The number one shift in education I wish to see in my lifetime?

In an effort to participate in the Blog Sync project coordinated by @Edutronic_Net I blithely signed up to write about whatever was agreed on as the months’s suggested topic. Sadly for me, the subject was not one that’s been sizzling up my sleeve for an opportunity to flare into life. In fact, I’ve really struggled to know what to say about this.

Being somewhat cynical about the chicanery which goes on outside, above or below our classrooms, I am, I’m sorry to say, inherently suspicious of anything purporting to be a Universal Panacea. Smells suspiciously like snake oil to me. The quest for magic bullets has lead us down many darkened alleys and intellectual cul-de-sacs, only for us to emerge baffled and bitter, vowing never to be taken in again. Brain Gym, anyone? Learning Styles? Even where there seems to be evidence to support the claims of particular forms of teaching, there seems no way to adequately control such findings. How can we ever really be sure of what it is that makes students learn? Sometimes the only meaningful criteria we can apply to the claims touted about by sundry advisors, consultants and researchers is the extent to which they seem absurd. If it looks like a turkey, maybe it is a turkey. We can also look to see who’s making money.

So, am I advocating skepticism as my ‘Universal Panacea’?

Nope. Too downbeat. It’s deceptively easy to be a cynic. John Fowles said, “all cynicism masks a failure to cope – an impotence, in short; and that to despise all effort is the greatest effort of all.” And who wants to listen to that in the staffroom on a Monday morning?

Instead I’m going to opt for Twitter. Chances are, if you’re already a teacher on Twitter you won’t need much persuading. And no other bugger will ever read this post anyway. However, on with the pitch.

The micro blogging site has been described by ‘tweachers’ variously as The Best Staffroom in the World, The Best CPD Resource in the World, Shameless Self Promotion and The Biggest Waste of Time in the World. So which is it?

Well, here’s my story. In the 18 months or so I’ve been blogging I’ve resisted indulging in the kind of onanistic meta-blogging I’ve seen spattered so widely over the social networks, but now all that is going to end. I’m coming out as the flag waving intellectual hick I really am. It’s a shocking truth but, like many others, before beginning this extraordinary journey, I knew next to nothing about my profession. I’d read a couple of books by Claxton and flicked through The Black Box but that was about it; I went to work, I taught my classes, they generally seemed to do OK and that was about as far as my professional curiosity went.

Then in 2009 I became part of a professional enquiry group looking into Learning to Learn. I started to read about educational issues a little more widely and someone recommended signing up to Twitter. So I did. I spent all of about 10 minutes trying to get my head round it and quickly lost interest. I carried on reading the occasional edu book for the next year or so (The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook, The Perfect Ofsted Lesson and Carole Dweck’s Mindset) and although I was beginning to feel more interest in the concept of pedagogy and the processes which underpinned what I did in the classroom, I didn’t really have anywhere to go with it all.

The breakthrough came when, after signing up for a course with David Carter on school leadership he asked who used Twitter as part of their professional development. A few desultory hands went up. “You should,” he urged. And that was all it took.

That weekend I reactivated my dormant account and made a concerted and frenzied assault on the Twittersphere, and have not looked back since.

Some notable moments along the way included:

– following @kennypieper – a kindred spirit and fellow traveller a few months further along the journey than I was. His blog inspired me to get writing and I really cannot thank him enough for his kindness and patience in those first few weeks. One of Kenny’s the best steers was pointing me in the direction of @philbeadle‘s Dancing About Architecture – reading this book probably did more to reinvigorate my teaching than any other single thing, and I wrote about the experience here.

– following @teachitso and @DKMead – between them these intellectual heavyweights introduced me to the idea of evidence based practice and the rigour that makes all truly great teachers.

– connecting with @thatiangilbert – not only did I read Essential Motivation for the Classroom and Why Do I Need a Teacher if I’ve Got Google? over that first summer of Twitter love, I also got to meet him in September 2011. That has lead to working with his company Independent Thinking Ltd and all sorts of opportunities which might not have come about otherwise.

– writing to @jackiebeere to show off about how I was using an idea I’d come across in her book. Imagine my surprise when she asked if she could use what I’d done in the 2012 edition of The Perfect Ofsted Lesson? Imagine my further surprise on being asked whether I’d like to write a follow up aimed specifically at English teachers?

