Personal and professional learning from this summer’s conferences

I was tempted to begin this blog post with a witty anagram of BERA and BELMAS, the two conferences I attended this summer but it is with some degree of embarrassment that I have given up with nothing to show for my efforts.

BERA stands for the British Educational Research Association.  According to their website (, it is a ‘membership association and learned society committed to working for the public good by sustaining a strong and high quality educational research community, dedicated to advancing knowledge of education’. BELMAS is also concerned with the field of education but this society focuses on aspects of and issues concerning leadership, management and administration.

I have been trying for some time to identify ways of applying the methodological and analytical approaches, which I used in my doctoral work, to contexts of educational leadership in line with my roles and responsibilities within the North Leadership Centre.  My doctoral work was a study of teachers’ developing understanding of enquiry based learning.  It primarily concerned concepts of identity and agency in relation to curriculum innovation and formative assessment.  My current position within the North Leadership Centre allows me to work with serving school leaders on aspects of their personal and professional development including identity and agency.

I was delighted, therefore, that my first solo abstracts for both BELMAS in July 2016 and BERA in September 2016 were accepted and included in the conference proceedings.  The abstracts presented the rationale and outlines for two different workshops:

How can Bernstein’s (1996) concepts of ‘classification’ and ‘framing’ be used to explore the development of programmes for school leaders in the North East of England?

This workshop addressed the theme of the 2016 BELMAS conference by challenging a shift in government oversight of education from compliance to performance (Ball, 2000) with a more ‘humanist’ approach to professional leadership development.  It offered tasks aimed at identifying underlying issues which enable or discourage leadership curriculum innovation.  The discussion considered whether incorporating the development of ‘weak’ social structures in new leadership development programmes can help to address key priorities in improving the leadership and management of schools in the current Education sector.

Our dialogical selves: developing an analytical framework for exploring practitioner identity and agency.

This workshop introduced the concept of the ‘dialogical self’ (Hermans, 2001a; Hermans, 2001b) and invited participants to engage with a developing analytical framework for exploring themes of identity and agency.  It offered practical tasks aimed at uncovering underlying issues which enable or discourage practitioners to ‘act’ within their particular contexts.  The discussion considered whether the analytical framework I employed as part of my doctoral work can help to address key priorities in developing practice in the current Education sector.

Both workshops were designed to foster dialogue and encourage critical reflection in order to seek out whether my ideas for future work would stand up to the rigour and expectations of the academic community.  For the first time at these conferences, I felt like I was beginning to find my feet as an academic, capable of holding my own in discussions with others for whom I have a very high regard.  That other academics were prepared to share their experiences and expertise with me was a huge boost to my confidence.  That they encouraged me to continue with my approaches will be the motivating factor moving forwards.

Image: Outcomes from the BELMAS 2016 workshop

Moving forwards, then, I have committed to preparing and submitting an article for a special issue of ‘Management in Education’ later this year.  When I reflect upon my experiences at both BELMAS and BERA, I now realise that I engaged in the conferences as a personal and professional learning opportunities, where, by providing stimuli for discussion, the responses of academic colleagues helped me to move forwards with my own my thinking and doing.  Ironically, I feel I am undergoing a shift in identity myself, which is compelling me to engage further and with greater self-belief.

Dr Anna Reid is a Lecturer in Educational Leadership, Deputy Director of the North Leadership Centre and Programme Director for the North East Teaching Schools Partnership (NETSP) within the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University.

Twitter: @AjrReid


Bernstein, B. (1996) Pedagogy, symbolic control and identity. Maryland: Rowman and Little Publishers, Inc.

Hermans, H,. (2001a) ‘The dialogical self: Toward a theory of personal and cultural positioning’, Culture & Psychology, 7(3), pp.243-281.

Hermans, H. (2001b) ‘The construction of a Personal Position Repertoire: Method and practice’, Culture & Psychology, 7(3), pp.323-365.

