13 Dec

OR “How EduTwitter and Networking threw me a life-line”

To understand where I am coming from with this blog, you need to have an outline of my last three years in education – humour me, please!

Back in August of 2016 I got a telephone call from my Graduate Recruiter at Royal Holloway. I’d worked with him for a year at this point, as I promoted Teach First on campus, so he wanted to give me the news and feedback himself. Three years of work had paid off – I had gained myself a place on the training programme and would start in June 2017. I upped sticks and moved my life to the East Midlands, a region where I had no ties, and only a couple of ex-Army buddies scattered to the four winds.

It wasn’t until the first day of our Summer Institute that I found out Steve Cox (@stevecox17) had got himself a place, and we were in the same region. Steve and I met at the Teach First Insight internship assessment centre months before, and we’ve been part of each other’s lives since – he really has been a support through my entire teaching life. I found out I was teaching in Derby, and Steve had been “Jon Snowed” to Skegness – miles away from the majority of our cohort. Not long after, we had become part of the East Midlands Action Network; this is where we had the idea of organising some teach-meets that mirrored our regular get togethers for breakfast. Steve and I both enjoyed a cuppa (or a pint) and a chat about education whilst we were doing our training, so wanted this to continue.

This is where the strangest thing happened. I was familiar with Veterans Breakfast Clubs, where Armed Forces Veterans would meet up regularly to chat about old times, and network – these events filled a welfare role in our communities, and provided mutual support. I had the idea of putting these on for us Teach Firsters, because we spend two years together in towns and cities, across all parts of England and Wales, without much say as to where we will be. As I have already said, Steve and I love our cuppas. We needed a catchy name for these – as I’d often use the Guy Martin line of “Gerra brew on” or “Gerrit brewed”, we decided to call these “BrewEds” – catchy name, hey? A real play on the word “brewed” and everything. It turned out that Ed Finch (@MrEFinch) and Daryn Egan-Simon (@darynsimon) had the moniker before us! So not only was our networking idea unashamedly plagiarised from my Army experience, but we’d stumbled across the same damn name – honestly, you couldn’t make it up. But, they do tell us trainees to not re-invent the wheel; so we pushed ahead and became part of the BrewEd family.

Now, what is important here is how things changed from this point on. I had been told not to blog by SLT, and BrewEds were something that weren’t really happening in the Derby area, so I reached out to the very small network I had found on EduTwitter – Pulling in favours from a mate at the Chartered College of Teaching, I was lucky enough to be able to put feelers out, and arrange the first ever BrewEd Derby – a resounding success that saw six people arrive, including three of us that were mates through Teach First. What I didn’t expect was for so much advice and support to come from that meeting, that would shape how we do things at our BrewEds in Derby, Mansfield and Nottingham.

It didn’t take long for us to build up @BrewEdDerby to have a regular following, and then I moved to a Mansfield school. The first thing I was asked was whether I would do something in the area, so I did. @BrewEdMansfield saw me present the vision that I’d not done so far. I wanted to improve collaboration between teachers and school leaders across the region – the DfE had flagged this up as a real problem in the area, and just maybe BrewEds were the non-partisan thing that people needed to do this away from the politics of rival MATs. What I found was people had a real appetite for these events. Teach First asked me to organise an event in Nottingham for the 2018 trainees, which they came to film and have used on their website. The first BrewEd Mansfield sold out with 30 people; the last BrewEd Derby doubled in size – I squeezed in a couple more latecomers and speakers, but it was a huge success. People had the bug, and wanted more.

Coronavirus hit the UK. We threw ourselves into lockdown, and I had to cancel my largest BrewEd yet. BrewEd Mansfield was pulling in people from across the East Midlands to hear educators across our region, and neighbouring South Yorkshire and Humber, come and speak about the thing that unites us – our passion for education to help communities break the cycle of poor opportunities for the kids in areas of social deprivation and low social mobility. 60 guests had got themselves a ticket to support our network; to throw their weight behind our objective. I couldn’t have been more honoured to be part of it. It will be back!

Through all of these events, I have been asked repeatedly if I could organise something larger. When I host an event, I make sure people realise it isn’t CPD at school. There’s no airs and graces. PGCE Trainee and Trust CEO sit at the same table, and their voices are heard equally – egos get left in the car park. We share talks from Progs and Trads, SEN(D), Primary, EYFS and AP all have a seat at our table. People like the relaxed feel to these events, and they wanted something extra. BBQEd was born – Originally planned for 4th July (pencil in September!), BBQEd is ‘the conference that isn’t a conference’. Speakers need to meet one of two criteria – A connection to the East Midlands, or be working towards our shared goal of supporting communities in areas of social deprivation.

