2017 had finally arrived and the day of my second Learning Festival at The Sheffield College. The first one would always be a hard act to follow and I wasn’t entirely sure that my post-holiday brain was up to the job. We’d soon find out. An inhumanely early alarm was set and I was bound for the earliest train.


After the fear subsided that the College was closed (it wasn’t!), we set about the last minute tasks to ensure we were ready for the day ahead. It was in these moments that I remembered what the first day of the January term is like- you’re there in person but you’re unsure where the rest of you is- probably tucked up at home in bed if it has any sense!


Staff settled into their free breakfast and were invited to register to receive the Teaching & Learning newsletter while they were at it. You may also wish to register for this newsletter and you can do so here: http://cm.pn/2a9y


I also decided we’d start a ‘wellbeing buddy box’ this term a la @mrshumanities

Colleagues who have registered will be allocated someone else from the list and they will be tasked with sending them, at some point in the coming term, a box of wellbeing goodies. At some point in the term, they will receive one in return. It’s not something you can really argue with- the good feeling provided by an act of kindness, as well as the excitement of a surprise gift. Staff will have another week or so to register for this term’s boxes. You can find out more about the initiative that inspired this internal action, launched via Twitter, here.


After an opening and welcome back talk from Paul Corcoran, staff headed to their workshops run by over 50 of our generous staff, one CEO, three students (most proud!) and one Alex Krasodomski-Jones.

As usual, we also offered a range of online workshops to staff:


After two 45 minute workshops, it seemed that staff were more than ready for lunch.

After staff had been sufficiently fed and watered, they were invited to the afternoon’s Unconference. The morning’s workshops had been grouped by theme and provided with a floor of rooms where staff could gather to make resources, continue discussions and further their learning.

3-4pm saw staff sharing the day’s learning with their teams and making their pledge- the one thing they’re going to try out, experiment with or make a change to in the coming term. This was a crucial part of the day- to ensure all of the day’s learning turns into an action that will, in some way, improve the service we provide to students and stakeholders alike. I’m looking forward to reading these pledges over the coming days and to reviewing progress with them in March’s Development Day.

Staff were then gathered together briefly at 4pm to share pledges with their colleagues, whilst Heather Smith shared positive messages about taking risks, being 10% braver and celebrating success. All facilitators were thanked and staff released after a long but hopefully learning-packed first day back.

In the spirit of a day of learning, it’s also important for me to reflect on how it went. All of this will, of course, be reviewed in light of a debrief with my team later on this week and a more detailed exploration of attendance, feedback and pledges but here are some of my initial thoughts:

  • Last year’s feedbackGreat– In response to staff feedback, we were able to provide an informal breakfast, fewer workshops, longer workshops, time in the afternoon to work on resources and ideas, and a final talk to gather everyone together again at the end of the day.
  • New initiativesGreat– Wellbeing boxes went down well with staff with far more sign-ups than anticipated. Not so great– Fewer sign-ups to the Teaching & Learning newsletter than expected but I’ll be following this with further promotion and relying on word of mouth.
  • Rooming and atmosphereGreat– Most of the rooming seemed to work out and we had enough suitable space for everyone. Not so great– The vibrant environment created at the last Learning Festival in Hillsborough was far better and this may have been due to the more compact layout of the College site. This is purely speculation at this moment in time so I need to give it some more thought- time of year is likely to have played a significant part in this too.
  • Opening and closing talksGreat– The diner was packed out for Paul’s opening talk and we were all set with mic and lectern. The afternoon was laid out well and we ensured a member of staff was on hand and visible in case anything went wrong again. Positive and uplifting messages were shared at each of the talks. Not so great– The battery for the mic ran out before Paul finished his welcome and with no spare seemingly available, we missed the ending and key messages about the day were unable to be shared. This will be followed up with the sharing of Paul’s written speech in full but there was little we could do about the other communications- bar bellowing at a room full of people and I don’t think my voice would have quite been up to that!
  • WorkshopsGreat– We had more facilitators than previously and managers had helped us to put the day together so it better met their staff’s needs; skills to be shared and areas for development. Not so great– Business Support managers were not incorporated into this planning phase in the way I would have wished and as a result, the offers of workshops from staff and teams were limited. This is something we will look to address for future development days to ensure that their needs are being met. Great– Having said that, more of the SEND Team, LSAs, library team, workplace assessors and technical trainers were incorporated and involved than ever before. There was also a set of bespoke workshops offered by one manager for her administration team- and all without any involvement required from my team!

I could go on but instead I will choose to end on the words of one recently, and very sadly passed, John Berger- an author whose ‘Ways of Seeing’ had such a great influence on me during my years of studying and well beyond it too:

‘You can plan events, but if they go according to your plan they are not events.’

I am left satisfied that it was, therefore, a pretty decent event and now I await, with anticipation, the abundance of pledges, risk taking and acts of 10% braver that will hopefully emerge from the past two development days.

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