Reid, A. (2016) ‘Aspiring leaders understanding their ‘selves’ and/in social contexts’ [Online] Available at:  Accessed on 16 August 2016.


Reid, A. (2015) ‘An opportunity for change‘ [Online]. Available at:  Accessed on 16 August 2016.

Building global education communities through twitter: Forging links with teacher coaches in Australia

I seem to be one of the lucky ones.  So far, and with fingers crossed for the future, my engagement with educational professionals and academics on twitter has been a positive experience.  I know that some fear social media as a relatively unregulated space, and one in which ‘followers’ and onlookers can create threads in which contributors can become unwittingly entangled. Despite the odd provocation (it’s amazing how deeply and spuriously the twitter-sphere seems to divide educators into so called ‘traditionalists’ and ‘progressives’ and how vocal each side can become in its attacks on the other) I have engaged unscathed so far.  Putting the few that like to rant to one side, I would agree with Professor Chris Husbands in his recent BERA blog post when he states what now might be seen as really quite obvious ‘social media has been transformative for professional communities’.  What matters here is that this transformation rests on many individual stories. Teachers find like-minded others who bring subject passions alive, others write honestly and wisely about the challenges they face as parents and how this alters their perspectives on schools and professionalism and social networking groups like @WomenEd who act to advocate and support others. Perhaps the largest group is of teachers who browse and pick up new ideas, which the sometimes take into practice and then pass on through the twittersphere.

One of the very special features of twitter is the ease with which it ignores geographical and political boundaries.  It allows educators to forge professional links with others from around the globe, and for those who like tracking data there are ways of mapping the spread of followers and geographic reach of tweets.  I haven’t done this, but even so I am I have become aware of distant hotspots where my interests have specific resonance.  So, forgive the twitter references in what follows – but this narrative only makes sense with them.

A couple of weeks ago I found myself a recipient of the following tweet from @ryangill; “This is surreal! I move to Australia and find my uni course leader from 13 years ago pops up”.  So, while I may vainly wish that I wasn’t 13 years older than when I taught Ryan on the PGCE, it was great to connect again.  I had ‘popped up’ in a #coachmeet organised by @stringer_andrea at her school in Sydney, Australia. It was an early morning spot for me, using Skype to talk to about 40 teachers and coaches in their after school event. I had seven minutes to share my knowledge of teacher coaching in England, and offer some insights from case study schools.  I put my glasses on to hide my morning eyes and to add a look of owl-like wisdom, and I sat in my office and talked to teachers on the other side of the world. Some might call me a ‘skype-granny’ but honestly that would seem a little cruel.  When I opened the ‘storify’ that Andrea had curated I was surprised that the first picture was from the original CfLaT research on coaching in secondary schools, suggesting how coaching and mentoring can be distinguished from each other. The rest of the ‘storify’ illustrates the dynamic nature of the contributions to the #coachmeet. This was the first one that Andrea had organised – I am sure there will be more.  Now, much as we academics might like to think we have global reach, I have no doubt that without twitter I would not have been invited to speak at this event.

You see, I have noted that Australia seems to be a teacher coaching hotspot. I realised that my work in this area was being referenced in practitioner blogs, leading to frequent retweets of links to my blogs, research outputs and guides on coaching and invitations to be part of twitter coaching themed chats, and being generously. The end of this brief narrative is not yet written, because recently I have been invited to speak at the 5th National Conference on Coaching in Education in Melbourne in 2017.  While I am there I will also work in at least two schools and a university drawing on my research and practice in the field of coaching for teacher development. Many of the people who I link with via twitter will become real during my visit, and thus the global community of educators sharing common interests will continue to be built. And yes, @ryangill is one of them. Thirteen years may have passed, but this time I expect to learn as much from him and his colleagues in his school context as I hope he did from me on the PGCE.

Written by Dr Rachel LofthouseHead of Education, Newcastle University.