In the U.K. they call them TeachMeets. In the U.S. they might call them a PD session. But they're essentially the same thing: Teachers training other teachers how to be better teachers. In the U.S., they have an extra component to them in that teachers can often earn personal development credit (CPD in the U.K.), which can help them advance their careers (and their salaries). If you're a teacher, you've undoubtedly attended an event like this, but have you ever thought about running one? You can do it, and we're going to show you how in 10 simple steps.
A few things to note: These tips are practical and are designed to help you plan and run a simple, informal event. Many teachers are short on time and money, but the truth is you don't need either one of those things. Just the will and a desire to be a connector of people. You don't have to be perfect, and neither does your PD session. It just needs to be worth peoples' time — which is to say it should aim to be useful rather than strive to be the best PD session ever. Also, if you plan on running one of these events, make sure your school or district or someone on high will grant you — as well as the people who attend — PD time for the event.
1. Pick a good date (and time)
Give yourself at least three weeks to plan your event. You can plan far, far in advance, but keep in mind that people may have a hard time committing to an event that's months away. You know your state, your district, and the rhythms of your school. You probably already have a good idea of how to fit your event into the school year. If you already know there's a good time for a PD event coming up (e.g., a teacher workday or PD day that's already on the calendar) jump on it.
Best bet: You schedule your event on a Thursday right before a holiday weekend.
2. Settle on a venue
Many teachers simply utilize a room in their school or at a local community center. This is simple and perhaps ideal. It's usually completely free from a cost perspective, and it's usually a space that gets used a lot for both planned and impromptu meetings. Of course, there's nothing saying you can't run an event at a state teacher convention or in the back room of a pub — whatever you think will work for your crowd of educators. But, if you intend to hold an event at a location like a pub, do your homework first. Is it quiz night at the pub? Make sure you know what's acceptable before you arrive.
I think it's important to note that where you hold your PD session doesn't have to dictate the quality of your event. It's wonderful if your school has a brand-new amphitheater with a state-of-the-art projection system. But, really, any old classroom will do.
Best bet: You organize it at your school with help from the administration. Easy peasy.
3. Find great presenters
You probably already know a few teachers who are excellent at presenting to other teachers. But truth be told, not everyone likes to present or is even good at it. Perhaps the easiest way to solve for this is to ask teachers to submit a topic at the time you announce the Teach Meet. Have them specify how much time they would need to present: 10 minutes, 5 minutes — or even just 2 minutes for the shy ones. In theory, you could simply choose who presents randomly, but you should show a little editorial judgement here. Pick the people you think deserve a place on the agenda, and put them in the order that you think will maximize attention.
Need some inspiration for making your event extra cool? If you're up for it, you can explore innovative models for presenting like Pecha Kucha or Ignite. Basically, these work by having each presenter show a set number of slides (e.g., 20), and those slides advance automatically after 20 seconds — no stopping! These kinds of alternative formats have limitations designed into them that encourage people to create shorter, more impactful presentations. People really seem to respond to these types of events. Another option is the Unconference format, which in its purest form means getting together with no real agenda and encouraging potential presenters to voluntarily step forward and be chosen by a quick vote. But that is probably too loose for your first PD event. Other people have experimented with day-long, semi-elaborate PD Carnivals. But, if this is your first time running a PD session, there's no need to make it overly complicated.
Best bet: You find 10 presenters who each agree to give 5-minute presentations.
4. Consider sponsorship
Can you get sponsors for your event? Do you have any swag to give away? Quizlet has an Ambassador program for our most dedicated teachers, and we send out t-shirts, stickers, and sometimes even free Quizlet Teacher subscriptions to give away to our Ambassadors who are running their own PD sessions. We also have a set of downloadable resources on our Lead a PD page that we encourage teachers to use. Can you arrange something similar? While not absolutely necessary, having goodies to give away helps build participation — especially if you're playing a game like Quizlet Live!
Best bet: Your speakers include teachers who are huge fans of an edtech tool that can offer up a small amount of swag — just enough to keep it interesting.
5. Make a flyer (of some sort) and distribute it
You need to get the word out. Of course you should send out emails, but flyers still seem to work quite well for small-scale, local events like a TeachMeet. Need a template for this event? Use something like Canva or any other easy-to-use template-based design tool. Don't spend a lot of time on it. Just make something that will work for your event. Save your creative energy for the event itself.
More important is distributing your announcement. Are there teacher announcements that get distributed by the administration? Is there an events calendar on the local library's website? There are lots of small ways to distribute invitations to your event that are worth pursuing.
Pro tips: Include as much info as possible on the flyer. Directions, parking, the fact that people can get a PD certificate, etc. If a teacher two counties over found this flyer and never signed up in any other way, would they still be able to attend? They will if you include all the right info on the flyer. Also, include information on the flyer so people can reach you directly. If there's an error on the flyer, or if someone wants to propose adding themselves as a co-host (wouldn't that be awesome?), they need to be able to reach the organizer of the event directly.