So, what the hell does all of this mean for the blog title? Well, moving my life up to a new area meant leaving friends behind down South. I moved out of the home I shared with my kids, and moved in with my partner. She is a Midwife and works shifts. My first year was incredibly isolating. I was a trainee teacher, struggling with my workload, and adapting from being the ‘gaffer’ at work – I was often treated like I hadn’t any experience by some I worked with. At Christmas 2017, I nearly walked away from teaching, and would have done so had it not been for Steve and my partner talking me through what I had given up to do this job. Sheer belligerence kept me going, just as it had kept me going through my Army Basic Training. BrewEds gave me somewhere I could talk freely, to people not in my ‘chain-of-command’, and get advice. My Uni tutor was amazing, and she would talk to me as someone who had life experience. My Teach First mentor (Development Lead) changed in my second year, and that relationship allowed me to flourish. I knew he would always be honest with me, and see me right.

The East Midlands teaching community took me in and kept me sane when I needed someone to reach out to. Then EduTwitter became a thing that wasn’t just a load of ‘teaching heroes’ to a trainee/NQT. People started coming to me for advice and support. I would get tagged in on threads, and then was asked to speak at events in the East Mids, and then BakEd in Brum. What my closest friends know about me, and Steve will often hear me say (I paraphrase to remove my BrewEd language!) that I have no idea what people want to hear me say. I’m a massive introvert (really) – I don’t like crowded rooms of people I don’t know. So this has all taken some adjusting to; okay a hell of a lot of adjusting to! Then, after a couple of drinks at @BrewEdClee, I realised what I was struggling with – I was never any good at school, because “Clive needs to try harder”. My English teacher had told me that “Kids like you don’t go to university. You should know your place!”. It had honestly taken EduTwitter and BrewEds to make me realise that for the best part of my first two years in education, in my head, I wasn’t a “teacher”. I thought I didn’t fit the mould. I was convinced I was going to be found out. Hell, in my head I was still a mechanic and had no right to really speak at an event – organising them was one thing, but speaking – no for me; I just made the brews.

What changed things for me? You did. This amazing community of teachers, who I finally feel like I belong to. I’ve had a degree for three years now. The first person in my entire family to go to university. I actually believe I am a teacher now – I’ve been able to see teachers outside of school. I’ve realised that I’m not really any different (OK not much different; there’s still some things only those who have been in the forces will get!)

So, ‘How to win friends and influence people’ in education and on EduTwitter? Well, my humble advice is to be yourself. Be honest and open with those you meet, and you’ll find yourself a seat at any BrewEd table. It might have taken a little while for me to listen to the supportive voices around me who believe in what I’m about, rather than those who want to put me in my place (which is often an inner voice), but I’m getting there. As for those that threw me a life line – I pray that my own kids’ teachers are half as good as you, and I wish that I had been one of your students. Because, without you realising you have done it, you’ve encouraged me to work harder, be 10% braver, and believe in myself as an educator that can sit at the same table as you.

You stopped me becoming a statistic. I’m in your debt.

For the many NQTS and Trainees from all routes into teaching (even those new to EduTwitter and Teach Meets), I can only tell you that networking with teachers outside of your own school will be the best thing you can do to support your career. I have had Senior Leaders look at application letters for me. Offers of mentoring from Head Teachers, and even people linked to, but outside of education have offered me support in developing in my new career. I’ve been able to share lesson ideas with peers, and even get recommended as someone English teachers should follow (For the record – my first attempt at English Language resulted in an E, and I dropped Lit – so you can imagine my shock at that!). Networking on Twitter and in real-life will only support your development, because teaching is the only career where I have seen people genuinely want to see others succeed. That is the true vocation in teaching – getting others to be the best they can be.

Where does this leave things for BrewEds and BBQEd 2020? Well, Steve and I will be working on changing the model of these, and bringing the three BrewEd events closer to streamline organisation. We are still looking for speakers for BBQEd, and will announce new dates as soon as we can. All I would like from you all is to share a drink with you as soon as we are able to, and hope to collaborate in the future.

Finally, I have to thank Dale Carnegie for the blog title – it fitted so well, I couldn’t not use it. 

Originally posted in the "pintsizedpedagogy" wordpress blog - June 2020 

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