Practical Pedagogies has become a leading 'by teachers for teachers' event, writes Catherine Steel  

In January 2016 Russel Tarr (@russeltarr) invited educators from around the world to attend his second ‘Practical Pedagogies’ conference at the International School of Toulouse.

From hundreds of proposals from people who wanted to lead the 120 or so workshops (up 50 per cent on 2015), I was lucky enough to have my "Putting Children at the Heart of Learning" session put on the bill for what has become a leading 'by teachers for teachers' event.

You can imagine the excitement of a classroom teacher like me (@RedbridgePS) at the thought of getting to visit an international school, have the opportunity to network with fellow professionals and visit a European city that I’d not been to before.

More than 250 delegates and session leaders from 14 countries  

There were more than 250 delegates and session leaders from 14 countries – the UK, France, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Austria, Spain, Czech Republic, Greece, Netherlands, Portugal, Australia, Romania and the USA.

However, as we all know, a lot changed for Britain in the months leading up to the event (November 3-4). Not only did the British public decide to leave the European Union under ‘Brexit’ but we also saw the appointment of a new prime minister.

In a week that saw the British government being told by the High Court that Article 50 cannot be triggered and that Britain cannot leave the EU without a parliamentary vote, many British educators travelled to the South of France to join other nationalities with excitement and anticipation of what we might learn.

The organisation of the event (“By Teachers, For Teachers!”) was second to none, with every detail having been thought of. Once registered, people soon began to introduce themselves to ‘new’ people over coffee and a wealth of quality discussions through a global network ensued.

'Change thinking, change learning, change working'

Ewan McIntoshEwan McIntosh: key message was 'change thinking, change learning, change working'Scotsman Ewan McIntosh (@ewanmcintosh, creator of NoTosh) gave the keynote which certainly inspired people to look at the way in which they accessed the event. He encouraged us to look at not only the school system but also how concepts can be applied in the workplace too.

A key message was “change thinking, change learning, change working”: communication and collaboration were key, no matter what background, role or nationality. By all people working together, we really do pool a wide range of skills and have the possibility of taking something abstract and making it concrete. This applies to our roles as facilitators of learning where we allow children to work in mixed groups to identify and solve problems.

With the emphasis on practical pedagogy, I attended a wonderful session led by Niomi Roberts (@RobertsNiomi) where we played a range of memorable games that we could play with children to help them think scientifically and learn terminology. Mike Watson (@WatsEd) led an excellent session about taking learning outdoors and adding levels of challenge without lots of extra work.

Other memorable moments came from Julian Wood (@Ideas_Factory), looking at augmented reality and virtual reality apps, a session looking at embedding 'Philosophy for Children' (P4C) led by Jenna Lucas (@JennaLucas81), Bryn Llewellyn's (@brynll) active learning games and Sophie Merrill's (@MissSMerrill) creative ways to make sketchbooks. Following all of the events on the school update screens and Twitter meant that learning could be done even if you weren’t in a particular session.

'Putting children at the heart of learning'  

Catherine SteelCatherine Steel's session, 'Putting Children at the Heart of Learning'

My own session was entitled “Putting Children at the Heart of Learning”. The emphasis was on how children can be independent enough to take charge of their own learning, the types of questions we can ask to facilitate this and how to record the process.

Lots of thought-provoking conversation came in the form of how to achieve this open-ended approach across all year groups and not just in early years and Key Stage 1. People explained how they use 'Wonder Walls' to collect children's ideas and interests, pose questions and make use of school blogs for publishing work.

As part of the session, the educators were set a list of challenges about making structures using a variety of stationery. As the practical task took place some groups solved more than one problem at a time just like the children would in class. The aptly titled 'Practical Pedagogies' theme was evident first hand and, even though I was leading that particular session, I was inspired by fellow professionals to take things back to my own school.

'Inspiring future generations to be the very best they can'

It seems that this was one well-connected event and the presenters and delegates of this show need not rely on international relations to make it a success as everyone had the same common interest; inspiring future generations to be the very best that they can.

This year, 2016, has seen a lot of change and the future is uncertain but one thing that’s constant is that when people join together to share ideas and collaborate on making a difference to the lives of young people there is nothing to lose and all to gain.

Russel TarrRussel TarrAnd organiser Russell Tarr, a history teacher (pictured right, check out his ActiveHistory website), was also buoyed by the event's success. "The overall feedback so far has been immensely positive, with many people commenting on how impressed they were with the welcome they received from IST and with the quality of student work on display," he said. "A particularly nice blogpost came from Kelly Hollis who flew in from Perth, Australia, to take part.

"The whole purpose of the event was to bring together classroom practitioners to share their experiences, thoughts and ideas about the most effective teaching strategies they have been using with their students. My 'about' page on the website gives an overview.

"This particular conference was even bigger and better than before, and there was a friendly atmosphere of sharing real-life examples and discussing classroom practice. The whole event was designed to run at cost, with delegate fees allowing us to provide complimentary coaches, a keynote speaker and a restaurant meal for workshop leaders (whose delegate fees were waived)."

Catherine SteelCatherine Steel is a Year 2 teacher and computing subject leader at Redbridge Primary School, London 
Follow @TaffTykec and @RedbridgePS


More information

Practical Pedagogies 2016 
Photo credits to Catherine Steel, International School of Toulouse and the 'Practical Pedagogies' Google Photo stream #pracped16