My boss has long joked that I needed to cast off my luddite tendencies and embrace the world of Twitter.
So I did.
And I was shocked.
Having worked as a teacher, a head, in senior leadership and a local-authority consultant over the past 20 years or so, I thought I knew a lot about CPD. I felt I’d sat through the inspirational, the mind-numbing and, in some cases, the downright bizarre. I doubt I’ll ever forget sitting through a morning of being asked to assume ever more intricate poses in order to acquire knowledge about Brain Gym – I fully expected Jeremy Beadle to appear with the You’ve Been Framed cameras at any moment.
I’d read a fair few books. My interest in early maths education meant that I already had a groaning shelf of numerical favourites, all well-thumbed and used for both personal learning and for devising training.
I’d also built quite extensive professional networks. In fact, my co-head colleague would joke that I often seemed to know everyone wherever we went. I attributed this to my time as a local-authority consultant, which meant that I’d visited almost a county’s worth of local schools.
But all of this was small fry in comparison to the learning out there on Twitter. It was like comparing a minnow to a blue whale. And, like Jonah, I was soon swallowed up by the enormous amount of learning available on there.
I learnt about BrewEd, WomenEd, teachmeets, blog posts and reading lists that, although I’d always eventually encounter elsewhere, were all laid out and available, like the edu-equivalent of a pick ’n’ mix.
I also found the edu-world immensely supportive and encouraging, and was stunned to be invited to speak at events and to network with educators whose names I’d only previously seen on the spines on my bookshelf.
My first foray into Saturday CPD was a game-changer. Emma Kell invited me, along with Claire Mitchell, my former co-head colleague, to speak at BrewEd Herts. Looking around the room, I joked that we were going to seem like the karaoke act at the local pub next to all of these edu-Beyoncés. But, to our surprise, we were welcomed, inspired and encouraged by not only those in the room but also others online.
We’ve since done blog posts and podcasts; we’ve spoken at WomenEd events and been interviewed at length by other educators. And we’ve written for Tes. None of this would’ve happened, had it not been for the teaching community and their generosity and confidence that everyone in education has a story to tell from which we can all learn.
Yes, there are spats on there. Yes, there are heated debates and differences of opinion. But often these can galvanise our opinions not only in our own points of view, as we seek to articulate our thinking more succinctly, but also in our appreciation that there is always more than one way out there.
Schools are often small communities, when compared with wider society. In order not to become an insular echo chamber, different perspectives and challenge are needed, and this can be exactly what Twitter can provide.
My views on some aspects of education have been totally changed since I joined. In others, however, Twitter has reassured me that I am right.
I have been humbled by the journeys of some educators and their pupils, and revitalised by the thinking and innovative practice of others. I have gorged myself on research in a feeding frenzy of intellectual gluttony, and then been able to reflect and digest, supported by the writers themselves, who appear to be ever-generous with their time and expertise.
Edu-buddies on Twitter
I have met people from all parts of and roles within the sector, whom I now consider edu-buddies, and with whom I speak most days. I’ve sought out others who work in the same lone role as me, and we have built our own network to discuss and evaluate our work.
And I’ve been constantly reminded that education is a truly amazing profession in which to work.
Twitter has taught me not only that education is about teaching and empowering pupils, but also that the greatest educators are those who extend that to all – to their peers, their staff, their communities and Twitter novices who haven’t yet worked out the reply functions properly.
Because of Twitter, I’m better at my job, which means that pupils will be getting a better deal. Because of Twitter, I’ve made connections I never thought possible and have had opportunities I didn’t even realise existed.
So, if you’re ever in any doubt about whether Twitter is for you, I’d urge you to fly in and perch a while. The company’s great, the edu-view can be fantastic, and there’ll be absolutely no requirements for you to contort yourself in the name of CPD.
Emma Turner is the research and CPD lead for Discovery Schools Trust, Leicestershire. She tweets as @Emma_Turner75