The organisers claimed the conference would "disrupt conventional conference practice". Here's how they were planning to do that:
We believe that quality conversations are the key to a transformative conference experience. Therefore at the heart of the conference will be our "learning tribes". Conference attendees will be grouped in tribes and guided by a tribe mentor. This will ensure that every single participant will have the opportunity to make personal connections and to be pushed in their thinking.They went further and issued a challenge to the tribes "to create an action plan (a Possibilities Project) of something that you will work on collaboratively post-conference". To support this the tribe mentors all received mentor training from a sponsor.
So what did this look like in practice? At registration we were given the name of our learning tribe (they were named after NZ birds). Straight after the conference welcome we had 45 mins to get to know our tribe better. The tribe was made up of primary and secondary teachers plus any support staff and also sponsors (we didn't have a sponsor in our tribe but as far as I could tell those in other teams were well-behaved and didn't try out their sales techniques!). From there we went to our workshops, but we arranged a meeting place so we could share lunch together.
I often attend conferences or unconferences aimed at teachers, and one of the problems I have is finding people to eat lunch with as I inevitably end up going on my own. I get to mix with a fantastic group of educators, and I've been slowly getting to know more of them, but I'm quite shy so I still get 'lunchtime anxiety'. Having a place to go for lunch was therefore a huge bonus for me. I think this idea alone would be hugely reassuring for anyone considering attending a conference on their own, something that primary school librarians, who are usually sole charge, often have to contend with. Even at a library conference, where I know loads of librarians, I think having a learning tribe is a fantastic idea to meet and make connections with even more people.
A small activity first up on Day 2, to sit in a random group of four and have a quick chat about the previous day, was another idea that worked really well. I met even more people, we had plenty to discuss, and it set a nice, friendly vibe for the start of the day.
Unfortunately, I couldn't make it to the "Tribe Possibility Planning" event following afternoon tea on Day 1. I found out about what was discussed when I caught up with my tribe the next morning and then they did their "pitch" and we listened to the pitches of other teams. New teachers who were attending just on the Saturday were invited to join up with tribes whose pitches caught their interest, and we had a few more members join us later that afternoon when we met up with our tribes again. This meant an infusion of new ideas, always a good thing!
There were some things about the conference that worked better than others. I think if you're experimenting with a new format that is always going to be the case. #edchatNZ has always been, as they say "the little hashtag that could" and I am so pleased that they were willing to head fearlessly into the unknown and change the whole way they ran their conference.
I would love for all the future conferences I attend to have learning tribes, even if they don't have the time in their schedule to take it further and have the tribes collaborate to create action plans. Just the act of putting people into new groups and letting them talk to each other is a fantastic idea and really enhanced my whole conference experience.
As a side note, there was also the opportunity to pay just for the conference and not for any meals. You could bring your own food and pay a mere $30 for the two day conference. I love this idea because it makes professional development accessible even if you don't have the support of your principal (I did, but that isn't always the case and at $30 I was prepared to pay for the conference myself if necessary).
I learned a great new Google sharing tip - first, allow anyone with the link to view. Then go into the URL and change the word 'edit' at the end to 'copy' instead. That way it will force the people you share it with to make their own copy. If you need people to make their own copies of your work so they can make their own changes, this is a great way to make that happen. See it in action here with a random Google doc.
I didn't tweet a lot at this conference, but I did re-tweet a few gems and they are worth having a look at. The double photo in the first tweet doesn't seem to come up, which is a pity because the tribe were pitching the idea that what we need is a way to connect with other people who can mentor us for certain things, so the slide was about having a Tinder for teachers to match others with your superpower! Click on that tweet to see the other image.