Updated: Nov 10
As I sat waiting for the fellow guests, researchers, teachers, and speakers to arrive, the atmosphere was alive with a buzz of excitement. I know that is a cliché but there was an undeniable murmur that filled the room as colleagues flicked through the programme and discussed the excitement of the day.
As a PhD student working with Lisa Stephenson, I was in a privileged situation to witness the conference from the unique position of a researcher, student, and teacher, whilst also getting a glimpse behind the scenes to see what makes these wonderful conferences and all the work that goes into them. First off, praise should be sung for Ana and all the team at Storymakers, without whom the conference wouldn't be possible, and perhaps most importantly, to Lisa, who lit the beacon and facilitated bringing together such incredible minds, providing a space for so many people with a shared vision and passion for education.
A conversation that really sticks in my mind, was one I had at the very start of the day with a teacher from Ireland, who was discussing their work with me as I shared my own, amidst various attempts to work the coffee machine. The day was such a whirlwind I regret I didn’t write down their details, but one thing they said to me really stands out (transcribed from memory):
“It’s quite common I come to these conferences and I feel like the odd one out, or the troublemaker who has these radical ideas about change in education. But this is the first conference I've been to where I feel like part of the pack. And it's strange not being the odd one out and not being the radical change maker, but it's so wonderful to have people that share my ideals and I can't wait to learn from all these people and to have discussions on what we can do to better our schools, and quite frankly, make some much needed changes”.
This resonated with me greatly as someone who's still very early on in their career, and who, from my undergraduate degree, started attending conferences and CPD events for teachers and researchers alike. I found that whilst education and bettering education was always at the heart of these events, it's rare to find an event filled with speakers who share a philosophy of education centred on creative, agentic, inquiry based learning. Unfortunately, in the times that we're in, teaching under the shadow of neo-liberal policies, a great deal of conferences and CPD events are centred on the improvement of targets, children’s attainment and the all-important SAT/GCSE results, not necessarily because the organisers don’t share the same passion or desire for a philosophical change to education, but because this is what teachers are reminded daily is most important, especially with the ever looming threat of ofsted. That being said, it's not very common to find events where the sole purpose of bettering practice is not simply for the outcome of exam results, but to ask the difficult questions about what we do and why we do it, how can we as teachers and researchers be radical change makers and the voice for our children?
Throughout the conference there was a shared eagerness for newness and discovery, to explore these radical places where action can take place and step out from what is comfortable and step into new possibilities for education.
For my own development as a PhD student it was an invaluable experience. Not simply because of the knowledge that was exchanged throughout the event, but the contacts that I was able to make with not only national but international colleagues, providing me with opportunities that I never would have had access to before. Since the conference I have drafted a list a mile long of projects I would be passionate to pursue, from unpicking pedagogy in the new curriculum in schools in Wales, to battling trolls and dining on liquorice with the professors at the University of Iceland.
Overall, what a wonderful opportunity to have and I sincerely hope this isn't the last of the conferences by Storymakers and perhaps one day I'll be able to share my work and expertise as well.