Just over a year ago, I joined the Society of Education and Training (SET). I’d been having a difficult time, working part-time out in the community, rarely walking onto college premises and, in hindsight, was feeling quite isolated. I was also feeling frustrated in my professional development, as Sarah Simons recently described perfectly in Tes. I have always felt like I was the over-keen geek in a room full of scepticism, as CPD was becoming another annoying acronym in education after years of being linked to a deficit view of teacher development.
I loved the new look of SET when it was launched and was really enjoying the opportunity to connect with other SET folk through Twitter. It feels to me like perfect timing for SET to fill a void, as I think that there is a really great need for it within our sector. Not just for a collected voice (which our union amply fills), but to help us find commonality and promote our professionalism. It is well reported we are living through difficult times in education but, I believe, some of the most difficult times have been in FE. I feel that we aren’t helped by the widespread nature of our sector, which gives us an even greater reason to band together as a community. We talk about FE and skills… and training… and adult and community…. and offender learning… which is a broad and difficult reach. I feel it’s time to club together behind one banner to stand up for our professionalism.
Last autumn I attended the inaugural SET conference. I was feeling brave (and not only in leaving my classroom for the day) and it did feel like a no-brainer as it was being held in the most amazing location that is only 10 minutes up the road from where I should’ve been teaching. Even though I arrived alone, I immediately met some lovely folk in the car park and we walked to the venue together. Even though I hadn’t yet walked through the door, I knew I was in the right place, that these were ‘my people’. The whole day was the same: every room I walked into I met people who were as passionate about FE as me; who were as committed to their professional development; who were as excited as me to come together. I had scanned the delegates list, eager to see who else was there, and was so inspired to see the range and breadth of our sector represented.
It wasn’t just the theme, ‘Pride in Professionalism’, but the venue itself reeked professionalism. Gone were the CPD rooms of old: stuffy conferences in backrooms. The location was fitting for the occasion. The Vox Centre is modern, light, well-purposed, central, and all this coupled with delicious food and fantastic workshops, which gave me the opportunity to participate, not just sit and listen. David Russell’s keynote inspired me further, getting me thinking how I could take pride in my own professionalism and, as a result, I enrolled in the next cohort of professional formation leading to QTLS. Although I had attended alone, I felt like I had found my community.
Since the conference, I have been engaging with SET whenever the opportunity has arisen. I was excited to hear about a new Local Network Group being founded in my area and felt keen to get involved. I’ve got stuck into the professional formation process, particularly enjoying the use of the self-assessment tool against the Professional Standards, and really valuing the opportunity to engage in greater critical reflection and build bigger, better, more concrete communities of practice.
When I saw there were vacancies to join the SET Practitioner Advisory Group (PAG), I saw a wonderful opportunity not only to give something back but to ‘put my money where my mouth is’ in supporting and advocating FE teachers’ professionalism. In truth, my desire to advocate for SET comes from a desire to advocate for FE.
I attended my first PAG last Friday. It was great to meet all the SET team and to finally meet some Twitter friends too. Again, I found myself in a room full of committed colleagues and again they represented the range and breadth of our sector. But, most importantly for me, it was a chance to witness first-hand just how member-focussed SET is. The Practitioner Advisory Group is just that – a group of passionate, committed professionals coming together for the good of our sector.
I have found my campfire to gather around. I suggest you give it a try too!