News and opinion

Maggie Farrar

BLOG - Why did we embark on Global Dialogue?

31 March 2016

Maggie Farrar, lead associate for the Schools Partnership Programme, comments on her thoughts in the run up to the first Global Dialogue event.

It was a question I asked myself many times as we grappled with time zones, technology and tension in the run up to our first Global Dialogue webinar event on 11 February.  

Well the answer is this – put together an organisation like Education Development Trust that believes in engaging as many leaders and teachers as possible in the important issues of the day, a peer review programme that engages over 500 schools in the UK that want to talk about issues of accountability and autonomy and a strategic partnership with Michael Fullan, a world respected authority on collaborative school improvement and system wide change, and the Global Dialogue just seemed like the right thing to do.  

As the idea grew, so did our ambition – from linking Canada and England, it soon grew to include Australia, New Zealand and the US. Then we looked at time zones and realized it was inevitable that England would get the 'slumber party' slot from 9pm – 11pm. Never mind we told ourselves – the schools can turn the Dialogue into an event which some did with pizzas and wine.  Australia after all were having a breakfast event at the height of their summer holding it just round the corner from their Ministry which meant that senior civil servants would also turn out in force. This was becoming even more significant!  

Steve and Michael set to work on the opinion piece that they were writing to underpin the Dialogue – namely to address how an interconnected school system can become more connected and more effective through schools working in groups to grow a strong 'middle'. It examined the leadership we need for a connected system and the power of peer-to-peer review in realising the principles of 'connected autonomy and joint accountability'.  

Education Development Trust's team pulled out all the stops – we had monthly planning meetings to make sure everything was in place. We had two dry runs to check the technology and kept our cool when every other site could connect but us, including Michael Fullan being able to connect from the back of a taxi – now that was embarrassing! Marketing and communications were masterminded, cool heads and big smiles where kept whilst liaising with our technology provider, and our Schools Partnership Programme team project managed the whole thing from start to finish.  

The week before the Global Dialogue event everyone seemed to wake up to the fact it was happening and registrations started pouring in. There was even one from Uganda – how they heard I’m still not sure but it was obvious and welcome that we were making an impact across countries we hadn’t specifically targeted on this occasion. We had our speakers lined up – Steve Munby with us in Reading, John Hattie in Australia, Michael Fullan in Canada and Vivianne Robinson in New Zealand – all masterfully facilitated by Tony Mackay in Australia.  

We had our biscuits, cake and chocolate – we had our team – we were ready.  

The moment the speakers were in place with sound and vision, over 250 sites successfully connected and Tony Mackay started with "Welcome colleagues to what is the first, and a truly Global Dialogue!" We gave each other a big thumbs up and let out a sigh of relief – we did it!  

The Dialogue itself was a huge success with the survey we sent out straight after the event showing high engagement and satisfaction scores. We were trending on Twitter much to the delight of Education Development Trust's team managing the social media on the night. The debate was rich – with questions and comments from participants coming in thick and fast.  

We have committed to doing a follow up in six months' time, particularly focusing on the issue of impact and accountability, and planning is already underway.  

There was something very special about education leaders across the planet talking together, in significant numbers, united by the issues that matter to them and the children, young people and families they serve. It was an honest dialogue, it was challenging and it was, above all, the right thing to do – and Education Development Trust had made it happen.  

As one school leader texted me straight after the event 'Wow – going to bed now, head buzzing full of ideas and questions – it was great – thank you!'… I couldn't agree more.