Too much of a good thing?

Social media and I have been on a break for one reason or another this past six months. This has included Twitter and blogging which I love dearly but thought it best to rest from since there are only so many hours in the day and with increasing demands from both work and home, something had to give. The respite has been an interesting time for me as it has allowed me to reflect on a world that I had immersed myself in so willingly and has given me the opportunity for perspective.

Having time away from the cut and thrust of the EduTwitter showcase has taught me a few things. Firstly, all the world’s a stage and Twitter is a most definite example of this. Heroes and villains, protagonists and antagonists, self-publicists and cheerleaders, egos and politics all hard at work every day. Those waiting for the next shocking headline to drop a Donald Trump-style emotional hand grenade into the ether giving them another bandwagon to take their popularity for a ride on. There’s also a more admirable, hardworking side of Twitter, one filled with altruism and teamwork, sharing and networking for the greater good. This aspect of social media, whilst filled with debate and different perspectives is one which is based on the premise of developing understanding and quite often gets overlooked among the many spectacular sparring matches of the EduTwitter A listers. I personally have a great deal to thank these worker-bees for, I’ve learned such a great deal more than I had in my entire career pre-Twitter, developed so much of my own practice and the practice of others because of the brilliant work people have shared freely and bravely. Today I thank those people and the light bringers who have shone the spotlight on the fantastic network of talented individuals who simply want to make education better.

The second thing that I’ve noticed from being somewhat removed from Twitter is that you become more selective. You don’t get as bogged down with the “banter” as the kids would call it and you just take away the good stuff, the core. You can see the benefits of both sides of an argument (or the many sides) and you look for the facts rather than swaying to the side of the most popular Tweeter, let’s face it we all have our favourites, don’t we?! You look beyond the magic beans and the plugs for the next book, the genuine individuals put most of their content in blogs anyway and tend to display their own merits through interesting and purposeful work rather than discrediting other individuals with catty, sarcastic comments. In cutting out the partisan, I’ve saved myself so much time and energy. It’s also given me the impetus to learn more, more about aspects of research I wouldn’t necessarily warm to or that offer a perspective contrary to my own personal biases. In taking out the heat of the debate, I’m more willing to take notice of the content and take the piece on face-value, applying critique fairly without prejudice.

Having a healthy distance from debate has opened up the opportunity to put ideas and research into my own classroom practice, to conduct my own evidence-based enquiry. It’s been refreshing to see what has worked and what hasn’t. I have probably thought about my own classroom practice more in the last few years than I ever have and education-based social media has been the catalyst to this. It’s also been a gateway into a new network of like-minds, people who want to develop their own practice and to move their schools forward in a similar direction to the one which we are moving in. This has been the most rewarding kind of collaboration. From working with these brilliant people, who are just quietly getting on and doing the job and in conducting my own evidence-based research I’m coming to the conclusion that too much of anything is not good for anyone. The most effective and integrity-ran schools seem to take the best aspects of research from all ends of the spectrum and see how it looks/works in their environment. They see what works for them and what needs to be tweaked in order for it to work. They don’t subscribe to a doctrine, they don’t profess to be progressive or traditional, they just do what they think is right for their children. There are schools who put their foot firmly in one camp or another, they have my admiration and respect too. They’ve chosen a vision which they believe will work for their students in their setting and they passionately implement it. Perhaps what makes these schools effective is the same characteristic which makes their non-labelled peers effective, their commitment to a collective approach. Teamwork. The highest functioning teams in any aspect of business, sport or public-sector work are those who “row together” for a common purpose.

Controversially, I’m beginning to think this whole progressive-traditional debate to education is damaging. Furthermore, it seems to be a small, quite vocal sector of educationalists that share a mutually exclusive, you’re either in or you’re out attitude which appears to have the ear of the “higher powers” in government. Having recently read Susan Cain’s Quiet, I feel that the author raises some very salient points about how introverts get overlooked. If we apply this logic to what we see on our timelines, there is a whole demographic of people whose contributions are not shared or not considered. Often, these will be the people who feel that they are not one or the other, these will be the people who see the merits of both philosophies and who will take the best aspects of practice from both to use in their own teaching. Due to the nature of my age and experience, I was a product of a secondary school education and a significant majority of my teaching career that focussed mainly on methods championing a progressive philosophy. Thankfully, my own education was not from a prescriptive era and I did experience a rich tapestry of philosophies and approaches to learning. The danger of our education system is that we swing from one end of the spectrum to the other depending on which camp is in favour. An approach which has primarily favoured a progressive approach for the last twenty or so years has been detrimental to the education of our children. So the traditionalists have been jumping for joy with the recent U-turn over the last few years. Their celebrations are somewhat naïve and also incredibly premature because a move towards an education system solely based on a traditional philosophy will be equally as damaging to the next generation. When policy is played out blindly as the next thing to do in schools and doctrine is applied without consideration, critique or a reasoned implementation, the progressives will be waiting for the bell to ring and change to come yet again. At the end of it all is yet another generation (or number of generations) who are at the whim of a petty argument, not a debate with the intent to understand and make things better, an argument with winners and losers. An argument where not every voice is heard and vital perspectives are not considered because they are the view of the quiet ones, the introverts.

The reality is that there are merits to both philosophies that children can benefit from. Students in my classes have most certainly benefitted from direct instruction, and solo deliberate practice which I have implemented with much vigour and enthusiasm this year. Equally, they have had success from their receipt of teaching methods more akin to progressive methodologies. A picture which I’m sure mirrors classrooms throughout the country, no labels here please.

In the successful Scandinavian countries which we revere and admire so much, the prog-trad debate is insignificant and education is a-political since the purpose of education was agreed by all parties who have subscribed to support teachers in delivering the best for the children. Perhaps we should take note of their lead and not let the debate be dominated by the progressive versus traditional philosophies, it should be focussed on enabling teachers to use evidence to inform what works in their own classrooms and in giving them the freedom as professionals to use what is best rather than have a particular philosophy forced upon them. Steak is one of my favourite dishes but if it was the only meal I ate it would not only lose its appeal but its abundance would create a deficiency in other areas, whether traditional approaches are your steak or your chips, too much of them can be hazardous to your health, furthermore too much time on social media could have the same effect!

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12 thoughts on “Too much of a good thing?

  1. Hi Kelly,

    What an interesting, balanced and reflective post. Thank you.

    I wonder if you’d mind me asking a couple of things #4MyResearch?
    Having taken a break from social media, I was wondering what brought you back, or did you have a specific period in mind when you began?
    I’m interested in how something as brief as a 140 character tweet can have an influence on a teacher’s practice (and subsequently their pupils’ outcomes?). Can you identify the steps between something you see on Twitter, and the point at which your practice has been developed? And on that theme, you mention also developing the practice of others (presumably non-tweeters?). Can you say a little about how that works?

    I’d really appreciate your thoughts, but no worries if that’s asking too much … especially during the summer break!