Holding this lovely object in my hands was a particularly wonderful moment.

– following @oldandrewuk – I’ve learned so much from engaging with Andrew. He’s often savage, always uncompromising and has forgotten more about education than I’ll probably ever know. I’m often surprised by the spumes of hatred sent his way by otherwise completely reasonable people; the key to understanding Andrew is that he doesn’t suffer fools. Gladly or otherwise. I’ve had to dig deeply to justify my beliefs and while I’m sure I get the worst of our exchanges, I feel that I benefit from our correspondence enormously. I often think, What would Andrew say? when writing or planning and this has made me a far better teacher.

Some statistics

As I write, I have 4,175 followers on Twitter and my blog has had 106,394 views. This is source of both humility and pride; I still struggle with the idea that I have ‘fans’ and want you all to know that I suffer from (sometimes crippling) Impostor Complex. This may sound disingenuous but I’m more than a little surprised by all the fuss.

Luckily, I have got to know many of these ‘tweeps’ and count quite a few as friends. Some of my most valued Twitter pals I’ve actually met in the flesh (so to speak) and I can reveal that they’re not stalker sexpests at all. In fact, they’re quite lovely and well worth seeking out:

@hgaldinoshea – fabulously generous, unfailingly supportive and quietly modest about the powerful impact she has on our small community of UK teaching geeks

@lisajaneashes – a pocket dynamo who cares so much more and works so much harder than I do. Plus she can (and has on 2 occasions) drink me under the table

@totallywired77 – bequiffed and beautiful, Tait is as genuine and warm as his blog posts suggest. A wonderful thinking teacher and a smashing companion for a night out

@DKMead – so good, I’ve name checked him twice! I have so much respect for what Darren does that I am, unashamedly, completely in awe of him. Whenever I encounter a new idea I usually find he’s already written about it. He is a brain the size of a planet but manages to be utterly affable and charming in person. My jaw dropped on seeing what he does, everyday, in his classroom. I don’t think I’m overstating this when I say, the man is a genius.

Other Tweachers I’ve grown to respect and rely on include the remarkable secondary headteachers @johntomsett, @headguruteacher and @RealGeoffBarton, the erudite Head of English @HuntingEnglish, school leaders @jamieportman & @kristianstill,  and PBL and design go to guy @Pekabelo.

Interestingly I now work with some fairly well known Twitter faces:

@ICTEvangelist – Mark Anderson is head of ICT at Clevedon School and is as knowledgeable about all things computerish as you’d hope. He’s endlessly patient with my silly questions and is owed a couple of beers the next time we go to the pub. And a lift – I know!

@fullonlearning – I’ve known Zoë for many years in her capacity as Advisory teacher for North Somerset and I have always admired her integrity,  passion and professionalism. It’s a real and continued pleasure to now work with her. Few people challenge my thinking as gently or as profoundly: she truly is an original.

@thelazyteacher – Jim is a bit like me only more so. He’s taller, more ginger and a better writer. His ideas are bigger, zanier and bolder; his ability to hold a room’s attention is remarkable and he manages to steer a remarkably efficient course between thoughtfulness and chaos. I have the utmost admiration for him and am a disciple sitting at his size 12 feet.

Many other people have touched me along the way and I value each and every one of them. If I’ve missed your name off it’s not because you’re not wonderful. I’m sorry and I hope it doesn’t make you feel hollow and worthless. I say that because it would me.

Anyway, enough of this gushing. I’ve embarrassed myself now. The point is that my suggestion for the Universal Panacea which might have the capacity to transform teaching is, yes, you guessed it, Twitter. It is the best staffroom I’ve ever been in. It is the best source of CPD I’ve ever encountered. Of course there’s an element of self promotion involved but what’s wrong with that? There’s something wholesome about being able to celebrate each other’s success. And, yes, it can easily be a huge waste of time too.

Twitter hasn’t just changed my teaching, it really has changed my life. And for the better too. The opportunities I’ve grasped over past year or so would never have been offered if I hadn’t started blogging and networking.

My proposed Universal Panacea is that all teachers  take charge of their own professional development and sign up for Twitter. But not just to tweet pictures of your lunch and play hashtag games. Yes, that means you!

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Read the other bBlog Sync posts on A Universal Panacea