In 2013, the internet went mobile. For the first time, the number of internet-connected mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, exceeds the numbers of desktops and laptops. The number of people accessing the internet via mobile devices will overtake the number using fixed-line connections some time in 2014. What this means for teachers, is that it’s now much, much easier to access social media. From our pockets, we can connect with colleagues round the country and across the world at the tap of a button.
There are a few areas in education that I think will be changed by social media for good – permanently, and for the better: CPD, publishing, research and policy.
It is worth quoting at length from this brilliant blogpost by Joey Bagstock on what blogging has done for CPD, which charts a subtle but significant shift between teachers and leaders:
‘It seemed to me that senior teachers had access to all the information – research, good practice, strategies and resources – whilst us inexperienced teachers, or those without responsibility, were left to receive new ideas and initiatives second hand. We were like worshippers before the Reformation: listening compliantly to the interpretation (and selection) of God’s word from a clergy seemingly much better versed in Latin than us.
‘SLT and middle leaders were thus the gatekeepers of educational knowledge, whether through their professional experience gleaned from current research, policy findings, Ofsted Survey reports (or whatever they were called then) and good practice. Ordinary class teachers were left out of the conversation, and quite often dictated to, rather than part of the dialogue. A lot of CPD was therefore predicated on the sometimes too narrow range of teachers’ own experiences, or worse on unverifiable and disputable research.
‘With the advent of blogging and Twitter all that has changed. Teachers – whether those training to be teachers, or others far longer in the tooth – now have access to a wealth of information that can help them improve their understanding and practice of teaching. Teachers, of all ranges of responsibility and levels of experience, are part of the conversation, shaping ideas and often building consensus derived from people who actually know what their talking about: who are teaching in classrooms and working with students on a day to day basis. There is clearly a place for the ‘expert’, and the senior teacher who draws from his or her own experiences to bring an aspect of teaching and learning into sharper focus. This is fine, but it can’t be all.
‘Blogging and Twitter have forced a seismic change in the way in which schools deliver INSET. The ability for professionals to challenge received wisdom, to get to the source of what they are told and interpret the Word for themselves has signalled the death knell for the day-long INSET day, and the being-spoken-at approach that was once the norm. Action research groups, innovative Twilight sessions and new ways in which teachers can meet and share (such as Teachmeet) have led to a much-needed overhaul into how we develop ourselves as a profession. It is now much harder for senior leadership teams to be complacent about teacher development, or to trust in the tried and trusted approaches of the past. And rightly so, since professional capital (a phrase borrowed from Andy Hargreaves) is the key driver to raising standards of teaching and learning in education today.
‘With social media there is no hierarchy. An NQT can freely exchange views with a senior leader, which can only be a good thing for everyone’.
It is now easier than ever to publish your writing, as the explosion of blogs on free platforms shows. Start-up costs for books are also next to zero. In fact, forty of us Teach First teachers co-authored and published an e-book for new teachers this year. It didn’t cost us a penny, and whereas print publishers take up to 90% of the royalties, online publishers take just 30%. A teacher like Daisy Christodoulou can write a book, migrate its content onto an e-book platform, and it can be read as far and wide as America and India, diffusing virally across social media sites like Twitter. Publishers and bookshops are becoming disintermediated, connecting authors and readers – teachers writing and teachers reading – closer than ever before.
My Dad is a doctor who’s published around 40 books and hundreds of research papers. When he was my age, he’d written a lot, but at most his words would be published in an academic journal and distributed in print around GP’s surgeries, and a few hundred doctors would read them at best. The idea that a doctor or teacher’s research and writing could be distributed and consumed globally within minutes was unthinkable. And yet, it’s happening today. This instantaneity will have far-reaching consequences for academic research, both in its production and consumption, reshaping it as an industry.
Perhaps the most striking impact of social media may be on education policy. Sam Freedman, former policy advisor and now Director of Research at Teach First, argues this in hes seminal blogpost The Internet is Flat:
‘Suddenly an insightful classroom teacher like Tessa Matthews, Laura McInerney or Joe Kirby has a direct line of communication to the Secretary of State and his advisers. Anyone can make a case against a policy and if it’s strong enough to be picked up and retweeted a few dozen times there’s a good chance it will be read by the people who matter. I can think of a fair few changes to nascent policy ideas off the back of a particularly perceptive blogpost which raised points that had been missed during internal discussions – and not necessarily from the bloggers you’d expect.
