Yesterday, 400 maths teachers from across the UK descended upon Kettering in Northamptonshire for #MathsConf14.
The day follows months of planning and organisation by my fantastic team at La Salle, with a flowchart of logistical issues to address as long as my arm. The team tirelessly put together an event of the highest standards – and they do this four times per year!
When I started MathsConf, I wanted to introduce a new forum to the mathematics education landscape – one where practising classroom teachers were given a platform to discuss, explore and refine their own theories. All teachers of mathematics have theories, though many don’t realise that they do. All teachers of mathematics carry out thousands of complex decisions each day, gradually refining their practice based on these micro-experiments, reading, research and learning from other teachers and experts.
The landscape had been one dominated by events where those who do not teach (many who never have) told teachers how to teach. As a teacher, I always found it odd that the balance at mathematics education events was so skewed. It is, of course, really important that teachers engage with mathematics educators who have long since left the classroom in pursuit of research and to expand the canon of mathematics education knowledge. But the lack of teacher-to-teacher discourse always bothered me.
I wanted to address this by creating a new type of event. One where the audience was almost exclusively made up of practising teachers and tutors, rather than consultants (a minimum of 98% of MathsConf delegates are current practitioners). I wanted to create an event free from ideology or government diktat, where real classroom teachers could take centre stage and discuss the important moments and ideas in their current practice, where the best thinkers and educators could bring an external expertise to the mix but are forced to interact with real teachers rather than just their research peers, and where every single thing that is said is up for debate. It is important to me that speeches and sessions are allowed from a wide range of perspectives – many of the workshops and talks I have put on the MathsConf programme have been in direct contradiction to what I believe; I love this – hearing opposing views forces one to truly engage in the debate, to read and research further, to question one’s own beliefs and to take on new thinking.
MathsConf is always a melting pot of ideas and arguments. Our audience is intelligent and discerning – there is no need to do unto them; teachers are super bright!
Our latest event was yet another day of insight and thought provoking workshops. It was a pleasure to be able to welcome 400 maths teachers to Kettering (my favourite MathsConf venue, incidentally) and to be steeped in such energy and vision for the day.
I have loved watching MathsConf fill that place in the mathematics education landscape that was missing for me when I was a teacher. I have seen delegates come along to a MathsConf as a nervous trainee or NQT who have then gone on to develop their thinking and become a presenter at a MathsConf event. I have enjoyed hearing the stories from delegates who have become close friends and now have people they can call on when things are tough at work or they just want someone to discuss ideas with. I have loved the sense of community that has been forged with the help of MathsConf regulars and their ever-friendly manner with new delegates, helping them feel welcome and engaging with them in breakout sessions like the MathsConf TweetUp.
It strikes me as odd that, at every single MathsConf, people will come up to me at the end of the day and comment with surprise that everything ran to schedule. How odd that teachers have become so used to amateur and unprofessional event organisation that they find it remarkable. I wanted our events to pay due respect to those who attended by running like clockwork and making sure all who came were able to get the most from the day.
I believed there was a place for a different type of event in the calendar for maths teachers and am terribly grateful that thousands of teachers have agreed with me over the last three years attending MathsConfs across the country. We always start MathsConf with an arranged meet up in a local pub the night before. In Kettering on Friday night, 50 or so maths teachers gathered to chat, make new friends, do some maths and debate mathematics education. This is what professionals do – we extend our interest in our work beyond the working day and workplace.
Yesterday, as always, the MathsConf line up was dominated by real teachers, talking about real classroom practice, real issues and the real feelings they have day-to-day. Supporting this line up, a select group of speakers from outside the classroom who are spending time doing some great research and thinking. At MathsConf, a minimum of 85% of the workshop leaders / speakers are current practitioners – I think this gives us the right balance between propositional knowledge, case knowledge and strategic knowledge – and what a difference that balance makes when compared to many of the events that exist for maths teachers, where only those deemed worthy to speak by some ideologue or government initiative are put on stage to lecture real teachers who actually do the job. At MathsConf, we have an input from external expertise wrapped in a wealth of real classroom experiences.
The MathsConf audience is vibrant, enthusiastic, a whole load of fun and extremely friendly. They are also big thinkers, questioning their practice continually. They are, in short, the professionals this profession needs. It is my honour to be able to work with you all and I hope to be able to continue to play a part in helping you to help pupils across the UK.
My sincere thanks to all who attend MathsConfs, you are a credit to the word “Teacher”.