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!