I have long known that the answer to improving an education system is to fill it with teachers who are determined to never stop learning. Teachers who are intellects, who question and challenge, teachers who do not accept the words of fools and instead insist on an evidence informed approach to classroom practice.
Professional development has been my obsession for many years now. It is the very reason that I was behind the NCETM, the reason I conceived and founded the charity Teacher Development Trust, the reason that I built this very website.
I have long known that we, as a teaching profession, hold all of the answers. Teachers are all researchers. Each and every hour, a teacher will test hundreds of hypotheses, will make hundreds of predictions, take hundreds of decisions. All teachers have theories, although many do not recognise that they do. The answers are all there, but they are unlocked or, worse still, they are suppressed, stifled or forbidden. This is why collaboration is the key – we are stronger together. No one teacher can possibly know all there is to know, that is the joy of being a teacher, that there is always something new to learn. Being willing to engage with external others, whether they be the teacher next door or a teacher in another country, is vital. We listen, internalise, contextualise, fit to our pedagogy and our setting and our culture. Collaboration is key.
In spring 2004, I was giving a speech at the national AST conference in Leicester, pontificating about the importance of collaboration. As I spoke, a man in the audience stood up and bellowed at me, ‘why don’t you stop talking about it and do something about it!’
He was, of course, dead right.
I drove home and created Emaths. My every free hour then dedicated to creating a one-stop-shop of support for maths teachers and a place for colleagues to share their ideas and resources.
Since then, I have had the great privilege to work in education systems all around the world, to learn and to support. I have run national improvement programmes and have been lucky to meet some amazing people from whom I have been able to grow.
At the beginning of the NCETM, I continually argued that teachers were hungry to network and collaborate, but that school leadership (as a whole) was poor and was acting as a blocker. I argued time and again that CPD provision could take place at the weekend and during school holidays as well as during the working week. I argued that large numbers of teachers were fed up of education being London-centric and that events could take place anywhere. But nobody agreed, I was mocked for thinking that teachers would come to Kettering!
I founded and built La Salle Education because the state of maths education CPD and networking is simply not good enough. We are determined to play a part in making things better.
So, in June 2014 we hosted the first MathsConf – on a Saturday, in Kettering! And you came, in your hundreds.
In the past 18 months, we have had the great honour of providing events to over 2000 schools, with the number growing every week.
350,000 people teach mathematics in England every day. The institutional knowledge is immense.
Unlike other events, MathsConf has no party line. I do not choose workshops based on my own ideology or pedagogy. I actively encourage a day of opposing views and contradicting evidence. Because teachers are really bright, they are discerning and they can and do debate a variety of positions. The only goal I have is that MathsConf delegates question all that they hear, challenge each other and then build on the evidence.
I wanted MathsConf to reflect the intelligence of the teachers who come. The events therefore needed to be highly professional in their operation, which my wonderful team has managed superbly in their own time. Education conferences should not be amateur, should not run off schedule, should not patronise.
I am delighted that the events have become so popular and I am humbled by the large number of volunteers who have made it all possible. To be credible, conferences must be relevant and this can only be achieved if the people in the room and the people speaking are current practitioners. MathsConf is attended almost exclusively by current teachers and it is palpable the knowledge that they hold.
I wanted MathsConf to be grown up, to be respectful. That is why we have a festival feel to the events, with fringe activities such as the Tweet Up and informal, fun and friendly additions like the maths cake competition and the treasure hunt.
My complete obsession is to create an opportunity for maths teachers across the country to come together as one, to form supportive friendships so that no teacher must stand alone. I thank, from the bottom of my heart, all those who are helping to make this possible through MathsConf.
MathsConf has cost us dearly. We have lost many thousands of pounds and given up hundreds of hours of our time. I very much appreciate the support of our sponsors, but the funds do not come close to covering the costs. I am happy for this to be the case if each MathsConf moves just one teacher on in their practice, improves just one child’s life. La Salle is committed to continuing to provide these and other events. I hope to see you at MathsConf6 in Peterborough. Booking is open now http://mathsconf.com/