‘I think it’s exciting that for the first time ever any teacher anywhere can sit down and write something that could shift national policy’.
Again, the idea that a teacher can write something on Saturday morning, that will be read by an Education Minister on Saturday afternoon, and put in a speech by Monday, is quite astonishing. This blogpost asks: how might teachers influence policy?
‘I have been prompted to think about how we should all be engaged in the influence of educational policy, in all its forms and levels, to ensure that we are a learning and shaping profession. Formally constituted groups of educationalists engaged in work to influence the future of the profession, such as Redesigning Schooling and Vision 2040 led by SSAT (http://www.redesigningschooling.org.uk/) and the curriculum and accountability work of the Headteachers’ Roundtable (http://headteachersroundtable.wordpress.com/).
‘Good teachers understand the concept of policies. Good teachers gather ideas and principles. Good teachers shape and develop those ideas and principles. Good teachers share their vision with others. The status of the profession will benefit from teachers using their skills to influence policy makers. The views needn’t be – in fact, shouldn’t be – uniform, the methods of sharing ideas should continue to be broad and the reach of influence will always be varied, but the belief of the profession as a whole that we each have a part to play in that influence is crucial’. Policymakers are listening.
Rising to the Challenge
The effect of all theses shifts, as teaching becomes professionalised, publishing gets disintermediated, research becomes digitised, and policy becomes democratised, is a levelling of hierarchies. It also, Laura McInerney points out in this blogpost, enhances the status of the profession:
‘Teachers didn’t “just” teach, they were also involved in a ‘profession’ that develops, and teaches each other, and influences policy. Other groups are seen this way – doctors, nurses, police commanders – and it’s quite proper that teaching be considered the same way’.
There are some big areas that are being debated in the blogosphere by the profession right now. So I’ve collated some of the best blogposts I’ve read out there on what I see as the key issues: behaviour, curriculum, assessment, teaching, CPD & ITT and Leadership.
Ideas from teachers
- 7 kids – redorgreenpen?
- How we solve the behaviour crisis – Tom Bennett
- The father and mother of effective classroom learning – Harry Webb
- The two discipline systems – Andrew Old
- Behaviour crisis? – Redorgreenpen?
- Do we really have high expectations of our children? Or is it just talk? – Tessa Matthews
- Do we really have high expectations on our curriculum? Or is it just talk? – Tessa Matthews
- What’s the point in a national curriculum? – Harry Webb
- Could Curriculum Review Look Like This?
- In Defence of Subjects – Daisy Christodoulou
- A Superior Rival to the Draft History Curriculum? – Harry Fletcher Wood
- Spirit Levels: Exorcising the Ghost of Assessment Past – Kev Bartle
- Improving written feedback – Alex Quigley
- Making feedback count: closing the gap – Tom Sherrington
- What do the kids actually see? Kris Boulton
- What makes a great teacher? – Tom Sherrington
- How all of us will improve our teaching – John Tomsett
- Great lessons – Tom Sherrington
- Great teaching happens in cycles – David Didau
5. CPD & ITT
- The Ten Commandments of CPD – Mr Mck
- Trying to put the continuing into CPD – Harry Fletcher Wood
- What has blogging done for CPD – Joey Bagstock
- Can coaching help transform teacher quality? – Alex Quigley
- Teachers Must Be Learners – David Weston
- Why standards and structures are inextricable – Sam Freedman
- Seven Habits of Highly Defective Headteachers Old Andrew
- Heroes of SLT Old Andrew
- What happens next? Sam Freedman
- Ten Commandments for School Leaders – Kev Bartle
- A vision for education in 2040 – Kev Bartle
- My Manifesto – Tom Sherrington
If anyone has any other nominations for teacher blogposts on these issues, I’d be happy to consider including them. Just add them below and I can update the list.