Best bet: Make a one-page flyer, and distribute it at least five different ways.
6. Invite (the right amount) of people
It's very helpful to use a service like Eventbrite and explicitly ask for RSVPs. It may help to ask for attendees' Twitter handles or some additional way to reach them. If something comes up and they can't make it, you can at least let them know they were missed with a personal shout-out or perhaps even an invitation to a future event. Maybe next time!
Of course, it can be very hard to know how many people will actually show up. If you have a head-count limit for your event, it's usually okay to overbook your event by 20% (unless the building fire code prevents it, of course). Free-to-attend events can have a large no-show rate — so be prepared for that. We held an event at ISTE 2018 for Quizlet Ambassadors at a Chicago restaurant offering free food and drink. It was an RSVP-only event, and we invited more people than would fit into the space. But, even in this very dedicated group of superfans we had some no-shows. We ended up at 100% capacity. Just about perfect.
Best bet: You overbook your event by 20%, and it works out perfectly.
7. Roll with a squad
Doing it by yourself can be stressful, so do yourself a favor and ask a few people to help with small, easy-to-accomplish tasks. Having people to fulfill these roles would be ideal:
- Host: That's you. If you can secure a co-host (or two!) it could make your event feel practically stress-free.
- Keynote speaker: If you're lucky enough to have someone in your orbit who gives inspirational talks, by all means please ask them to be your keynote speaker.
- Front of house: Someone to welcome and check-in people and to say goodbye when they leave. If you don't have anyone else designated, ask this same person to take photos during the event. If you don't have someone to do this, guess who will end up doing it? (That's right. You.)
- Sponsor/judge/timekeeper: If you're running any kind of contest or challenge or dealing with sponsor-provided swag, ask someone to hold onto the prizes and be a judge if needed. This person can keep time, too.
- Presentation tech: You may not have a professional to help you with technical presentation issues, but it's always possible something tech-related will go wrong. If possible, recruit someone with some tech savvy to be at your event. (That person could actually be a student!)
In summary, don't go it alone. You can't always have someone to help check people in, or someone to be in charge of saying goodbye to everyone, or a designated photo taker. But it sure does help when you do.
Best bet: Enlist a co-host and a team of four compatriots.
8. Know your venue
Obviously, you will need to follow any rules of the house, but the most important detail to consider about the venue is Wi-Fi. Make absolutely certain there will be Wi-Fi! Create a sign that tells people which WiFi network to use and what password to use. Otherwise, you'll be personally answering everyone who asks — which will be practically everyone. Beyond that, do your best to spruce up the room. Maybe play some music before the event so people don't show up to a painfully quiet room.
Best bet: Your room has Wi-Fi that works well, and you have instructions on hand so people can use it without asking.
9. Budget your time
Encourage many people to present at your event, but you should give them a specific time slot to fill. Even short, informal two-minute presentations can work just fine. In fact, don't let anyone talk for too long, or the event could go on for hours.
It's worth repeating: Be mindful of time constraints. If you overload the schedule and the event goes for three hours, your event will become challenging for attendees to finish. But of course, it doesn't hurt to plan for some leeway. If you schedule your event for 90 minutes, don't be surprised if it actually lasts two hours. That said, when you set a schedule you're essentially making a promise to everyone who attends. If you keep your schedule, you'll keep their trust. In any event, make sure you write up an agenda of some sort. If nothing else, by setting an end time you're letting participants know they can leave after that time and not hurt anyone's feelings.
Best bet: You have a timer on hand and are able to issue a gentle prompt to signal when a speaker's time is up — and your event doesn't go an hour over schedule!
10. After the party: Debrief
You may be completely exhausted when you're done, but it's vital that you send out a summary of the event within 24 hours to everyone who attended — and perhaps even to those who didn't. Yes, it's nice to inform people who didn't attend about what they missed, but guess who the real audience for this debrief email is? The teachers who presented for you. Everyone who presented will read your debrief email closely looking for some acknowledgement of their contribution. Be generous with praise. They deserve it! They may have gone through a lot of trouble, and perhaps even a good amount of stress, to be on stage for you. Make sure they know how much you appreciate them. Even better: Write a blog post about it!
Best bet: You make a lot of friends and some important connections by writing a thoughtful debrief of your event.
You don't have to have fancy food at your event. Or a door prize. Or name tags. Although of course all of those things are great to have. The real point of your PD event is to teach and learn. That said, everyone appreciates — and remembers — events that are well-run. So give it your best shot. It can be a lot of work to put on your first PD event, but you may find that you're good at it. If you're the kind of teacher who enjoys technology and who likes to share with and inspire your colleagues, you could end up being known as a super connector for other teachers. And that could be a very good thing for everyone.