    Many thanks 🙂

    Like

    1. Hi Ian

      I’m happy to answer all of your questions since I think it’s good to share. 🙂

      First of all, the question about what brought me back probably should have been what took me away from Twitter (and blogging)? The reality of it is that this year has been a tough year. My dad died after battling with cancer and his final months (from January to April) were particularly demanding on us as a family. Balancing this and work (lots of new projects this year on top of a few things which meant me rolling up my sleeves and being more hands-on than expected) meant that something had to give. I looked around me and decided what could go, the gym (which I’m paying for now), weekends away and social media were the best options to make Room 101. Family comes first and, whilst the last few months with my dad were hard, I cherished every second I could with him. My immediate family network have been very supportive which has made me realise just how lucky I am and how addictive spending time with them can be (something that social media sometimes encourages us to forget). So the break was forced on me a little. It wasn’t complete cold turkey, I would dip in from time to time but I’d come to realise that I was a tad obsessed with Twitter and blogging, checking my phone every five minutes when not in work – I mean, that’s something I tease my 19 year old about! I’d also become over-involved about the latest debate or slanging match and this isn’t healthy for anyone. It was also far from the reason I’d joined Twitter which was to share and to learn. Debate is good but sometimes like the over-obsessive phone-checking, debates descended into ridiculous squabbles, the sort of thing that we’d tell the kids off for. I debate to understand and be understood, to learn to see things from another perspective not to be right or to win…. that’s not my bag and it grew tiresome to watch. So the break was timely, it gave me chance to recharge my batteries and have a bit more of a discerning view of what I focussed my attention on and what I didn’t. I came back because I’ve had time to breathe and time to reflect… and if I’m honest, I didn’t want to miss out. There’s so many great ideas, resources and people on Twitter that only a fool would avoid it. I’m really lucky in the sense that the community of people that I have gotten to know online are really lovely, very talented and I have so much to learn from them. The ones who are more local, I’ve met up with and we’ve created networks for various reasons. Unlike the forced collegiality which comes as a result of your geography, the collaboration that’s happening as a result of Twitter introductions has been super productive and will definitely influence change on a much greater scale because we all believe in what we’re working towards.
      The 140 characters: well that’s the hook, the tagline, the rabbit hole. Twitter is the map and with each tweet you get sent on a journey to somewhere new or by a different route which enhances your understanding so it’s not the individual tweets as such, it’s the signposting Twitter does to the brilliant work that’s out there. An example of this could be discovering Rhian Davies at Marple Hall, she’s a super talented Deputy Headteacher but also an amazing maths teacher, through Twitter, I went to watch her and how the Maths department worked. I learned more in one day than I had on any course that I’d been on in my entire career. Lots of the stuff that I took, I shared with colleagues across the team. Another example was Mel from Justmaths, an event that she presented at was publicised through Twitter, there were so many great takeaways that I left thinking why have I never done this before and what a great idea?
      Another aspect of my role is that I’m responsible for staff development, CPD and appraisal, not only has Twitter kept me up to date with current practice, policy and developments but it has allowed me to share the work that we do (we also have a school account and blog). I can use Twitter to signpost relevant books and research for our staff and other people throughout the world, how cool is that?! We’ve also looked at ideas from Twitter, the Learning Scientists being a prime example and used these to improve our work as a school on our own priorities (memorisation and space retrieval being big ones last year). As far as my own practice and Twitter, well I would say I was more of a progressive type of teacher (hate the labels but you will get a picture of my style through that) and I started to delve into the realms of Michaela approaches and other more traditional teaching methods from public schools etc. This has happened to coincide with our move towards a mastery curriculum so I have implemented practices this year that I haven’t previously been as focussed on. I’ve tested my strategies (like a good scientist) and they have most definitely had impact. There’s been lots of resources shared on Twitter that have also made me think more about how I develop my own resources. Never too old to learn something new! That being said, we have a brilliant school and fantastic teachers within it so I spend a lot of time enabling their sharing both internally and externally.
      If you want to chat some more I’m more than happy to, I hope that this is useful to you.

      KL x x x x

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      1. Hi Kelly,
        Wow! Thanks so much for that fulsome and generous response. A tough year indeed and can I extend my sympathies for your loss. Although different for us all, it’s an experience I too have had to negotiate. Never easy.
        Thanks also for offering to ‘chat’ further, which I’ll take to mean on here, although if you would prefer a Skype call, happy to do that instead (more details here https://cpdin140.wordpress.com/about/participant-information-interviews/).
        You highlighted several ways in which Twitter seems to have made a difference for you and those with whom you have contact. People clearly are important and Twitter seems to bring those you might not know into your sphere of awareness, whilst also maintaining connections with others with whom you have already developed connections. The notion of ‘journey’ also seems significant; I wonder if it’s about travelling towards a destination (and if that’s predetermined?), or more about exploring highways and byways as an end in itself? A process of discovery perhaps?
        I wonder if I could ask two more things? Firstly, what does ‘going on Twitter’ involve? Is it regular and routinised, or random? Is there a place you associate with Twitter sessions, and/or specific times of day? Which I guess leads into the second question, about intent. Do you ‘do’ Twitter with a particular goal in mind, or is it more open and you take what comes?
        I guess I’m asking about the circumstances, conditions or needs which bring you to the point of enjoying the benefits (and occasional downsides) you’ve so fully articulated.
        I’m really grateful for your patience and understanding Kelly, but please don’t feel obliged to follow this up if time is at a premium.
        Thanks once more and kind regards.

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      2. Hi Ian. Thanks for taking the time and energy to respond! I am happy to communicate however suits so will Skype you if you like. I’m on holiday til Sunday so can we arrange something after that? Take care. X x x x

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  2. I agree with so much of what you say. I work as a private tutor so have the privilege of teaching 1 to 1 and havinga lot of time to prepare for an individual lesson. I love being able to employ “what works” for each individual rather than having to subscribe to the latest “thing” . I wish we could start an “in the middle” “mixed methods” movement without it too becoming an orthodoxy to be adhered to at all costs!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sarah
      Thanks for the feedback. I think we’ve a lot to learn about just getting on with it. We spend so much time trying to work out what will please our masters whilst we’re losing sight of what should be our master, education and the pursuit of knowledge. So long as we keep that in mind and not Ofsted, crazy school protocols or the latest shiny thing then I think we’ll be ok! 🙂 There’s hidden gems everywhere, it’s our job as educators to work out what’s best for the children (and their learning).

