If I asked you to think of flamingos, what would come to mind? Standing on one leg? Pink feathers? Flocks searching for shrimp?
For Rae Snape and the organisers of the Cambridge Education Festival 2018, the flamingo is a symbol of hope in the teaching profession. Attendees were encouraged from outset to have fun and ‘flamingle’ – a verb whose meaning spanned from walking flamingo-esque between workshops to making connections with others. The conference very much allowed for this with its brilliant location and outdoor space.
For me, one of the overriding theme of the speakers and workshops was the need to change the education system and the realisation that teachers and those who work in schools could and should be the ones to make that change over government and policy makers. Mary Myatt spoke in the morning about the need for radical candour: the need to care and challenge people directly. Referencing Flip the System, she spoke of the power of practitioners to influence and the need to empower teachers to do so.
The final speakers of the day, Professor Alma Harris and Michelle Jones, spoke of the need for collaboration within the teaching profession in order to initiate change, again with emphasis on teachers leading this change.
I attended the workshop of Lucy Rycroft-Smith and JL Dutat, writers of Flip The System UK and was intrigued by the paradoxes presented and the range of answers and opinions provided. These conversations could have continued for the entire conference and I think are integral to the idea of teachers as agents of change. Here, opinions were listened to and responded to fairly.
When asked what could be done to improve the education sector, responses too looked to teachers as agents of change. Sean Harford suggested the removal of factions within the education world. While ideals and stances about education are healthy, I have to agree with Sean. As a disparate collective we cannot bring about change. But with unification despite difference, well, there’s power in that. In response to the same question, Amjad Ali got a round of applause suggesting that teachers were empowered with further knowledge around the impact of SEND.
The surprise guest of Dominic Ellis Peckham was, for me, a brilliant session. By encouraging us to do something out of our comfort zone (which, for me personally was the rhythmic clapping and stomping) he reasoned that the fear of being judged is a product of society and questioned whether we, as leaders, were conditioned to not try things out of our comfort zone. With my theme ringing in my ears I cannot help but wonder what our capacity for change would be if we were unshackled from the fear of society mocking us.
The other thing that struck me was the range of attendees. Every education sector from state to independent, primary to PRU, governors to newly-minted, literally finished their PGCE the day before teachers were there and I know this because they had the opportunity to speak in both panel discussion and workshops. While inclusion has many forms, I felt this representation was positive and long may it continue in conferences. Interestingly, the representation of gender at this conference is also a point worth raising: by my (possibly inaccurate) calculation, 64% of speakers were female.
In summary, I genuinely felt an energy at CambsEdFest. The concept of teachers as agents of change is not a new one to me, having heard Lucy and JL amongst others speak about it before. What struck me at this conference, more than any other, is the growing belief around the potential this idea has. With more and more speakers alluding to it and more and more awareness being built I am starting to have faith again.
The word flamingo comes from flamengo meaning fire. I saw the fire and the passion of practitioners well and truly alive at CambsEdFest and I am definitely a flamingo of hope.