a lifetime of experience of evangelising about technology and learning. I wanted Russell to start the conference with a call to arms and to enthuse and engage the delegates. To instill a sense of optimism and willingness to challenge their own thinking. In these difficult times it can be easy to feel despondent, to batten down the hatches and perhaps even tread water. I think Russell’s opening keynote was excellent. It was light hearted at times, engaging and challenging. Russell challenged delegates to make a decision; whose side are you on? The learners’ or Michael Gove’s?
Professor Steve Wheeler was my choice for the closing keynote. A prolific blogger and international keynote speaker on elearning, his experience and depth of understanding would provide a thoughtful and incisive conclusion to our conference. I’ve met Steve a couple of times at his elearning conference at Plymouth University and his enthusiasm and positivity is infectious. I couldn’t have predicted how well Russell and Steve complimented each other. With humour and the confidence of knowing they are right, both speakers had each delegate thinking deeply about their own priorities for teaching and learning.
And so to the workshop presenters. I was restricted by the time available for workshops and money. I wanted each workshop of thirty minutes to be shared by two speakers, each with 15 minutes. These short, intensive bursts of ideas and resources would have maximum impact and, I hoped, leave each delegate overflowing with ideas to implement in their own teaching on returning to their school. We had no budget to pay speaker fees but felt if each of the speakers submitted reasonable travel claims we could probably fund this through the monies we received from sponsors and exhibitors. As many of the speakers were coming from across the UK we also needed to budget for accommodation for our weary travellers.
The Northern Grid conference is aimed at all teachers and LA colleagues so I also needed to try to ensure our speakers represented each of the key stages, and SEN too. Perhaps one could be forgiven for thinking I couldn’t possibly find quality practitioners in all of these areas but on the contrary, I could easily have identified twice as many without even breaking a sweat.
I had heard some of the speakers present previously, however I felt it was important to gain second and even third opinions – so I asked Twitter. Each of the Twitter speakers at our conference was highly recommended by teachers and key people whose judgement and opinion I respect. There were some who couldn’t come for a range of reasons. Some were prevented from leaving their school or LA, while others had work commitments and identifying alternative speakers became an almost monthly exercise as folk’s circumstances changed.
There are many outstanding practitioners on Twitter who will be quietly wondering why I didn’t ask them to speak too. Months ago I started to compile a 4-19 twitter school and stopped when I realised there were too many Twitter stars for each area. This was our first conference featuring outstanding folk from outside our region and next year, I’ll be knocking on your inbox asking if you’d honour us with your ideas and enthusiasm.
Feedback on the day is still coming in and it’ll be a while before we have the full picture but I can say the word most repeated is ‘buzzing’. Commercial partners, delegates and our visiting speakers all described the conference as ‘exciting’ and one of the best CPD events this year/ever.
I’m hopeful that the many delegates who are yet to engage with Twitter and the education blogosphere will sign up and become part of the conversation. Y’know, they only got to meet our Twitterati for 15 minutes, those of us on Twitter get to engage with outstanding practitioners 24/7 – every day of the year.
I’m sorry too for those who have read my tweets over the last year and thought ‘It probably won’t be that good, I’ll not bother’. They missed a truly inspiring event. I said the Northern Grid conference would be the greatest CPD event of the year and I believe it was.
Reflections on the day:
Merlin John Ridicule for Michael Gove’s Anti Mobile Phones Stance Bev Evans The Northern Lights and A Little Bit of Northern Soul Ian Usher Changing the Game Steve Wheeler It’s Grins Up North Bill Lord Northern Grid Conference