What’s the one single thing that could do the most to transform professional development? The answer for many people across the education sector is to join the “education discourse”. But what is the education discourse anyway?!
The concept of discourse comes from philosopher Michel Foucault, who described it as a “system of thought, knowledge, ideas and communication which constructs our experience of the world.”
Education is a big thing, with a lot of thought, knowledge, ideas and discussion. There are a lot of people thinking about education, carrying out research, debating issues, and putting forward ideas. The body of knowledge and ongoing discussions and debates, residing in media from books and journals to education conferences and Twitter, is what we might call the education discourse.
What does being engaged in the education discourse look like?
People who are effectively engaged in the education discourse will almost certainly be on Twitter. If you are not already on Twitter, or are on it but not following high-impact education accounts, you may view it as another social media platform, on a par with Facebook. It’s not! This is for several reasons. The nature of Twitter means that it is closely linked to the “blogosphere” - the system of articles published online by teachers and education thinkers globally. Scrolling through twitter is like browsing a corridor lined with doorways leading to infinite worlds of fascinating thought - from how we can represent time in a meaningful way in history, to effective work to close the gap for pupil premium, to how to develop novice teachers using evidence-informed practice.
In addition, the structure of Twitter means there are often very interesting discussions and debates played out live on the timeline. This discursive approach has been fundamental to intellectual development in the West since Ancient Greece, and is a very valuable aspect of Twitter for teachers engaging in the discourse.
Furthermore, users can directly tweet or tag accounts and hashtags in for specific advice and input. For example, somebody seeking research on SEND could tag in experts from the field, or somebody who would know some experts, and be directed to a wealth of quality material in the space of a few minutes. In the age of the internet when any activist or charlatan can post untruths online, expert recommendation is invaluable.
Teachers engaged in this discourse read! They read the tweets and exchanges on their timeline, they read blogs they see headlined, just a click away to read the article. They read books and journals, reached again often through recommendation through Twitter. We know that reading changes lives - this is as true for us as professional adults as it is for the students in our care.
Benefits of being involved in the discourse
Let’s start with a concrete example (that’s a tip we learned from Twitter @atharby):
“ My first feeling after entering the Twitter world of education was anger at not having discovered it earlier! I’d always thought Twitter was just another social media platform not worth joining – how wrong could I be. Twitter has completely re-energised my excitement of teaching, being able to interact with research-driven ideas rather than fads, the joy of discovering researchED, Michaela, #Cogscisci etc. etc. I can honestly say that the biggest impact on my practice and professional development over the last few years has been engagement with the heroes of educational twitter”
Teachers engaged in Twitter have access to high-quality material, to networks across subject and professional specialisms, and experience an almost visceral invigoration, a rediscovery of the intellect often sadly absent for many since graduation. All of these things feed our wellbeing and provide a powerful input for motivated professional development.
Being involved in this discourse isn’t just a great thing- many would argue it’s an ethical responsibility. After all, our students only get one chance at school, and we owe it to them to be well-informed about what works and what doesn’t. Many of us rue the days we wasted on learning styles, brain gym and discovery learning - ideas which not only have been comprehensively discredited by many and repeated trials, but never had any evidence to support them in the first place. These have only come to light as fraudulent claims due to the tireless work of bloggers such as Andrew Old, Katharine Birbalsingh, and Joe Kirby engaging with the discourse, seeking out, reading and blogging about what research actually says, tweeting about it to raise awareness, challenging the status quo and often risking their own jobs in doing so.
Of course, access to great material isn’t the whole story - it’s how we apply it in our planning, teaching and leadership at all levels that makes the difference in the end - but for bringing teachers in to the great conversations of our profession, Twitter is unrivalled. So sign up, follow some key accounts, tell your colleagues… and your professional life will never be the same again.
Some key accounts to get you started: