‘We are sharing’ is a phrase I heard my four year old daughter use to explain why she had taken a toy from her (now crying) younger sister. Not really sharing as we would recognise it.
In teaching, however, the culture of sharing is very strong. This was a revelation to me after leaving my former career in finance where sharing of ideas both between and within companies is almost non-existent. It is perhaps not surprising that companies keenly protect their intellectual property but it does seem unfortunate that even within companies, individuals and teams often keep their ideas to themselves to ensure they gain most from them. That this is not the case in education is one of the reasons I enjoy teaching so much. The sense of a common purpose teachers have in giving pupils the best education they can encourages them to offer what they know and make the most of ideas generated by others.
We are sharing beyond school – Twitter
In the past, if you were looking for new ideas, perhaps your best option was to attend an external inset course. When these are run well and attended by like-minded individuals they can provide meaningful learning experiences and teachers return to school full of new ideas and enthusiasm. The key downside with external inset (aside from the cost and the often variable quality), however, is its one-off nature. The renewed excitement and passion rapidly fades under the weight of the everyday tasks that teachers need to complete.
Since discovering how educators are using twitter, teaching has not been the same for me. Twitter is simply one of the best ways for teachers to connect, learn and improve. I am now continuously engaged with ideas about teaching and learning. Everyday it throws up something new and this stimulates me to improve my teaching. While old-style inset still has its place, if you want to continuously improve how well your students learn you need to get involved with the teaching communities on twitter.
If you have never used twitter before for professional development and want to see what all the fuss is about, I would urge you to read this blog post by @elearninglaura about why teachers should tweet. Then, take a look at this post and this post by @edudemic to get you started. Then get an account (I would recommend a separate account from your personal account, if you have one) and search for relevant hashtags e.g. #ukedchat or #edchat just to find out what is going on and perhaps find people worth following (even me! @kingduncanking).
We are sharing within school – Schoology
Now, while twitter excels for communication and collaboration with teachers beyond school, it is perhaps a less useful tool for improving connectivity in teams within school. The key reason is that it is likely that the types of discussions you might want to have between colleagues on a daily basis are not something that you would want to share with your followers on twitter. Aside from possible privacy issues, the content is only relevant to those you are working with and has little or no meaning to others. For example: you might want to share a resource you created for a particular element of a course you teach or canvass opinions about the dates for a forthcoming field trip. This could be achieved with e-mail but because e-mails are easily deleted and people can be left out of replies accidentally, e-mail simply isn’t an effective way to share information in a group. What we need is an internal twitter.
We have been using Schoology as our virtual learning environment at The Perse School for the past two years and we have been capitalising on its benefits for sharing ideas. Schoology is cloud-based and has an ‘update’ feature not unlike Facebook where anyone in a group can post a message (with attachments) and others can reply or ‘like’ accordingly (If you are familiar with ‘Edmodo’ you will know this has similar feature). In my department (Geography) it has been incredibly productive. When someone creates a new resource or finds an interesting article or video clip, they post it there. If someone has a question they can post it and quickly get responses. In a busy school where not all staff are based in the same location it acts as a daily glue to bond us together. It also maximises the quality of our teaching and learning by enabling us to effectively share best practice and avoid duplicating work. In addition, a continuous departmental dialogue keeps everyone in the loop and ensures that departmental meetings are focused on the issues that require face-to-face discussion.
One of my first realisations on my PGCE course was that, when standing in front of a class, the collective brainpower of the students I was teaching dwarfed me as an individual teacher. If I could tap into their collective ability this could help them make rapid progress. This idea also applies to teachers. By connecting, sharing and collaborating effectively within school and beyond school we can continuously develop and improve the learning experience of all of the students in our care.