Twitter is not Professional Development

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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13 thoughts on “Twitter is not Professional Development

  1. What if I were to get the reccomendation for a professional text on twitter, implement it in my practice, document the process through video; then share all of the materials for the unit with my colleagues on twitter and even directly with the book’s author? And what if those people were to try some of my plans, then gave me feedback, and contributed their own adaptations?

    Like Noam Chomsky said, “The hammer doesn’t care whether you use it to build a house or whether the torturer uses it to crush somebody’s skull.”

    • Well if you were to do all of that, then that would count as a structured piece of CPD, moving beyond the confines of twitter, something I did point argue in the posting!

  2. I would tend to agree with the principle of your argument. Twitter alone is not enough to qualify as meaningful professional development. The depth of the discussion and the lack of, and difficulty in managing, challenge restrict the impact it can have on its own.

    I wouldn’t agree the same argument could be made of blogging, if someone were to try. Blogging encourages much more thoughtful reflection on practice, and indeed values, and does encourage more challenging responses dialogue. It is for this reason that I don’t think we should abandon the potential that lies within twitter. Here we have a vast network of willing and enthusiastic practitioners sharing with each other 24/7. Rather than discounting this, we should be seeing this as an opportunity and building on these networks to provide more meaningful professional learning opportunities – such as the growth of collaborative blogs.

    It is for precisely this reason that I was heavily involved in setting up the community Pedagoo.org (@Pedagoo). As this community has grown (mushroomed!) I would say that I increasingly no longer recognise some of the points you make above. I would no longer categorise many of the people I follow on twitter as simply “people I follow on twitter”. I know many of them better than that (even though I’ve still to properly meet most of them).

    And so, I’m not arguing with your central point that twitter alone is not enough. I’m just saying we can either discount it as a result, or build on it. I think there’s more potential in the latter.

    • Yes of course blogging is requires more thought and more engagement with content. Maybe I needed to explain it a little better in the piece, but I argued that teachers needed to move beyond twitter into other activities which I called ‘structured CPD’, and writing a blog would definitely be in this category. Many teachers write excellent blogs (which I read very regularly), and the value of this both for their own CPD and that of people who read the posts cannot be stressed enough.
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

  3. I think it is brilliant that you are pointing out the emperor’s nakedness and it would be fab to get a real debate running about this more widely. Having spent about 15 years researching, developing and promoting e-learning as a vehicle for learning, I have to say the evidence is pretty inescapable Real professional development (which impacts on practice) requires:
    a) sustained engagement over weeks;
    b) collaboration between two or more practitioners
    c) starts from what the participants know and can do already
    d) draws on appropriate specialist knowledge and expertise
    e) draws on and makes practical use of evidence from the participants’ current practice

    It’s also the case that e-learning engages it’s enthusiasts who think “well it’s got all these obvious advantages (asynchronicity, independence from geography, multi-sensory etc etc); how can it not work?” Trouble is, it doesn’t very much as studies continue to show (e.g. Steve Higgins at Durham and the EEF toolkit). Now I accept that all of these criteria are theoretically capable of being met through an extended Twitter exchange but, let’s be honest, they are not. Too many teachers and others (including me) like Twitter because it’s easy. We like tips and tricks for the same reason. I would like to acquire new knowledge and skill via a Matrix-stye upload (I’d start with Italian and then playing the piano). Regrettably, real learning is challenging, uncomfortable and hard work..If we can get the work done and make it a little less hard with tools like Twitter then great but we should not confuse this with real professional learning and development

  4. I wouldn’t be horrified if heart surgeons swapped tips on Twitter. I’d be horrified if I heard that they didn’t discuss ideas… Twitter is a facilitator for CPD the same way a workshop or article is. A workshop isn’t professional development either. What goes on there, on the other hand, may well be.

  5. I see what you mean..however I do consider Twitter CPD. I use blog links to reflect..and trial ideas in my classroom.I share blog links with my department, we discuss what we thought was interesting, evaluate, trial new ideas.
    Not in my mind tips and tricks-small tweaks that lead to powerful results. Twitter also reassures me -fellow teachers discussing and evaluating ideas that I’m also currently implementing in the classroom.The best of Twitter is thought provoking, challenging and inspiring, as a staff room discussion should be. As valid as action research projects, academic courses that I have done.
    It’s what you do as a result of Twitter that counts!

  6. A nice post. I agree with your sentiment entirely. However, I think twitter can be an excellent tool to get into some of the other things mentioned here, such as blogging, which definitely are. Twitter, with the right followers, is like a staffroom. But a world wide staffroom. The conversations that you may have with those in your department can now be had worldwide. It us a great place to share, and to find things others have shared.

  7. I think this is more hermeneutics, but believe that twitter can be a facilitator of Professional Development. I would argue that is what people mean when they refer to it as PD. Someone can go to a workshop & still not get PD out of it, learning always depends on how you approach it whether online or in person. The same thing as far as a PLN, I guess it is how you define it, but those I follow on Twitter are certainly part of my PLN. I define a PLN as anyone you are networked/connected with that helps you question, learn, & reflect. Under that definition there is no question that those I follow on Twitter are a part of my PLN. To me this is an argument that simply means different things to different people. Twitter is a tool simply put!

  8. Great article. I agree that twitter is not professional development in the same way that the internet is not research. It is however, a great tool for teachers to discover new ideas. The professional development aspect for me is when they act on what they have read. I would also argue that going on a one day course is not professional development if there is no action taken afterwards. I have written an article on using twitter and other tools for professional development. Check it out http://www.freetechforschools.com/2013/02/training-on-train.html

  9. Great article with some excellent points. I agree that twitter is not professional development in the same way that the internet is not research. It is however, a great tool for teachers to discover new ideas. The professional development aspect for me is when they act on what they have read. I would also argue that going on a one day course is not professional development if there is no action taken afterwards. I have written an article on using twitter and other tools for professional development. Check it out http://www.freetechforschools.com/2013/02/training-on-train.html

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