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  3. Hi,
    So, to summarise:
    1. You came away from listening and interacting with a variety of people and have decided that your reflective wisdom alone is all you needed after all.
    2. You have disdain for the ‘A-listers’ and feel that the more collaborative ‘worker bees’ contribute more.
    3. In avoiding the imperfect humanity of twitter (where debate gets heated and people find it hard to always remain calm and rational), you have more of an effort to make your own decisions by seeking out evidence that supports your own view
    4. You reinforce your own wisdom that it’s best to just do what feels right in a school, rely on gut instinct about what’s ‘best’ for the children
    5. You think introverts are fence sitters who need to be listened to more – rather than those noisy people who are clearly ‘wrong’ in their bias
    6. You think a swing to trad philosophy in schools is going to be damaging for children
    7. You think both philosophies can be merged like a venn diagram and that they are just titles for a smorgasbord of ‘methods’ that schools can choose from
    8. You are under the impression that the Scandinavians are much ‘better’and that, in your opinion, it’s because they simply choose ‘whatever works’.
    9. You think it’s not a good idea to spend too much time on twitter
    That’s quite a lot all for one blog post, so I hope you won’t mind my answering them in turn:
    1. This is normal, but not evidence that twitter is bad or should be avoided. It’s about balance.
    2. I think this might just be sour grapes really, and your ‘it’s better to be collaborative’ just looks like a classic veneer of respectability. Fact is, the ‘A-listers’ mostly started out small and have worked hard for their success.
    3. I’ll take the imperfect humanity any day.
    4. The evidence does not support us relying on gut feeling or ‘what feels right’ which is why we need to seek out the (sometimes controversial) opinion of others – no man is an island
    5. I think the trads are more likely introverts who have at last been given a safe outlet to write in a rational, evidence-based way – fence sitters just don’t seem to know what the philosophies mean and then think it’s all about methods
    6. Again, the evidence does not support this view
    7. The philosophies are different – some methods inhibit methods from the ‘other side’
    8. I’m afraid there isn’t really the evidence that the Finns, for example, are better
    9. I totally agree with you there!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Quirky
      Very good to hear from you and I always welcome your thoughts on what I write. I’m a little unsure as to whether you are truly amazed with what I’ve managed to cover in a relatively short blog or whether there’s a touch of sarcasm in your tone coupled with an oversimplification (and inaccurate summary) of my points that suggests a type of intellectual snobbery of some kind. Perhaps I’ve not made myself clear in my blog post (as I sometimes am prone to waffle) so I’ll attempt to clarify in the hope that we can reach some common understanding. This is not a plea for agreement as I’m happy to disagree as I think that different perspectives are vital (which is your first misinterpretation of what I was trying to convey).
      So, to address your summary:
      1. I came away from listening to a variety of people not through choice but I welcomed the opportunity to reflect as it allowed me to digest what I had listened to, read and put some things into practice to see if the research worked in my own environment. At no point did I decide that my own reflective wisdom was all I needed, in fact, I welcome the voices of opinions contrary to my own as I think that listening to them is the best way to grow. Also, I think you’ve underestimated the cacophony of opinions and voices in the school which I work as well as the networks which I collaborate in. They are rich and varied, I’m lucky to work in a school where every voice matters so we’re definitely not group thinkers. In fact, quite often we passionately disagree but we always do it in a professional way. I’ve never stated that Twitter is bad, precisely the opposite and I’ve never quoted my opinion as evidence (but I might be wrong).
      2. You have decided that I have a disdain for A-listers, again I think you’re off the mark but I’ll try to explain. I think that there are a lot of people who do things very quietly and I was showing my appreciation of their work. There are many people who have quite a following who I have a relationship with independently of the virtual world and who have my utmost respect. Equally, there are people who engage with Twitter purely to make things better without any desire of personal gain and I very much admire and respect them. I don’t apologise for my appreciation here, I have a lot to thank them for. As for the sour grapes…. way off the mark! I’m happy for anyone who can do well at what they do, good luck to them, I can always appreciate the success of another. To think that I’ve sour grapes though makes me smile as I’m really not interested enough to be bothered.
