Those who can, tweet?


In Short

"...The ways in which teachers are using Twitter is blurring the boundaries between formal and informal CPD..."

Endpoint - Alom Shaha has the last word

Alom Shaha
To my students, I am 'Mr Shaha', to my friends and family, I am 'Alom', but to many of my fellow science teachers around the country, I am @alomshaha, a colleague they only ever encounter online, in the 'virtual staffroom' of Twitter. For me, and I suspect for many others, Twitter has become a place where I engage with other teachers in a way that I believe is better for my professional development than any number of INSET days at school.

Sharing experiences 

I am a better physics teacher now than when I first started teaching, over 12 years ago. Much of that improvement is down to working alongside more experienced colleagues who have been there to respond to my questions about topics I've found difficult to teach, show me new or different ways to do things, and generally mentor me. I'm still learning how to teach and am constantly on the lookout for better ways to do the job I love. But I'm one of the lucky ones - not all science teachers work in departments with friendly, supportive colleagues. Perhaps even more problematically, not all science teachers will necessarily be in a department in which there is someone from whom they can learn - he or she might be the only chemistry or physics specialist in the school, for example. 

My experiences support the statement in the government's 2010 white paper, The importance of teaching  that ' teachers learn best from other professionals... having the opportunity to plan, prepare, reflect and teach with other teachers'. However, these opportunities can be few and far between, after all, teachers spend most of their time in schools working on their own as classroom teachers and much of their time outside the classroom is taken up by seemingly endless administrative tasks.   

But help is at hand from the internet - more and more teachers are using social media, as well as everything from the humble mailing list to sophisticated wiki sites, to engage in the kind of professional development activities that we simply don't have time for during school hours. What's more, we're doing it voluntarily and taking responsibility for our own professional development in a way that I think is new and exciting for the profession. 

CPD and Twitter 

As a teacher on Twitter, you can be in touch with colleagues from around the world and can ask questions, share resources, get involved in discussions and, of course, share gossip. The ways in which teachers are using Twitter is blurring the boundaries between formal and informal CPD - many teachers now take part in regular 'events' or 'meetings' such as #UKEdChat, which discusses general education issues and the science specific #ASEChat (the # symbol in front of the words turn them into 'hashtags' on Twitter and makes it easier to follow the conversations online). 

I have taken part in both #UKEdChat and #ASEChat but my main activity of this kind is through #SciTeachJC, an online science teachers' journal club, which I set up with Alby Reid (@alby), a teacher I first 'met' on PTNC (Physics Teachers' News and Comments). Together, we run meetings approximately every fortnight during term-time, to discuss science education research which we hope will inform and enhance our teaching. We've had up to 70 teachers joining in with the discussion, with perhaps many more 'lurking'. Rather excitingly, we've often been joined by education researchers responsible for the papers we're discussing. 

It's interesting and significant that teachers are choosing  to do these things - nobody requires  us  to run #SciTeachJC - like all the teachers who participate in activities like this, we do it because we want to. However, I suspect, if it isn't happening already, it won't be long before we see teachers asking for their involvement in such meetings to be considered as part of the 'official' CPD requirements for their performance management reviews. 

Don't get left behind 

According to Tweeting for Teachers: how can social media support teacher professional development?  a report published by the Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning, there is considerable anecdotal and research evidence that this kind of peer-to-peer CPD can benefit teachers and, ultimately, their students. Those teachers who do not embrace these new approaches to their professional development, risk being left behind because the evidence increasingly shows that those who can, tweet.  

What do you think

What are your views on the topic? Let us know by email, Twitter, Facebook or on Talk Chemistry.

Alom Shaha is a physics teacher at a comprehensive school in London

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