Is There a Matthew Effect for Teachers?

 

Most teachers I know are working themselves into the ground. Under difficult circumstances they commit themselves fully to the children in their charge and balance this with full lives outside school. They have suffered for years from poor CPD provision and, despite this, teach well and have children achieve great things. They care not for social media, never consider going to a Teachmeet – they might be totally unaware they exist – and wouldn’t think to pick up a book about education. And, because of this, there is an increasing disconnect between those who blog and use Twitter and those who don’t.

For, while some of us engage in a self-styled CPD sought out in the Blogosphere, things don’t change much in schools. CPD is still delivered to teachers rather than by them; discussion of the impact of that CPD is mostly non-existent. In a sense, we create a form of the Mathew Effect where the gap in engagement with new ideas or, wait for it, research, becomes ever more wider. And, while we continue to blog, attend or even present at Teachmeets, we start to see the same faces and hear the same voices. Preaching to the converted, in many ways.

So our ‘wee world’ gets further and further away from the majority of classroom teachers. New research is disseminated to those with an inkling of an idea of who the researcher is – e.g. Hattie, Whittingham – with nothing much filtering down into the staffroom.  We play to our own audience. I sometimes get a bit too comfortable with that though. Knowing that I can prattle on in my blog and receive some nice comments and nods of agreement, reasonably unchallenged. Things might be a little different if I were to share my blog in school.  It’s all a little too easy, isn’t it?

The aim for me then is not to ‘be right’ about things – I’m very often not – but to engage others in the discussion; not to worry about how many retweets I get for my blog but that I make more teachers aware of what I want to say. I aim to pass on articles and blog posts which I think are relevant to everyone, regardless of the negativity that that might send my way; to ‘talk up’ teaching whenever I can to whomever I can. Fearghal Kelly got it spot on in his analysis of Pedagoo in his recent blog post. Instead of fighting negativity:

‘Let’s instead continue to focus on developing and sharing our classroom practice positively and professionally and as a by-product perhaps we’ll influence the wider picture.’

Twitter has been great for my career. I’m asked to speak at events now and to review educational books. I’ve seen some of my favourite bloggers – and now friends – write those educational books and become established speakers on what can only be described as a ‘circuit’. But there is a danger that we allow that gap between where we are now and where we were to get too wide. We can get a bit up ourselves at times. Remember that, regardless of what we achieve, we are but a tiny minority of the teaching profession. Let’s develop our audience through the positive vibe we create and share in our own staff rooms too.

 

Changing. One Step At a Time.

 

I have for some time held the belief that CPD needs to be transformed if we are to change anything in Education. The top down delivery movement has had its day. My involvement with Pedagoo over the last three years has convinced me that teachers are crying out desperately for something new, especially as we struggle to come to terms with the workload issues apparent with curricular change in Scotland. I’ve been thinking of that a lot this year. In February, sitting in a class at Strathclyde Uni, I looked about the space we were in and thought about the possibilities of a room full of teachers in a University environment.

A couple of Saturdays ago that vision became a reality. At #PedagooGlasgow, over eighty teachers gave up their time to talk about their practice; to attend high quality workshops and interact with what they were hearing; to, hopefully, fulfil a need for quality development they perhaps are missing in their own contexts. There was no sponsorship, no free gifts, no tickets, no lunch provided, no prize draws. And there was a moment, during the day, when I managed to take a breather and have a look around, thinking, ‘this is exactly what I had in  mind when I first had the idea’. It was, I think, my proudest moment in teaching, a real sense of achievement.

What was best though was that many of those who lead workshops had never done so before. My ‘constructive persuasion’ – not bullying at all – came about merely because I believed those people had loads to share and others would want to hear them. My school, your school, all of our schools are full of them. Just waiting for an opportunity to speak up. Hopefully they will go back to their schools and tell others; hopefully they will come back and present again, bringing a colleague with them. That, for me, is the real spirit of Pedagoo, that invitation to share and include others.

So what next? Changing existing cultures is an incredibly difficult and challenging task. In many ways teaching is a hugely conservative profession. But what is clear is that we all have a responsibility to make that change happen. Attending Pedagoo events and Teachmeets are nothing if they don’t actively change our practice. I would also argue that unless we go back and convince our colleagues that these events are valuable then we are missing a trick. We all need to engage with the Pedagoo community to ensure that the conversations started on days like PedagooGlasgow and the forthcoming Pedagoo@PL event continue and become part of our everyday language.

After #PedagooGlasgow we were discussing how we might take the energy and enthusiasm and positivity of the day and make change happen. Ian Stuart @ianstuart66 believes that change needs to be organic and that you cannot force it. Keep plugging away and changing one person at at time. The idea frustrates me but he’s right. Whether we like it or not we all have the responsibility for improving things for all teachers. All teachers should be teacher educators, to paraphrase Graham Donaldson. If we are to radically change the make up of the way we improve as teachers then we must bring others along with us. Pedagoo is helping us do that and changing the landscape of CPD provision in Scotland. It’s a slow process but it’s worth it.