US and UK Edutwitter — An Ocean Apart

Lately, UK edutwitter has been quite ruthless.  Conversations that began as ideological disagreements have, unfortunately, become personal.  To the best of my knowledge, at least three members of UK edutwitter have suspended or terminated their accounts in the past few days.  UK edutwitter, at its best, is a place for productive dialogue and debate about all things education; pedagogy, instruction, philosophy, etc.  At its worst, teachers administrators are contacted in an attempt to ruin reputations, *anonymous accounts are created to abuse, and dialogue becomes needlessly personal.

Enter US edutwitter…compared to the UK, it is a timid puppy.  As Mark Enser said, “…American EduTwitter seems really odd. Person with a million followers tweets twee nonsense and a thousand people reply ’amen to that’, etc. Seems to be little discussion.”  **He’s right, for the most part. I participate in just about every US edchat I can (ironically, edchats are much more prevalent in the US). In almost all of them, topics and questions are nice and fluffy, with little disagreement.  Most of the time, any disagreement is simply ignored and the echochamber continues to echo. I’ve written a bit about this before — Opposing the Herd in Edchats.

This clear delineation, almost as wide as the Atlantic, made me wonder which edutwitter is better for the profession.  So, I tweeted this question hoping for as much dialogue as possible:

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Two results from the tweet:

  1. A majority of those who retweeted/commented were from the UK…not surprising at all.
  2. All, but one, who chose a side said the US mindset was far worse.  

I tend to agree with these results.  The UK mindset, even with its flaws, is a more productive use of twitter for growth and learning.  Discussion and debate is much more advantageous for all than no discussion at all. There is really no chance for growth in the absence of discussion. If you don’t like what’s being said or if things get a bit heated, there’s always the mute option.  In severe cases, the block option might serve you best, although I very rarely do this.

All of this leads me to my next questions:  

Why is the US edutwitter mindset the way it is?

Why is there a herd mentality during edchats?

Why do American teachers avoid discussion/debate?

As I see it, there are a few answers to these questions:

  • American teachers believe disagreement may be seen as disrespect.  They believe being at odds with anyone may be seen as rude.  Now, if this perceived disrespect may lead to trouble with an employer…that’s a totally different story.  I completely understand the teacher who would rather not endanger their livelihood because of a tweet.
  • American teachers don’t want to disrupt the status quo.  I honestly believe some teachers don’t comment because they don’t want to be a disruptor.  They don’t want to be the one to rock the boat of a smooth sailing edchat. For those of you who are reading and nodding your head, I guess I’d ask you to consider how much more you may potentially understand if you metaphorically raise your hand and propose a question or statement.  Asking for someone to clarify or elaborate on their idea may enlighten you further on their opinions and provide an opportunity for you to consider your beliefs. Also, what would you want your students to do…raise their hand and question in class or remain silent?
  • American teachers don’t really know why they believe what they believe.  As harsh as this may sound, I believe it may be the most honest and abundant reason why US edutwitter mindset is the way it is.  Let me paint a picture for you: A college student attends university for 4-5 years, learns all the things they should know about how to run a classroom (not really all the things, but you know what I mean), practices those things under the tutelage of a current classroom teacher for a semester or a year, graduates from college, gets a job in a classroom, and the only interaction with new information about the teaching profession after this point comes from prescribed whole-school professional development that teachers moan and groan about.

Sound familiar?  For most of us, at no point, are we made to consider why a particular practice, strategy, or philosophy may or may not be correct for the classroom.  Our professors (or the guru on edutwitter) tell us what to do and/or how to do it…so we do with unwavering conviction. Let me be clear, I’m not blaming the new teacher for believing in and trusting their professors…why would they have any reason to not believe them?  The problem arises when teachers aren’t told why something works, only that it works (sometimes without any real results…but please still buy the book/program). This leaves the US teacher somewhat defenseless during edchats and silences any discussion/debate.

So how do we fight this on US edutwitter?

I propose two methods for overcoming this humdrum level of decorum:

  • Actively participate in the edutwitter world.  Admit ignorance and ask questions…I constantly inquire with those who know more than me to learn more.  I’ve never been turned away or treated rudely for asking. If someone does act less than friendly for being asked to clarify or elaborate, they probably aren’t too sure of their own beliefs or need to be avoided anyway.
  • Take control of your own professional development.  This will typically follow the above advice.  Most of the time, when I ask others for information, they send me a link to another website, journal article, or book.  Reading and writing is quite powerful for developing a real understanding for why a particular aspect of education is relevant or a waste of time.  Here’s a blog I wrote on this topic — Taking Control of Your PD.

So, US edutwitter…here’s my challenge:  Be bold. Be brave. Ask questions. Inquire.  Learn. Doing so on twitter has certainly changed my classroom, my teaching philosophy, my passion, etc…all for the better.  Don’t be afraid to question or ask for evidence from someone; it doesn’t matter if they have 100 or 100,000 followers. Be a critical consumer of information.  By entering into meaningful/difficult/productive conversations, you are making the most of twitter for your classroom and your students.  Can it get intense? Yes…but the rewards far outweigh the risks. I’ll be right there with you…questioning and asking, learning and growing.


*I have no problem with anonymous accounts.  As I understand it, many teachers must remain anonymous out of fear that their job could be in jeopardy for talking openly about their beliefs.  Again, my problem isn’t with the anonymous account, it’s with the creation of an anonymous account for the purpose of abusing others.

