Tweeting for teachers: how can social media support teacher professional development?. The Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning, October 19, 2011
I summarize a few points:
- Research shows that teacher quality is by far the most important factor in driving up standards in schools.
- Effective ongoing professional development is the key
- Teachers learn best from other professionals
- An ‘open classroom’ culture is vital
- Observing teaching
- Being observed
- Having the opportunity to plan, prepare, reflect and teach with other teachers
Using emerging technologies and social media tools, teachers are beginning to take control of their own professional development,
- finding new ways to learn from each other,
- to reflect on their own practice
- to develop learning and support networks of like-minded professionals all over the world
This type of low cost, self-directed teacher development is interesting. The report discusses
- how teachers and other educators are currently using social media to aid their professional development
- what they and their students gain from it
- what evidence there is for the benefits of peer-to-peer teacher CPD [continuing professional development]
- what teaching can learn from industry in this respect.
It recommends ways in which school leaders and policymakers can exploit the benefits of social media for effective and affordable teacher professional development.
A selection of quotes from the report
School leaders should:
- learn about and engage with the social platforms that their teachers, parents and pupils are using every day;
- use a social media tool as part of their communications with the school community;
- validate and support their staff in using social media tools for ongoing professional development;
- turn online activity into offline actions, in order to harness the benefits of face-to-face interaction alongside those of online interaction;
- implement robust systems for evaluating the impact of CPD on teacher effectiveness and student outcomes.
‘We do not have a strong enough focus on what is proven to be the most effective practice in teacher education and
Too little teacher training takes place on the job, and too much professional development involves compliance with bureaucratic initiatives rather than working with other teachers to develop effective practice.
Only 25 per cent of teachers report that they are regularly observed in classroom practice and two-thirds of all professional development is ‘passive learning’ – sitting and listening to a presentation.’
It seems that a decade of top-down, cascading, initiative-led CPD has left many teachers disenchanted with a model of training that told them what they ought to be learning, sent them on a lacklustre day-long course where, with luck, the highlight was a decent lunch, then packed them off back to the classroom to get on with the day job.
An increasing number of teachers are rejecting this model, and instead seeking other ways of developing their knowledge and skills.
‘Social media’ can be defined as the technologies and tools that enable people to express their opinions online.
- David Meerman Scott, a marketing strategist and well-known commentator in this area, describes social media as ‘providing the way people share ideas, content, thoughts, and relationships online.
- Social media differ from so-called “mainstream media” in that anyone can create, comment on, and add to social media content.
- Social media can take the form of text, audio, video, images, and communities.’
Neil’s advocacy of social media use revolves around the need to cope better with the deluge of information and ideas that threatens to swamp anyone involved in education.
He prefers to seek out ideas on Twitter rather than on blog posts, because of the brevity of tweets. Time constraints mean that he prefers to present his own thoughts using video, or in other visual mediums, rather than as reams of text.
Some of Neil’s motivation to take part in social networks such as Twitter and Facebook has come from his desire to better understand the platforms. Even a basic knowledge and understanding has allowed him to deal more effectively with online issues at school, and he has been able to advise his staff and colleagues with greater confidence and authority than if he had no knowledge of the nuances of the social networks involved:
- ‘The leader’s role is absolutely crucial in the use of social media in schools, including making a significant positive contribution to the role it can play.
- More than anything, it is about establishing a philosophy and an approach to learning and the learning of the adult workforce.
- The validation by a school leader of social networking for professional development is a crucial and
fundamental start to it being a success.
- You must be able to create an environment where teachers are willing to take chances and be comfortable when things do not turn out well.
- As a school leader, you do not have to be a master of understanding all of those possibilities, you just have to enable that process to take place.’
Twitter was the next tool that Oliver began to use.
He feels that Twitter is ‘less about making connections in your head and more about those connections coming from other people.’ While blogging is a more personal process, the value in using Twitter comes from the ongoing reaction and perspective
you can quickly gain from your network:
- ‘Social media bring an immediacy and a geographical spread of perspectives, causing you to question the assumptions that you have about what you are teaching.
- The more extreme the contrasts are, the more you question fundamental things.
- When you communicate with educators from around the world you gain so many different points of view so quickly.
- One of the key practical benefits for having an online network is the convenience and speed with which you can locate potential learning resources.
- Personal insights add so much more value to the search for good resources: ‘People will say ‘here is something I used, here is how I used it with my class, the context with which it was used, and this is what I would have done better if I had used it the next time.’’
East Lothian Council invested in a dedicated server to run WordPress Multi-User (WPMU), a more refined blogging platform, and began to host the content centrally.
This commitment, along with upgrading school broadband and networking capabilities has, over the years, helped to establish a strong infrastructure on which the blogging community could flourish. Today, WPMU is still used, enhanced by free add-ons released over the years. It allows thousands of blogs across the region to be centrally managed.
These blogs are created by teachers for their classes or as a whole school looking to share activities taking place. Some parents and senior leaders in the authority also share content through the platform.
David explains that many headteachers across the region began to recognise the value of active class blogs in their schools because they gave them access to what was happening.
They could tap into the activities going on across the whole school and find out more, or comment on children’s work. This
proved to be another valuable result of sharing the activity in schools, and the school community was drawn closer together.
Something that sets edubuzz apart from other individual blogging efforts is the way the community activity is celebrated and used to subtly encourage and inspire more blogging.
If you visit the edubuzz home page you are presented with an activity stream, showing the latest activity across the whole of the
regional network of bloggers.
Schools that have set edubuzz.org as their home page can click through and read about what is happening in other schools in the region. The stream of activity acts as a subtle reminder to the community about the activity of others, as well as source of inspiration or potential collaboration between schools:
‘The children have learned that if they write a class blog post it will have its five minutes of fame on the activity stream of all of the schools in the region.’