When we talk about social media and teaching with young or trainee teachers it’s often about privacy, so that the young teacher can set boundaries and not have her or his pupil mock them for the indiscreet picture of that party from last year. I want to propose that it’s more than that. This is going to sound some warning notes about professionalism and social media, so it is ironic that I am starting from Tim O’Brien, whose work I really know from Twitter. Here is Tim at IOE and on Twitter he is @doctorob. I’m starting from Tim’s report for the Chartered College Listening to Teacher Voice and in it he states that the concept of professionalism is viewed by teachers
as enabling them to be respected as a highly qualified community of practitioners who have expert and specialised knowledge and skills
and it’s this that I want to take apart a bit.
I’ll set aside the “highly qualified” with the assertion that I have known
- Teachers with oodles of paper who struggled in the classroom and staffroom
- Teachers with oodles of paper who were brilliant in the classroom and staffroom
- Teachers with the bare minimum of qualification who shone
- Teachers with the bare minimum of qualification who sank
in favour of reading the next bit about expert and specialised knowledge and skills. A PGCE does not make you a teacher and years of experience don’t make you brilliant. But “expertise” comes from experience as much as reading and further study – indeed it really is about “having experienced” something. “Specialised knowledge” is different again, and while I would not dream of telling a secondary teacher or Education Prof outside my area how to put across their chosen subject, the respect is not always mutual. Early Years suffers – has always suffered – from the reverse. Very kindly, once, a dad at my Nursery School offered to come and teach and when I tried to say his expertise and qualifications were other than in Early Years he did remind me, huffily, that he was a prof at Oxford…
So here is a tricolor flag to shoot at:
- Specialised knowledge needs to be respected: experience, reflection and scholarship in the Early Years really do mean that the Cowleys and Fishers and Moyletts and Allinghams and DuBiels of this world should be listened to;
- Specialised skills mean that people who write about compassion in education or about behaviour aren’t softy do-gooders with no idea, but people, very often, who work or who have worked with difficult children many of us wouldn’t know how to start to relate to;
- Early Years and SEND are not areas that “everybody knows” about. Just because your child liked Roald Dahl doesn’t mean literature hasn’t moved on; just because you didn’t like the way the nursery worker was playing when you dropped your neighbour’s child off doesn’t mean you know about adult-child interactions; just because the child in your class wears the proper socks doesn’t mean you understand the lives of the families outside the school.
So far so good. Sort of.
A bit further into Listening to Teacher Voice, there is quite a stark warning:
Many teachers in this study use social media to share ideas and information for personal and professional development but there was concern that online communities could sometimes generate hostile exchanges.
Yes, sometimes. There are clearly people who have ridden the social media wave and have the ear of the Great and the Good and position themselves to rubbish other teachers, call children stupid, disparage parents… And this is where the rant turns to something more serious.
The window into the arguments about education afforded by social media tends to make us (to continue the metaphor) seem like we are shouting down into a square from our isolated ideological window with no consequences for others. It isn’t true, of course and hasn’t been since TES’ innovative on-line message boards way back when. The remark can be heartfelt – but can also be harsh, and hard to hear. People reading our one-liners may have had hard days themselves, or be pushed into having a hard evening by a thoughtless comment. The rhetoric can be targeted and pithy, but it’s called – or in some cases can be called – bullying. Just as teachers in the Standards are required to
establish a safe and stimulating environment for pupils, rooted in mutual respect
so they should model it. The requirement to
develop effective professional relationships with colleagues
might be seen as something we do on line as well as over the horrid INSET coffee or in the staff meeting. It might include
respect for the rights of others
and be underpinned by
mutual respect, and tolerance.
Yes, these last bits are from parts of the standards that are to do with all sorts of things, but I do wonder whether we neglect – maybe I neglect – to see social e-communication as part of the professional dialogue. Too easy to dismiss this Czar or that Guru because they are not part of my tribe? Too easy to contribute to a lack of compassion in the profession by the 250-character put-down?
If the profession (from Higher Ed to Early Years) is facing ideological struggle, funding crises, more battles than we have fought before – loss of staff, burnout, depression – the maybe we should guard against how we present ourselves in blogs and Twitter? Maybe together, rather than in a melee, we will be able to work on how we
enable pupils to be taught effectively…have a secure understanding of how a range of factors can inhibit pupils’ ability to learn…treat pupils with dignity…
All there in the standards – but to return to the Chartered College report to end with:
A Chartered Teacher is a specialist teacher who cares about their practice and their profession.
They care about what they do on a day to day basis, and they care about their colleagues. Inside the College and out of it, this care and respect surely should be a professional aim.