Thursday, 2 April 2015

ATL Annual Conference: Uncertainty and Inspiration

It has been quite a while since my last blog post. Teaching and life seems to take over and things slip. But after the events of the last week I felt galvanised into action...

As my Twitter followers would have gathered from the past few days, I have been at my union's annual conference in Liverpool. 

As many of my colleagues and members of the profession will understand, there is a great deal of uncertainty and strain on teachers and those in education at the moment. There's the ever-increasing and unsustainable workload, an inspectorate that is not fit for purpose piling on the pressure, budget restraints on schools, and a record number of teachers leaving. With this overall picture, it is easy to become down-hearted, even down-right depressed by the state of education. 

But I'd like to paint a different picture. When I go to ATL's conference, or meet up with any of my ATL friends, I always leave feeling energised and positive.

The conference centre painted a wall white and allowed us to graffiti on it - Graffiti centred around the #ShapeEducation campaign. Scouring the jottings and doodles showed me that teachers across the UK are feeling the same stresses and strains. I particularly enjoyed some of the creative ways colleagues expressed their views (note the centre picture and dalek!).

It's rare to be able to attend a conference and be able to strike up conversation with virtually anyone you bump into. I love that thorough conference I have met people working in every sector imaginable, including every age phase and conceivable setting. Us teaching folk are a diverse bunch but with a shared passion for the children and young people we teach. Despite the gaps in time between conferences and meetings, when chatting it is as if no time at all has passed.

There have been some incredible speeches and debates over the past few days, including from this year's fantastic president, Mark Baker, and of course ATLs general secretary, Mary Bousted. Both speeches seemed to encapsulate and articulate the precise feeling of everyone in the room. 

One of the highlights for me was the ATL Future fringe event, 'Skills, Creativity, Ingenuity: Empowering Young People For a Changing World'. David Cameron (@realdcameron) spoke on the importance of creativity in schools, how it should be embedded and exploited in every subject. Something I will take away from his presentation is the need for "Wonder". He quoted Dave Harris (@bravehead) and said, "without wonder, there is no hope". Children need the space and opportunity to truly wonder about the world around them. David spoke briefly about having a "room of wonder" with various intriguing objects (e.g. A whale's ear, old typewriters, puzzles, curiosities, tadpoles, to name a few!) in for children to explore, investigate and be inspired by. I love this idea, and will definitely be incorporating this into my classroom/school/teaching wherever I can!

This year was my fifth conference and I sincerely hope there will be many more in the future! Through attending conference and my contributions in the ATL Future Steering Group (now come to an end after 4years) I know I have made some friends for life and met some amazing, inspiring, generous people that will have a lasting impression on me and my teaching. Now to start my new ATL adventures with a more active role in my local branch and the committee. 

When I tell people that I am active in my Union, I know that for some people a certain image of marches, banner-holding and strikes might spring to mind. For me being an active member of a union is about sharing a vision for education, debating issues, supporting colleagues, developing myself as a teacher and give me the time and space to think about what I value and want for the education system that I work in. It is easy to feel trapped in a bubble during term time, being active in my Union has helped me break that bubble and appreciate the wider picture. Conference has shown me that in times of uncertainty, there can be strength in unity and the sharing of ideas and positivity.

To catch up with my Tweets from #ATLconf2015 follow me on Twitter @Abbie_Saxby