‘Tweeting Teachers’: Self organised CPD

Last week the Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning published ‘Tweeting Teachers‘; a report into how social media can be used to support the professional development of teachers. Through examination of research and exploring case studies of teachers (including this one), school leaders, and successful models of learning from the Nuclear Power and Charity sectors, the report draws on a wide variety of evidence to produce a series of recommendations for school leaders and policy makers. What emerges is a picture of self organised learning of immense power that is happening in spite of rather, rather than because of, existing formal professional development.

What really stuck out to me from all of this evidence was the fact that such use of social media is not just a case of using new technologies to deliver what has historically often constituted CPD. In fact, what comes across is that this is a whole new culture; a culture of professionals choosing their own priorities and shaping their own landscape for development. In a field that is constantly shifting as successive governments seek to change the state of play to suit their agendas, many teachers are simply getting on with it; identifying what they think is important for their practice and ultimately their learners, and creating communities and environments in which they can address these themselves.

In bringing these self organised communities to the attention of school leaders and policy makers, I think it is this quality that we most need to value. To me, this phenomenon has less to do with technology , and more to do with a ground up attitude towards teacher development. Such an attitude values the status of teachers as accomplished learners in themselves, capable of taking responsibility for their own learning and development, and not needing to be overly controlled by policy. The danger in introducing leaders and policy makers into the equation is that you can’t mandate for this kind of self organised, intrinsically motivated behaviour; all you can do is trust and support it.

Thankfully this is evident in the recommendations of the report, which are more about supporting and creating an atmosphere of open sharing than seeking to control the behaviours we are seeing emerge around social media. To my mind, this behaviour hints at an untapped potential for involving teachers more fundamentally in their own formal professional development, and school improvement. Examples are showing that involving learners in defining the process and content of their learning can produce amazing results, so what about taking the same approach with teachers? Professional development where staff are empowered to really define the direction of their learning, and not just the direction of some rarely reviewed performance management targets, has the potential to make a difference to the biggest determinant of school effectiveness; the teachers.

Of particular interest to me is the fifth set of recommendations for initial teacher training on page 33. This shows a strong focus on us as teacher educators to encourage and support the use of social media right from day one, something I have already seen can be incredibly powerful. To encourage trainees to develop their own professional networks, and share their practice is to invite them into the profession from day one, and to value the contribution that they can make even before they are fully qualified. You only have to look at teachers like Tim Handley, who created and published a comprehensive guide for trainee teachers before his QTS certificate arrived, to see that trainees do have a strong contribution to make to the field. As teacher educators I think this report demonstrates that we have a responsibility to welcome trainees into the profession from day one, as well as take into account all of the issues previously mentioned with regards to allowing them to take responsibility for their own learning, and tap into the enthusiasm and potential for immense professional growth that this can bring.

It is encouraging to read reports like this which don’t just present the use of social media for professional development as being about using technology to support existing structures, but recognise that such technology has facilitated a new phenomenon to emerge. The danger is that policy makers seek to control too closely social media CPD, and in the process suck out the intrinsically motivated life wherein much of its power lies.

 

If we can recognise this phenomenon for what it is, a potential for tapping into the intrinsic motivation of teachers to develop both their professional selves and by extension the experiences of their pupils, then there is the potential for huge development in the education system. For this to happen we need to recognise the professionalism of teachers, from trainees to those with wider experiences, and encourage and support them to follow their own self organised routes of learning. To do so is to empower them as the model learners our children and young people need, learners who are defining their directions and bringing their learning to bear to make a real difference.

 

Read the full report here:
McCulloch, J., McIntosh, E., Barrett, T., (October 2011) Tweeting for teachers: how can social media support teacher professional development?. Available at: http://pearsoncpl.com/2011/tweeting-for-teachers-how-can-social-media-support-teacher-professional-development/ (Accessed 24th October 2011).

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4 thoughts on “‘Tweeting Teachers’: Self organised CPD”

  1. I also thought this report was fascinating, and I especially appreciated the fact that the recommendations did not go for some sort of top-down initiative. I also agree that it’s not really about new technologies, this is simply how teachers are accessing CPD. Im not convinced this is particularly new even, teachers have been researching and studying, trialling and perfecting their own teaching for years, but it is through a ‘measurable’ medium like Twitter that it can have some sort of concrete report. It is vital for schools, councils and governments to support and nurture the expertise of their teachers rather than pelting them with initiatives and admin so they end up drowning in paperwork and churning out average lessons. Great blog!

    1. Thanks Sarah. I am sure you are right, many teachers have been doing this in some sense for as long as there have been teachers. I do think there is a difference though, I am sure I would have been trying to learn an better my practice without technology, but the technology gives access to such a wide and varied experience of ideas and role models, that I think it is really blowing open the field in terms of this kind of learning. That and a generation of many teachers disillusioned by top down policy, and a generation of students frankly disillusioned with school and authoritarian adults gives us an interesting landscape which I am convinced is ripe for significant change.

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