Teachers on Twitter: Is it CPD?

Written by: Maria Cunningham | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

A lot of teachers will wax lyrical about the power of Twitter when it comes to sharing resources and best practice, but what exactly should be its role in our CPD? Maria Cunningham advises

With 84 per cent of all UK adults now using social media, it is likely that you and the majority of your colleagues will have some sort of online presence. Whether you’re using Facebook to keep in touch with friends on all four corners of the globe, sharing summer holiday snaps on Instagram or keeping up-to-date with news on Twitter, social networking is well and truly a part of our 21st century lives.

Indeed, the Generation Z pupils that you teach form part of a cohort of digital natives that will never know a world without internet technology. But to what extent do you and your colleagues at school use social media in a professional capacity?

The realm of “edu-Twitter” is no new phenomenon. Teacher Toolkit, the most widely read teaching blog in the UK, boasts 164,000 followers, while English teacher Alex Quigley is able to project his advice on topics such as How to Train a GCSE English Writer far beyond the remit of his department at Huntington School, to an audience of almost 30,000 on Twitter.

Perhaps you’ve read David Didau’s What if everything you knew about education was wrong? or Shaun Allison’s Making every lesson count: six principles to support great teaching. Following such authors on Twitter allows you not only to enter direct conversations with the writers themselves, but also to pick up tips for further reading.

At the Teacher Development Trust, social media is one of the key channels through which we are able to share up-to-date expertise and research findings with educators all over the world, who otherwise would not be aware of developments happening in CPD.

Twitter is undoubtedly an excellent resource for finding lesson ideas, hearing about new research, being informed about education policy and potentially challenging your preconceptions. Networking with and following other teachers or school leaders online allows you to build your knowledge so that you have a larger bank of evidence-informed ideas when lesson-planning. It can also help you to identify practices in other schools or emerging ideas, which forms an important part of your professional learning.

However, take caution and note that social media should by no means replace existing “awareness-raising” activities, or undermine your access to other schools’ experiences through attending events or external visits. For instance, when at a conference, you are able to meet other practitioners in person and share best practice beyond the bubble of your classroom or office.

As well as this, reading traditional forms of media such as educational magazines, supplements or journals, even online, increases the likelihood of accessing educational articles that are credible and unbiased, because in a digital age of “fake-news” and “click-bait”, edu-Twitter is certainly not exempt.

Similarly, as you increasingly cherry-pick who to follow in education based on where your views and opinions align, the Twitter homepage can very quickly become an echo-chamber rather than providing worthwhile exposure to a range of new ideas and approaches.

Allowing opportunities for critical thinking is crucial to every teacher’s CPD, so remember to also engage directly with academic journals. Your school CPD culture and framework should ideally empower you and your colleagues to take ownership of your own learning, ensuring that individual professional development is relevant and linked to pupil need, while actively encouraged by senior leadership.

It is important to recognise that awareness of up-to-date practice and pedagogy itself is only a small part of what makes good CPD. To really have a positive impact on the classroom and student outcomes, you need to engage in sustained and iterative practice, where you refine and adapt an evidence-informed idea to best meet pupil and curriculum needs.

That process takes time and will be made up of a number of different activities, including input, experimenting in the classroom, evaluating and reflecting, and then refining and improving. It is something that is often facilitated through collaborative enquiry, lesson study and similar models, and cannot easily, if at all, be carried out entirely on one’s own.

Remember that as a teacher you should not be a lone ranger of CPD; social media or not, you need whole-school structures, culture and resources to support with the time, resource and expertise to develop your practice.

That is not to dismiss the sense of engagement and motivation that comes with belonging to a community beyond the four walls of the staffroom. Yet social media cannot provide the remedy to a toxic school culture and for even the most avid tweeter, it is crucial to keep striving for a positive work climate in-house. Ofsted’s most recent framework states that in outstanding schools: “Leaders and governors have created a culture that enables (...) staff to excel,” and: “Leaders ensure that the school has a motivated, respected and effective teaching staff,” through considering the “quality of CPD for teachers at the start and middle of their careers and later.”

It is hard to achieve, but when culture and wellbeing is prioritised, teachers and other school staff are more likely to stay, to engage and to be effective. In isolation, Twitter will not help develop practice to improve outcomes for pupils, and for the most fervent, there is always a temptation to adopt every new idea or teaching fad going without taking the time to adapt and embed any of them over time. Not everything shared on the Twittersphere is evidence-informed, either, so be a discerning consumer and be flexible to adapting and refining ideas based on what will make the most impact on your learners.

Twitter works best for teachers when they are able to use it as part of high-quality CPD provided and supported by their school. Ideally, you should be given the time and space to take part in sustained and iterative CPD which is evaluated throughout the year rather than consisting mainly one-off INSET days or twilight sessions.

CPD activities should also draw upon research evidence and external expertise to identify the most pressing issues and align with the most plausibly successful teaching approaches for your curriculum and pupil needs.

In many schools, a nominated “research champion” draws upon syntheses such as the Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit, as well as banks of academic journals such as the TDT Network research library or a university library, so that teachers can then take forward ideas that are pertinent to specific classes or groups of learners, and then adapt and embed them into daily practice.

Powerful professional learning is so important, not only to help teachers thrive, but so that all pupils are able to access high-quality teaching.
While social media does have a worthy place in supporting an enthused and passionate teaching profession, where you can truly make a difference as a teacher is in channelling this collective passion into your classroom and into making a difference for your students in the long run.

  • Maria Cunningham is a network officer at the Teacher Development Trust, a national charity for professional learning in schools.

Further information

To find out more about how the Teacher Development Trust could support this at your school, or to review the quality and culture of your current CPD provision, visit www.tdtrust.org/network or email enquiries@tdtrust.org


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