Educating Northants and the Power of Paying it Forward

After weeks of planning, the Educating Northants 21 conference is over and as a member of the steering group, I thought I would feel a great sense of anti-climax. However, to my surprise, that has not happened. It actually feels like I am still riding the wave of how brilliant it was – probably because I keep dipping into the online presentations, some for the second or third time. Maybe this is one of the instances that Nefe referred to in the afternoon tea panel: maybe the pandemic has shown us new and more efficient ways of working. Maybe we should have been doing conferences this way all along!

I feel like what we achieved this time, a happy by-product if you will, is making the learning last for longer. A conference is always an event, and we know the dangers of seeing professional learning as an event. It feels so intense at the time; you feel fired up and raring to go, but that feeling always fades by the time you return to school on Monday morning. With the daily challenges we face as teachers and leaders, how do we make professional learning stick?

Vivienne Porritt has long promoted the idea of professional learning and development (PLD) cycles. She says “Learning needs to shift from a model of knowledge transmission to a model where knowledge gained is applied and tested…where subsequent new knowledge leads to improved practice which is embedded over time”. This resonates with me. Like all good school improvement, quality professional learning is a process and takes time to bed in. When I attend good CPD, I like to mull it over, chew the fat for a bit; only then can I think strategically about how it might influence the next steps I take.

Nearly a week on from the conference, and I am still reflecting on the learning. I am still dipping into the videos: to check my understanding; to pick out a quote I like; to write some notes in my professional learning journal. The day went by so quickly, but I am relishing the opportunity to savour the detail and focus on the nuances of the presentations.

Watching the videos is like being given a window into the world of other schools. It feels such a privilege that people wanted to share their stories with us. It is humbling that so many people were being honest about where they were on their journeys. There were no presentations claiming to be ‘the finished article’ and no one saying, ‘we’ve cracked it in our school’. Instead, we saw professional voices coming together, opening arms and opening doors. I felt emotional on the day and I continue to feel incredibly moved by the power of our collective voice and the hope this brings for the future.

There is no doubt about it, the young people were the star performers of the day. The Silhouette Theatre Group performance opened the conference with aplomb, almost taking my breath away. It made me realise that we have not seen young people perform like this in such a long time. Unless we see them like this, doing what they love, we are missing the point; we are not seeing them fully. I am mad at myself for not realising this earlier. I am also mad at myself that I hadn’t noticed the absence of the joy that seeing kids perform brings.

In the panel conversations, Kamron and Nefe both articulated the student perspective eloquently. It makes me realise we don’t include them enough. We champion young people and advocate for them, but do we ask them what they are really thinking and how they see the world? Do we invite them to reflect on the things that matter most? Another learning point for me – noted!

After all this reflection, I am left with an overwhelming feeling of pride about what we achieved together and about the potential of what might happen next. The generosity of so many people giving their time for free, coming together for a common cause, is astounding. Why do we do this – why do we give our time? Why do we coach, why do we present, why do we share our resources? We do this because we pay it forward in education. We know that sharing our work, and amplifying each other’s voices, enables more people to benefit. We might not know where the contribution we make ends up, but we know we made it – we contributed – we took part in the conversation. For me, that is all that matters.

3 replies on “Educating Northants and the Power of Paying it Forward”

Wonderful blog Esther and you’re right, here is nothing quite so stirring as seeing students putting their heart and soul into performing.
Yes, champion them and include them and that we we can all learn so much more about what is really important.

As a retired leader from education, forever passionate about dynamic teacher learning, although not ‘present’ at the conference I have really engaged with some of the presentations and your blog provides the flavour of this successful recipe – I think this being a continuous process and a timeless resource and not just an event is a real strength. I see the challenge now is for leaders how to channel this learning into school and have an impact on all its staff. Perhaps if all staff created a presentation as a part of their professional portfolio and replicated this event? No doubt this is already happening. I really wish I was 47 instead of ….and could be a part of such a dynamic movement. Congratulations to all involved.

Great blog! – I love the Vivienne Porritt quote too. Thanks for your reflection and active contribution. Surely the video recording format paves a way forward as it supports cognitive load and allows for repeated spaced viewing too.

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