While visiting schools in recent weeks, I asked teachers and leaders about their reaction to social media, especially Twitter. Almost without exception their reaction was to harrumph loudly or exhale and tut in disgust. Invariably this form of gasping disapproval was followed by sarcastic retorts (“why would I want to read inane comments from someone about what a child said in their lesson?” being a particular favourite).
However, a recent report by Pearson has looked at the importance of social media and CPD. The co-researchers, Ewan McIntosh and Tom Barrett from NoTosh, believe there to be 0.3 per cent of teachers nationally who use Twitter.
I think teachers and school leaders are missing a trick here. Julie Pearson, from the Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning, said: “Many teachers are now taking their skills and development into their own hands, by networking with other classroom professionals online as well as in-person. With school training budgets under many pressures, schools should look at giving teachers the time, skills and encouragement to use tools like Twitter and Facebook to improve their teaching.”
The guys from NoTosh take it one step further. They talk about social media as “an opportunity to learn from people you wouldn’t normally meet”. It’s a good way to look at this issue. What do teachers like to do best when they meet other teachers? Share their best practice, talk about what works best for them.
Social media provides a national network for teachers where you can share ideas, ask questions, compare resources, find help, moan about Mr Gove and discuss all forms of teaching and learning. You can guarantee that whatever it is you want to know, there will be a teacher somewhere in this country with the answer and similar experiences to share.
So what are the report’s recommendations? First, headteachers should consider using social media to communicate with staff, parents and the local community. Also, teachers should be given unfiltered access to social media in school as a means to hone their skills and to network with other teachers.
It also says that training courses should include how to use digital and social tools. Here I actually disagree. Who needs training courses? There will be staff in every school that can do this. From experience I know the best way to learn is to explore and find your own path.
For those teachers who are not familiar with Twitter, start with joining in with @UKEdChat on Thursday (8-9pm). You vote for the topic to be discussed each week and you benefit from other professionals’ experiences. It widens your horizons to find what others are doing; there are some amazingly creative people out there eager to share their practice.
Likewise on Sundays (8pm) if you are a senior leader you can participate in discussions about strategic issues at @HeadsRoundtable.
Finally, I’d recommend reading other teachers’ blogs. They are a mine of information, interesting to read and often link to a raft of useful websites, resources or reports that can improve how your students learn.
So go on, become a tweetcher – your CPD and professional networking opportunities await! And if you’re looking for someone to send your first tweet, then get in touch (@PhilPfromSC).
Phil Parker is an ex-senior leader of a successful school and is now a director of Student Coaching Ltd. Further details of his work can be found at www.studentcoaching.co.uk. You can follow SecEd on Twitter @SecEd_Education