Teachers sometimes describe twitter as an excellent professional development tool and sometimes say that twitter is the best CPD they have ever had…
I think this is deeply problematic and here’s why.
Twitter is not professional development. It has neither the scope nor the flexibility to be anything other than a cute way of sharing stuff. And sharing things is not the same as thinking hard about your practice as a teacher and evolving new ways of working. If you heard on the news that heart surgeons were taking to twitter to share tips about the latest operating techniques, what would you think? Chances are, like me, you’d be amused and horrified in equal measure. Amused that something as serious as heart surgery could be atomised into 140 character soundbites, and horrified that practitioners of such a complex scientific method could call such a truncated random process professional development. Heart surgeons may well be using twitter to find fellow practitioners, and to share links, but their strategy for CPD will not be built on twitter alone, of that I am pretty sure.
The people you follow on Twitter are not your Personal Learning Network (PLN), they are just people you follow on twitter. Some are amusing, some are random, a few may be inspirational. They may sometimes tweet interesting thoughts and links and so on; but you can’t rely on that to happen, or if they do you may just miss it. Twitter is the epitome of random. If you are serious about professional development you need to move beyond twitter and engage in some structured activities to improve your practice as a teacher. Get a book on educational theory or a related topic, read it, then critique it; enrol on a masters course; start writing a blog which deals with substantial educational issues; or undertake some action research in your classroom and share these results. These forms of extended activity are real CPD. You may well want to take twitter to share what you have found out, to ask questions and seek help, and if you do this, then you will be using the real power of twitter as a social network, but it will be part of a wider overall strategy through which you develop your professionalism.
Twitter alone is not professional development. Michael Gove does not believe teachers are professionals, many of his policies are designed to whittle away the professional status of teachers in England so his reforms won’t be held up by a well organised group of professionals who can argue their case with eloquence. News reaching him that twitter *counts* as professional development will gladden his heart as the teaching profession play right into his hands and sign their own death-warrant of deskilling. Twitter may be very important to you in terms of connecting you with other educators, but think about the symbolism of raising this activity and labelling it ‘the best professional development’. Gove believes that teachers in free schools and academies don’t need to be qualified (http://bbc.in/X9ZyMh), and has enacted laws to this effect. The bus driver driving the kids to school needs to pass a specialised test before he is allowed to drive the bus. Once through the school gates, if the management of the academy so choose, then they can let unqualified people loose with the education of young people. This sends a very strong message that there is no professional basis to teaching; that there is no specific basis of skill and understanding developed by teachers as a direct result of their practice and through sustained reflection on that practice over many thousands of hours. Gove thinks that anyone who can talk, stand up for a bit, and sling a few bits of clip-art onto a PowerPoint presentation will make a great teacher. We need to set the bar higher for entry into the community of practice of teachers, which means evolving CPD strategies which are a little more advanced than just mucking around on twitter (nice though that is sometimes).
Education, and the professional status of teachers is now politicised more than ever. If you think this politicisation is a shame, then recall that the Hobbits felt it was a bit of a shame when Sauron began the wars of Middle Earth and decided to wage war on ‘men’. But the Hobbits had to overcome their naturally reticent nature and come out and fight, and teachers need to do this too, finding as many ways as possible to show politicians, the media and everyone else that teaching is a highly specialised skill, requiring dedication, vision and application. The skills and dispositions of teaching are not learned overnight, nor are you borne with these or somehow magically possess them as a result of ‘rich life experiences’ or being charismatic or interesting. You won’t become a brilliant teacher just because you shot at someone in a pointless war thousands of miles away (http://huff.to/YcTOm4). Teachers need to undertake professional development which signals clearly how seriously they take the responsibility of education young people, and in such a way which lifts their practice above the ‘honest journeyman’ nonsense peddled by Gove as he seeks to dismantle the professional basis for teachers and shred the state school system into a fragmented and chaotic pattern of provision.
Twitter alone is not professional development.
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