      3. Again, this comes down to you not knowing me as a person, perhaps you think I’m some soft, vanilla type… my dear Quirky you could not be more wrong! I think debate is a must and I think that it is absolutely vital that you are passionate in your beliefs and that you feel that you can voice these. I do feel that if we can’t convey our passions and opinions in a professional and respectful manner then we should reflect on our approach. It’s not always easy to do especially in face to face debate but you can make your point without making someone feel small or shouting from the rooftops. Social media is the perfect vehicle for this as it’s got its own time delay programmed in. So, in my mind there’s no need for a debate to degenerate into childish behaviour. Humanity’s imperfections are what make it so beautiful, which is half the appeal of Twitter but I debate to understand and consider my own opinions, sometimes they change sometimes they stay the same. I don’t debate to say I’m right and everyone else is wrong. Being self-righteous like that and not open to other opinions like that would just be silly wouldn’t it. I don’t seem out evidence to support what I believe I just like to find evidence and be willing to change. I do actively gravitate to some people on Twitter, again I don’t apologise. I like them and aren’t afraid to say it. That doesn’t mean I neglect to listen to the people (or their evidence) who I wouldn’t necessarily gravitate to, I’m adult enough to respect them as professionals and their achievements. I do however, think that there should be a case of money where your mouth is with some people who hide behind the research of others and don’t have any evidence of their own to give them the kudos of experience and success in their field.
      5. I don’t think introverts are fence sitters, I think they don’t get their voice heard as much as perhaps they should do. There’s evidence to support this in Susan Cain’s Quiet if you’d like some research. Trads are mainly introverts…. where’s your evidence to support this?! Your opinion on fence sitters not knowing the difference between philosophy and methodology? Perhaps fence sitters are people who aren’t willing to have the courage of their convictions or who aren’t willing to stand up and be counted. I am happy to stand up and be counted in my opinion on the trad/prog philosophy debate and I call bullshit! I might be wrong but I’m more than happy to put it out there. Equally, there are methodologies in teaching which would be more akin to a traditional philosophy and those that would be associated with a progressive one and that’s ok. It doesn’t make you an idiot if you do this and it doesn’t mean that you don’t understand the difference between philosophy and methodology.
      6. You said that I think a swing towards traditional approach is damaging… that’s not what I intended. I stated that an absolute one way or the other is damaging, progressive or traditional. I have certainly seen that in my time teaching but again it’s not evidence. Although, I’d like to see the evidence that a completely traditional approach outperforms others. I understand that this is difficult because there’s so many factors in schools and you don’t know if a philosophy is actually being implemented in practice unless you are experiencing it.
      7. As much as I love a Venn diagram and all things Swedish I think you are oversimplifying trad/prog philosophies and methodology in the hope of undermining my argument by trying to suggest my lack of understanding. The point I was making is that certain methodologies are attributed to certain philosophies (Martin Robinson summaries this well in his book Trivium 21C) and yes some inhibit the other but by mutually excluding approaches you are not making the effort to see which works. Different things work in different settings, there is a continual trial and error evidence based approach going on in classrooms every day. The level of evaluation and reflection and ultimately success is what makes great teaching.
      8. The Scandinavians are doing much better than their UK counterparts and I’m sure there’s evidence for this but I know there’s been a recent study published that they’re on the decline. I was actually talking to a minister for education last year from one of said countries (it’s amazing who you meet on your holidays isn’t it?) who told me that they were looking at other countries and their approaches as they knew that they were far from perfect. I was trying to convey that the difference between “them” and “us” was that they agreed irrespective of political bias, the purpose of education a long time ago and that everyone is working towards the same goal. Pisa does say that many countries are doing it better! Depends how you choose to measure success I suppose.
      9. Glad we agree… or at least I’ve managed to convey my meaning accurately.
      Sorry for the delay in responding, I’ve been trying to type between dipping in the pool and applying sun cream whilst trying to keep to number 9. Hope you’re having a lovely holiday Quirky, maybe one day we’ll meet in person, have a coffee and you’ll see just what an extrovert I am! X

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      1. Oh I love a good summary of my posts! Very succinct may I say. I prefer an Aunt Sally myself. I’m not quite sure how I’ve missed the points and made up new arguments but your insight will give me the opportunity to revisit my words. Thanks for reading!

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  4. jillberry102

    Interesting to read your blog and the debate in the comments, Kelly.

    I wonder whether your Twitter break has also encouraged you to revisit your network and make some changes to who you follow? I think that can be worth doing from time to time.

    Hope to see you again soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Jill. I think that is a very good idea. Looking at why I use Twitter made me consider just that issue. We’ll catch up soon 😊 I hope the family are well and that you’re keeping busy. Take care lovely lady. X x x x

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