Exhausted and exhilarated! A personal reflection on HA Conference 2019

First-time conference attender and Chartered History Teacher Natalie Kesterton blogs about her HA conference experience.

The drive across the Pennines was lovely and sunny; boding well for a great weekend in Chester; my first national HA conference and first time presenting. I went with the aim of ensuring my planning of the new KS3 curriculum is on the right track and of finding more ideas for the big thinking behind curriculum design as well as some nuggets of resources to take away, not to mention the joy of some good ‘proper’ history lectures. I had a hunch I was in for a great weekend and Chester and the wonderful HA did not disappoint.

The keynote speakers were amazing, I learnt so much about the Kennedys and Gores from Tony Badger and I’ve got pages of notes from Yasmin Khan on the Indian experience of World War Two; asking questions on the ‘Home Fronts’ of the Empire and answering questions about the complicated and diverse reasons the volunteer army joined up. It was wonderful to feel like being back at university and taking time to just luxuriate in exploration of the past. Fern Riddell’s rousing Saturday morning lecture was an inspiring call to action to tell uncomfortable histories and explore the fact that heroes can be flawed and that doesn’t mean we should sanitise their stories. As a teacher, hearing how Fern’s own GCSE and A Level teacher inspired and had faith in her I think brought a tear to more than just my eye.

I’m brimming with the knowledge and expertise that has been shared in the workshops this weekend; my only regret is that I couldn’t be in two places at once and go to more. Hugh Richards addressed the need to prepare GCSE students for essay writing with such clarity and logic, not to mention the catchy idea of spiderplanning leaving me humming ‘spiderplan, spiderplan, does whatever a spiderplan can…’ for a good while afterwards. Heather Fearns’ sound advice was so helpful in dispelling myths about what Ofsted judgements about the quality of curriculum will look like and gives me, as a Head of Department, more confidence in working to think hard about my curriculum decisions and what my pupils need. Will Bailey-Watson’s session on the Age of Revolutions encouraged me to examine the substantive concepts that I am teaching. Will asked us to think of concepts we wanted to address, but actually I was there precisely because I want to include an enquiry on revolution in our new KS3. I’m now excited and fired up to explore the fluidity and fertility of the shifting meaning of the word. I’m so grateful to Ben Walsh and Jennifer McCullough for sharing excellent ways to use the National Archives’ amazing range of Peterloo sources and Michael Riley’s wisdom and reflections on asking ourselves what kind of young people we are trying to create has reinvigorated my energy for Monday morning. I’ll be returning to our department KS3 re-planning to continue refining enquiry questions, tackling the big substantive themes to thread across the key stage and carefully look at where to place the emphasis. I can’t wait to use more of YorkClio’s slot-ins to further integrate women into the story of warfare (and peacemaking!) over time and the Black Tudors work being done by Jason Todd, Chris Lewis and a host of other teachers with Miranda Kaufman herself is a brilliant example of embedding diversity into this widely taught area of the curriculum.

The buzz at HA extends from the sessions into the coffee breaks and lunch. I’m so lucky to have met and connected with colleagues from as far as Geneva to as close as Manchester and look forward to staying in touch. So much food for thought and so much brilliant history. I think it’s time for a nap.

Please share with us what you do in the classroom as a result of conference over the next few months – we’d love to feature it on here. #HAconf 2019 @histassoc 

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