It was probably from Alom Shaha that I first ‘heard’ the term virtual staffroom to encompass the ways in which Twitter and blogging can help teachers improve their professional practice. I’m not the only person who likes the concept, and there’s some excellent discussion elsewhere about the benefits it can offer. I’ve mentioned some of these ideas in passing before, and I’m not going to try to tell you that you must blog about teaching, or why Twitter will change your (professional) life. But I’ve gained enough from both that I thought it was worth highlighting a few things.
If you’re not already on Twitter, your impression of it may be that you have to spend your whole time reading every detail of Stephen Fry’s day. In fact, although I first got into it to let people know about this blog (blame Alom again) I now use it for all kinds of things. I’ve blogged about this before TK but in the context of professional practice it seemed worth revisiting.
I follow lots of teachers, both science specialists and those of other subjects. I follow lots of people involved in science or science communication. These people share ideas and links that I find useful at work – from discussions about the recent (possibly) FTL neutrinos story to classroom management strategies I hadn’t thought of. (I also follow some authors I like, a few media, some atheism/secular tweeters, altmed debunkers and a few random others, which are less useful professionally. Because I am a real person as well as a teacher, despite what my kids may think.)
I started off tweeting mainly work-related stuff, and I hope it still makes up a fair bit of my output. However, it’s a good way to share comments and links to media or websites that aren’t about (science) teaching, but are interesting – religion, liberty, politics often come into these tweets. Conversations about particular topics can get started, which is where Twitter can be a really useful CPD tool, just like teachers gossiping over a coffee about good practicals, ways to structure a lesson or the best ICT tool for a particular job. Using hashtags avoids half of your 140 characters being used with the twitter handles of the other people involved.
Of course, some hashtags are used for planned, organised and moderated conversations, rather than spontaneous chats. #ukedchat is a well-known example of this, although I don’t take part as often as I’d like. I’m more likely to find time for #asechat, the science-teacher-specific version (my summary here) or #SciTeachJC, focussed on discussing academic papers. These can be confusing and busy sessions, but they are certainly a good way to get you thinking about CPD.
So why not try it? Try tweeting each day about a lesson that’s gone particularly well or badly. Give a link to a resource – an iPlayer clip, a concept cartoon, a New Scientist article, an academic paper – that might be useful to colleagues (shortening with bit.ly or similar if needed). Start a hashtag for topics that others might be interested in. Follow people who have interesting things to say, and use their #ff tweets to build up your own ‘personal learning network‘. Twitter is about sharing, so share.
A cautious note to finish on – it’s very easy to forget that Twitter is an open forum. Unless protected, or sent as DMs (direct messages), anyone can read a tweet. They show up on search engines and may be taken out of context. Just as staffroom conversation can be negative and unhelpful – it’s easy for it to turn into a whingefest at the end of a long day, when you’ve really had enough – Twitter can seem like a good way to let it all out. That might be constructive, when colleagues or friends rally round to offer support and suggestions. But it can be easy for complaints or issues with political aspects, which don’t have a resolution, to get passed around and around.
Never tweet anything you would be worried about coming back to you in the staffroom, especially if you’re logged in under your real name. Be cautious about how you phrase criticisms, and never be insulting about pupils or mention anything that could identify them or their class. Remember that students or their parents could follow you, and you might find it useful to check how your school’s social media policy applies to Twitter. I choose to tweet pseudonymously, but I hope never unprofessionally.
As with my previous ‘virtual staffroom’ post, I recommend the relevant posts on the Creative Education blog. I’d be interested to hear any thoughts about uses of, or attitudes to, Twitter I’ve not mentioned.