Tuesday 12th July had finally arrived. The Learning Festival. My first development day in my new job at a new college.

We had made the decision to take a departure from recent years based on feedback received from staff:

  • We would no longer be a teaching and learning day- this would be learning for everyone.
  • We would no longer be solely reliant on external speakers and contributors- we would celebrate our own talent.
  • We would no longer be holding the event at our city campus every year- we made the commitment to run it at Hillsborough for the first time.
  • We would involve students in the facilitation of the day.

I had been told by many of my colleagues that staff wouldn’t volunteer to share their practice so our initial plan was more conservative than it would end up. The offers kept on coming until it came to the point where we had to finally say ‘stop‘. ‘Oh go on then, just another.‘ ‘No, really, stop now.‘ We had offers from all parts of the college; not quite enough from learning support and business support as I’d hoped for to make it a truly inclusive event but it was a start.

The planning of the day’s workshops went through a number of phases before it was close to sharing with staff:

Due to the vast range of options, an A-Z of all workshops was also produced for staff to peruse a few days prior to bookings opening:

Click here to view the brochure online

I had then been told by many of my colleagues that staff wouldn’t register or attend. Within the first hour of bookings opening (8-9am on Monday 27 June), more than 80 staff had registered and by the end of the day, we had reached 300. I began to worry (although this is pretty normal for me): rooms had filled to capacity quickly and we had only planned for 500 attendees (based on the generous side of previous years). We’ve still to add up the total number of registrations but with 511 lunches arriving (all plastic was recycled by the way), there were just 495 left.

A series of online workshop alternatives were offered to staff so that they didn’t end up having to attend sessions that were of little to no relevance for them. Click the image below to view these (staff from The Sheffield College should access the College version that has been shared).

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After all the designing of flyers, creating of top tips cards, printing and signing certificates, packing and repacking goodie bags and packs, putting up of bunting, checking and subsequent changing of rooms, liaising with estates and IT, the Learning Festival was ready.


The day began relatively smoothly (bar the last minute cancellations and detour taken by our keynote speaker) and there was an atmosphere of anticipation as staff gathered for the day’s learning:

Challenges were given out (no day of learning with Hannah is complete without them).

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Thanks to Triptico, Crown House Publishing and TES for sponsoring prizes.

The day progressed without me as I facilitated two of the morning’s workshops but the world of Twitter helped me to catch up on all of the action.

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Click here to view the story of the day in full 

The workshops soon turned into lunch and the marketplace, where staff participated in their challenges and collected information on new initiatives from September.

Before long, staff entered ‘team time’ so that they could reflect on the morning’s learning however they needed to and discuss the initiatives together in more detail. We gave heads some guidance 4 weeks before the event and revisited it the week before the event; some teams choosing to follow the suggestions as they’d been given them and others choosing to facilitate the activities in their own ways (the kind of differentiation we’d hoped for).

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The day ended with a live hangout from the Principal (we needed to test the technology out on a large scale). This was followed by a small celebration for our graduate trainees (now progressing to main grade lecturers) and all of our facilitators. The students who volunteered their time to contribute on the day were also rewarded for their incredible professionalism and good humour throughout the day.

The purpose of this year’s Learning Festival was to engage staff in learning from colleagues; no matter what their role or department. There was a hope that staff would enjoy the event and they’d feel they were a part of something bigger than their own department and job.

There are always things to do better next time around (especially in Hannah’s world) and there will be a review of all feedback received as well as our own reflections next month, but for now:

‘The Learning festival was the bestest ever and I was totally blown away by the buzz and excitement …. I have never felt that level of energy before in any organisation, let alone the college.’

Click the image below to view a video of the day, generously created by our own Steve Kelly @stevekellyuk

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