**Obviously, there are those in the US who do encourage and carry on with meaningful dialogue/debate.


10 thoughts on “US and UK Edutwitter — An Ocean Apart

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  1. Considering how you conduct yourself on Twitter, and the fluff and puff of most edchats, I am surprised you participate in so many! I tend to agree with you, and there have been times where I disagreed, but didn’t have the time and energy to argue. If I am uncomfortable with an idea, or if it’s a half-thought, I will admit it. I try not to be defensive, but take the posture of inquiry and curiosity. But sometimes, the energy ain’t there.

  2. Blake, some of the vitriolic nature of social media in the U.K. is nothing short of abuse from what I have observed. This is a clear breach of professionalism and the Teachers’ Standards here in the U.K. – meaning, a person should be struck off from the teaching register. I know in my experience of school leadership, over the past 10 years when interviewing people, I have conducted social media searches to make sure the person in front of me is ‘who they say they are’ and most importantly, worthy of teaching yours and my children and can hold the profession up in a good light. If they can’t they shouldn’t be in a classroom. Report. Mute. Block – including sharing the information with employers.

  3. Really interesting. I’m an expat American living in the UK, and (like loads of teachers) am all over Twitter (just like we were all over blogs and etc before!). I think it also might be that the experiences of teachers in the US are so, so disparate. We don’t have a national curriculum to the extent that the UK does; we are far, far freer to decide what happens in our own classrooms; we are often “ahead” of some of the debates in the UK (especially around testing, charter schools and etc). A lot of the most vitriolic debates I have seen here circle around things that, maybe, US teachers just don’t have to engage with as much? (The difference between a progressive and a traditionalist isn’t something that I spend a lot of time on, and I think about pedagogy CONSTANTLY. And I was totally unaware in the US of the extent of direct government control over the curriculum over here.). Also, I think that there is a LOT of amazing discussion in the US around decolonising the curriculum, unconscious bias and the like. (I am thinking specifically of Val Brown and her #cleartheair curated chats, but there is a lot out there.) I would like to see more of that here, and less of the, quite-frankly, distraction that is people trying to take ideological sides in a debate where it feels like “why choose? Why not just take what works from both?” is a legitimate answer. This is very much my first impression though. And it’s definitely worth thinking about. (I’m @jnyrose on Twitter, by the way!)

  4. Yes, really interesting. Jennie and I are matter and antimatter – I am a Brit now living in the US, and pretty engaged with Twitter. But here is the thing. I am engaged with all of the UK discussions/rEd conferences etc. and am unaware of much of the US debate. There are people who give me some nice ideas for teaching physics, but I am obviously not following the people having the debates in the US. I see a list of UK people to follow when anyone new to Twitter asks (and it is usually the same names). Does such a `must follow` list exist in US EduTwitter?
    At a recent (excellent) workshop on LIGO the organizer was encouraging all participants to engage with Twitter, but did not say what to engage with, or who, or why.
    All very interesting. @helenrey on Twitter.

  5. Blake- as we discussed the other day, some more thoughts on constructive dialogues I have found effective in the business world, which could easily be applied to edu tweets:
    1. Make a point on the other person’s “whiteboard”. That is, build on an idea by first acknowledging the idea presented.
    2. Never criticize with the word “you” or via statements. Instead, critique by asking questions. Especially questions like “have you tried…..?”. This keeps the discussion objective and not personal.
    3. Your comments on new theories or ideas being accepted without asking why or evidence of success has a corollary in the business world. The only “truth” about a product is what customers perceive. Not what engineers or executives or sales perceive or promote. I suggest this could be applied in education. The only successful methodologies are those in which the students (customers) respond to with learning success. Ideas that have not been tested and measured are just ideas and nothing more. So, in a discussion, to bring up an idea, it is wise to state how students responded.

    Dave Holmes

  6. I can’t really address the US UK differences but: For me, openly expressing disagreement or asking for clarification IS actually a demonstration of your respect for the individual you are talking to. However, there are certainly right and wrong ways to introduce your differing viewpoint.
    ‘Yes nodding’ or ignoring the ideas of others that hit you wrong for politeness sake affords no progress for either of you and the dismissive nature is disrespectful.
    In face to face group settings you have to read the room, maybe even deferring to a later private conversation – and this is when you have a pretty good knowledge of all the players. In our Twittersphere, this is much harder to do, so the reluctance by some makes sense. I also wonder if teachers’ increasing pandemic fragility/exhaustion/frustration has ‘real talk’ being sacrificed for human connectedness. I’ve personally really enjoyed my new friendships.

    Your ‘teachers not knowing why they believe what they believe…’ is something I didn’t consider. I entered teaching after an engineering career and raising kids. My certification was provisional and I took edu classes while I taught. Was i scared that first day? You bet ya, but I never used a playbook developed from anything I learned in any of those classes. When I eventually became a mentor I wish I had considered that the only knowledge had by my new teachers was what other teachers (some good, some not so good) had provided. That is, few had seen the student adoption of all the shiny strategies and how effective any of them were.
    Reaching and teaching teens can be a moving target. The rigidity of new teacher playbooks often fails to allow for this fluidity and on the fly strategies don’t come easy. There is much fun in this challenge, but only after you’ve gained some confidence in your ability to connect with students so they are receptive to your offerings.
    We all have to start somewhere though, so while some of what is learned in edu classes will be used and some discarded, the ‘what’s and why’s of our beliefs’ can only come from time and experiences with the students we serve.

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