History teachers’ sources of support – part 2 – local history teacher networks

Continuing our celebration of sources of support for history teachers, this post takes up the theme of local networks. Thanks to Kate Smee, Director of Humanities at Fairfield High School, in the Bristol network for sharing with us how their network has supported her. Please let us know of other such networks so we can connect people to them, support them and inspire more. 

Local Professional Networks – keeping us sane, keeping teaching exciting!

For anyone new to departmental leadership, or indeed new to teaching I recommend investing whatever scraps of time you can muster to developing professional networks in your local area. I am lucky enough to teach in a really outward looking school that encourages and supports us in this, and to work in Bristol where some pretty amazing networking opportunities have developed. However, I know that such communities exist all over the place (check out York and area teachers at YorkClio,  and the Oxford Teacher Network for example) and if they don’t – it wouldn’t take much to get something going!

In Bristol the Bristol Pizza Group was set up (initially by Rich Kennett (@kenradical) of Redland Green School and Dr Kate Hawkey of Bristol University (@HistoryKate)) which meets 3 times a year to develop ideas around a particular focus. Last year it was ‘knowledge retention’; this year it is ‘significance’. We then organise a teach meet to which the whole local History teaching community is invited. Last year I think about 75 people attended, ate a lot of pizza and enjoyed a key note talk followed by 3 20 minute presentations from a choice of 6. This year the format will be very similar. As the Bristol Pizza Group has grown, one on a similar model has been set up for RQT teachers, which has proved a massive hit.

So how has being involved in this impacted my work? The list is huge but at its heart it is a combination of being able to reflect about developmental and experimental work that will work for your department, and then being able to discuss this with fellow professionals so that what we do is the best it can be. Furthermore, being involved in this has enabled me to build professional connections that I use all the time. Examples would include:

• Sending out work, be it schemes of work; research papers or even pie in the sky ideas to the group for feedback. I always get responses, and they are without fail thoughtful and interesting, giving me cause to pause and reflect.
• Finding people to moderate with – I can always find someone who does the same paper who is willing to moderate. This year for example, the super generous Tony Shorter of St Mary Redcliffe Trust came over to Fairfield High School to help us moderate our mock exams.
• Gathering ideas when at the design stage of new developments. Last year for example when I worked at Chipping Sodbury School and we were looking to redesign how we do feedback and marking, Rich Kennett of Redland Green School somehow managed to get a morning to come over and show me their approach and brought some books to show me how what they do works. We could then think about the best bits of this could be used in the Chipping Sodbury School context.
• When picking up a new course, there has always been someone there to help me navigate pitfalls and potholes as I work through.
• Developing this network has led to further opportunities. It is often through this network that teach meets, presentations and professional opportunities come to light.

So I would urge anyone to get out there and find where your local History teachers are meeting. The most obvious places to start would be by asking other local history teachers and heads of department or by contacting a local university with a History PGCE Curriculum Leader. Then have a look on Twitter for history people in your area. It’s all too easy for teaching to become a heads down ‘get through it’ kind of job, particularly at crunch points in the year. Developing local networks helps us all to stay outward looking and excited about what we do.

#OBHD operates on so many levels it can be hard to keep up! Do connect in via the Historical Association to share ideas and find us on Facebook and @histassoc. 


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