Effective Debate in Edchats

I’ve been on the blogging scene for just over a year.  Due to my beliefs on what education should look like, what it should represent, and how it should be conducted, I find myself generally agreeing mostly with educators in the UK.  This is a little odd, due to the fact that I live in the US.  When I started tweeting/blogging, I had no idea this would be the path my ‘following’ and ‘follower’ count would take.  I didn’t know how alienated I was geographically from those who share my philosophies on teaching.  Of course, there are educators on social media in the US who share my thoughts, but they are few and far between (Eric Kalenze, Callie Lowenstein, and Ken Sheck immediately come to mind).  Due to this separation, though, only very infrequently am I afforded an opportunity to discuss my philosophy with like-minded individuals face-to-face.  If I want to discuss evidence-based practice, I must jump on twitter.  There’s nothing wrong with twitter…I love it.  And when our schedules align, (the UK is about 6 time zones ahead of me) we have lovely discussions on everything education.  As it turns out, that is the norm on UK’s edutwitter scene; as conversations are quite organic and rarely planned.  Also, disagreement is much more common and acceptable among UK’s edutwitter faithful.  I really appreciate the likes of Tarjinder Gill, Naureen Afzal, Mark Enser, and Dr. Gary Jones.     

But what about those closer to me?  How can I discuss matters of education with those more closely on my sleep schedule?  In the US, it seems those teachers who are ‘plugged in’ love a good edchat.  I am not against edchats. I believe they can be beneficial.  It’s good for teacher morale, and I believe there are opportunities for genuine dialogue and learning.  From my perspective, though, most US edchats revolve around two big topics:

  1. technology in the classroom
  2. the culture/environment of the classroom

Edchats with these topics are happening almost all of the time.  I follow @participatechat.  This twitter handle sends a tweet out, usually at the top of every hour, telling you which edchats are upcoming.  I try to participate in as many as possible because this is where the US teacher is.  This is the best space to find teachers who are striving to better themselves and are available to conversing about education.

***I am not saying teachers who are not participating in edchats either don’t care about their students or about improving as an educator.***

As I see it, there are a few possible problems with edchats:

  1. Usually, everyone in the chat agrees with everyone else.  There’s nothing really wrong here, but it’s hard to have a meaningful discussion when everyone agrees.  Mostly, I find in these chats, people simply end up patting each other on the back.
  2. If the ‘leader’ of the chat is present, there is no dissension in beliefs at all.  This sort of ties in with #1, but I find the level of agreement is stronger here.  And, if one tries to dissent, they are essentially ostracised for the remainder of the chat.  There are, of course, exceptions.  For example, Matt Miller (think Ditch that Homework and #ditchbook) has always been more than gracious with his responses when I question.
  3. Lastly, as previously stated, there is a very small topic of edchats available.  I describe most topics as being ‘fluff’ topics.  Everyone leaves feeling great, but nothing has really been discussed.  

So, if I have so many problems with edchats in the US, why do I participate?  Yes, it’s where the teachers are.  Also, and more importantly, it’s where I believe I can create a little change.  It is where I can inject a little of what I believe in the chat and, hopefully, spark a conversation.  This takes a bit of skill, though.  If you go in too strongly, you’ll immediately alienate yourself, and your message, however correct it may be, is useless.  If you’re impolite in your delivery…same result.

So, over time, I’ve developed some rules for effective dissension in edchats.  Before I get to the rules, let me first say that this isn’t intended strictly for US edchats.  Although, they are the example here, that is only because they’re what I know.  Most edchats, even the chats I participate in outside the US, have many of the same problems.  Again, I don’t hate the US edchat or the US edchatters.  Ok…here are my rules:

  • Slow Play – You cannot go into the chat with guns ablazing.  You’ll lose the audience immediately.  Your first comment cannot be one of dissension.  I’m not saying you have to lie to appease the masses, but you need to try and create some common ground.  There are some chats where I simply introduce myself, make a comment or two, and know I need to wait for the next chat before I try to introduce any type of comment/information against the status quo.
  • Use Their Vernacular – If there are any sorts of terms the particular chat is using, try and use it to introduce your beliefs.  For instance, in a lot of chats, any ‘7 Habits’ language usually works.
  • Remain Polite – No matter what, be polite.  There’s no reason to insult another edchat participant.  Remember — these are teachers who are using their own time to try and better themselves.  There is no ill intent here on their part.  Besides, is there any possible way your message will be heard over your rude tone?  Not a chance.  Also remember — if you’re rude and they are rude, who will be ‘win’ in their edchat?  Not you.  
  • Know When to Cut Your Loses – Sometimes I’ll join an edchat and immediately know I have no chance to interject any of my beliefs.  I try to stick around and say something to add to the conversation, but I know there’s no chance my dissenting message will be heard.  This is usually due to either the topic being discussed or the tone of the edchat.  I’ve found that trying to force my point only backfires; better to just pack up and try again next week.  

That’s it.  Pretty simple.  I like simple.  I’ve found that if I follow these rules, there’s a chance I can successfully introduce an idea/thought that may be counter to the status quo.  If it gets teachers thinking a little differently or considering a different point of view, I consider that a win.  If I can alert teachers to popular edumyths like learning styles, left/right brain info, the learning pyramid, etc., then all the better.  In the end, a meaningful conversation that gets you thinking/learning/growing should be the goal of edchats.  A little healthy debate should be a part of those chats.  

Do you have any other advice for someone looking to disagree in an edchat or on twitter?

Anything you disagree with here?  I’d love a nice debate.  🙂

3 thoughts on “Effective Debate in Edchats

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  1. I think this is a great post – thank you. I’m in the UK and most of my interaction is with UK educators. I hadn’t picked up the US/UK differences, so found this interesting.

    Re: etiquette, I think much of what you say relates to general Twitter exchanges, as well as edchats. These can sometimes become heated, overly personal, and definitely stray from the polite! Rather than railing against this, or dropping out of Twitter because it upsets or frustrates you (which I find a sad outcome), trying to establish some groundrules would be a more constructive way forward (but who leads that and how to encourage others to use the guidelines? I suppose that’s the problem).

    Did you see this recently from @sputniksteve, which I also found fascinating. https://sputniksteve.wordpress.com/2017/09/29/what-is-a-tweacher/
    I’ve included it in my Schools Week blog review column this week (where I’ve featured you in the past).

    I don’t expect we will ever get chance to meet, but I enjoy connecting with you online – thanks for all you share.

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