#CelebrateEd: Five days of inspiration from the North East

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

The second annual #CelebrateEd conference took place recently as teachers from across the North East shared best practice and inspiration. Sean Harris was there (virtually)


The schools of the North East have stepped up to the challenge of Covid-19 with innovation, dedication and professionalism.

And while it may seem far from being a climate of celebration at the moment, at the end of May more than 1,500 school leaders and teachers gathered across the region (virtually, I might add) to celebrate and champion classroom practice as part of CelebrateEd 2020.

CelebrateEd was launched last year by Schools North East’s EdNorth initiative, a network of all 1,150 schools in the North East region, in partnership with the All North Teaching Schools Alliance, the Education Endowment Foundation, Northumbria University, and SHINE Trust.

While the event had been planned as a face-to-face conference, as it was last year, colleagues from Schools North East and EdNorth worked tirelessly alongside school leaders to adapt proceedings in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chris Zarraga, director of Schools North East, said: “EdNorth and the CelebrateEd event were designed to change the game completely, creating an environment in which teachers at all levels can share their expertise, develop practice, and bring the latest research, pedagogy and evidence-informed approaches into their own classrooms.

“Cancelling the conference simply wasn’t an option. We were committed to working alongside school leaders to make this happen and we know there is an appetite for it, now more than ever”.

Road-tested approaches to school improvement

CelebrateEd is a central part of the EdNorth programme, which aims to transform the teaching profession in the North East by supporting a culture of collaboration, innovation and evidence-based (context-specific) teaching practices.

The five-day event in May saw big name speakers like Ross McGill, David Weston, Simon Hunt, Sam Twiselton and Amjad Ali, but CelebrateEd is dedicated to celebrating the amazing job that our teachers do and as such many of the sessions were led by the region’s teachers.

With practical sessions from the classroom, quick-fire TeachMeets, and panel discussions between teachers, the event showcased the best in teaching practice from classrooms across the North.

The keynote speaker this year was Ross McGill, who delivered a packed session looking at perceptions and challenges in the education sector, analysing what teachers and senior leaders find most difficult, and some research-informed methods for dealing with these issues. Also popular was Jon Tait – the deputy head of Acklam Grange School – who spoke about becoming “research-informed” in your school, department or personal practice.


Recovery curriculum

One session brought together a host of frontline teachers – Alex Fairlamb from St Wilfrid’s RC College in South Tyneside, Helen Tarokh from Heathfield Primary in Darlington, and James Wilson from Duchess High in Northumberland.

Together they considered the “recovery curriculum” which will be needed for when schools return full-time this autumn. A key aspect of this is pupil wellbeing and mental health, something which all panellists emphasised as being the priority before we catch-up with the “proper” curriculum.

James and the team at Duchess High have made their plans available to other schools. You can get in touch with James on Twitter (@mrjkwilson).


Try, refine, ditch

The importance of engaging students effectively was explored further by David Bailey from Bishop Hogarth Education Trust. He spoke about how we use starters and what we can do to make the most of lesson openings, not only “hooking” students but taking the opportunity to dig deeper into a topic.

Amjad Ali looked at the barriers students face to learning in the classroom and practical things we can do to break them down. A great takeaway from his session, which resonated with many delegates, was the idea of “try, refine, ditch”, encouraging people to reflect on their own practice. You can find out more from Amjad on Twitter (@ASTSupportAali).


Small changes, big habits

It is estimated that almost 40 per cent of what we do every day is likely to be habitual (Wood et al, 2002). And research shows that attempting to forcibly change habits will often result in failure. Even when the alternative is death – nine in 10 patients challenged to change their lifestyle habits after heart bypass surgery failed to do so (Deutschman, 2005).

Sarah Cottingham from Ambition Institute, citing this research, looked at forming (and breaking) habits; digging deeper into the psychology of how we form habits helped delegates in thinking about how we can encourage students to form positive habits, both in the current climate and in the post-lockdown learning world.

Delegate Sophie Reynolds, a teacher at St Bede’s Catholic School in Durham, said: “This session, alongside others, helped me to consider how I frame my language to help pupils form positive habits, and how to change the environment to make bad habits easier to break.”

Motivated by Sarah’s challenge to be an architect of the classroom environment, Sophie added: “The event reminded me that we are in the business of removing barriers that children face in forming good habits. For example, I can make it easier for students to hand in their homework by setting clear tasks that are regular and consistent, so the students can easily form a new habit. These simple steps will help me make small changes to become a better practitioner and more empathetic to why students struggle to make positive changes.”


Never too late to catch-up

Despite the challenges faced in the current situation, CelebrateEd proved to be a full week of virtual CPD and sharing across North East schools. The event even appears to have countered the so-called “Zoom fatigue” that has been reported, with delegates gathering on the Friday evening for a virtual pub-quiz – with the competitive spirit equally as impressive as the collaborative spirit demonstrated earlier in the week!

If you are keen to join in with future events or if you want to be part of NorthEd and CelebrateEd, you can join the event to access recordings of all the live sessions and all additional pre-recorded sessions.

  • Sean Harris is the North East director for Ambition Institute. Sean regularly writes for SecEd and is a published author and researcher in the fields of education, theology and youth work. He is a governor for a school in Northumberland. You can follow him @SeanHarris_NE.

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