What keeps so many teachers from professionally engaging online? I’ve found it’s possibly not their confidence with tech, social media or educational debate.
This year, I’ve been privileged to be part of a research team put together and funded by Core Education in New Zealand. I’ve run a research project around teacher engagement with social media and to what extent it has real impact on classroom practice. My original plan was to monitor how 10 volunteer teachers would join and engage with the networks and how marvellous it would be to see it filter through to their students! Well, that plan lasted for about 11 minutes! My opening explanation to the volunteers centred on acquiring new ideas and resources and that it was social media that offered teachers cheap and convenient access to these new ideas.
After a couple of months, we had held lunchtime and evening Twitter chats and met for face-to-face discussions and I was disappointed by the majority of volunteers who hadn’t found an incentive to network at all outside these scheduled research meetings. So, our discussion turned to why people weren’t engaging in the online edchat.
What’s stopping you?
Some felt the issue was time, but this was countered by the more engaged teachers definitely having more commitments in their life. Was it a lack of interest in pedagogical debate? No. Many of these teachers were in cluster groups around Auckland and even providing professional development to other teachers in the school. Was it a dislike for social media? Of course not! All the volunteers used social media on a daily basis in their private life. In fact, one participant who had not engaged in edchat used 4 social media sites a day! I realised we had to refocus our discussions on something deeper.
“You have to know the network is a supportive group” – Teacher (NZ)
Half way thorough the year I held interviews with each individual. From these, strong themes developed around teachers felling isolated in their classroom and being uncertain about their own practice and where it would sit within a sharing network. This started the 2nd of three phases in this project where I focused on confidence in one’s own teaching as a decider for joining the edchat conversation or not.
“I would share but I’d have to be confident that what I was doing was ok.” – Teacher A
“I had a bit of self-doubt about what what to contribute” – Teacher B
“I don’t think I was well rehearsed with scripting the conversation around learning.” – Teacher C
The discussion around isolation highlighted the issue of not knowing how to position one’s teaching or attribute a value to it and this led to ambiguity about how and what one would contribute to a wider, especially worldwide, discussion online. This led me into a 3rd phase where I considered how teachers build an individual identity as a teacher rather than viewing the job as a single destination that all teachers are heading towards.
What teacher am I?
Since 2007, New Zealand has had teaching inquiry and formal experimentation into one’s teaching practice built into our national curriculum document but for many teachers this has become a personal and not shared experience. So, they again have no real comparison with which to judge the value of their inquiries against other teaching. The discussions I was now having with the participants indicated that it was positioning oneself amongst the teaching profession within these online networks that caused them to pause, reflect and delay their input.
“I’m trying to articulate what my niche is. I spend hours thinking while I’m out walking, running, about my identity and I know I wont arrive at it now and I might be working towards it but it’s got me thinking exactly what I want to be identified by.” – Teacher C
Inspired by the work of Manu Faaea-Semeatu, who’s been researching how people connect with people from other cultures and recognise the gaps in their knowledge about the different situations and priorities others might have. An inspiring talk with her led me to realise that recognising one’s own gaps in teaching knowledge is a starting point to look for ways to address those gaps. Where Manu asks questions about one’s individual cultural identity, connecting online asks questions about one’s teaching identity.
This is the deeper reason I think social media will and is impacting on teaching. Considering to join these networks is to consider where your teaching would sit within the conversation. These thoughts about values and practice and what we would present / give to others is what strengthens the profession. It is so much more than accessing and promoting resources and ideas.
A question for teachers: Are you teaching a classroom or your classroom?
There’s no denying that a teacher influences the form and style of their classroom. Teaching is not a job that develops towards a destination predetermined by the profession. I now wonder if many of the teachers not finding an incentive to join and share in the conversation haven’t yet viewed their teaching role as a personal and unique product that should really be evaluated against other teaching and developed through sharing it. They may have reduced their view of the role to something already fixed and known that they can slowly work towards on their own. Joining networks through social media helps teachers consider and develop their personal set of values and interests and build a better classroom environment based on their own reciprocal edchat discussions.
Joining the online edchat through social media is to start to consider and develop your professional persona and find your place within the network that expresses your own values and triumphs.