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:
Two results from the tweet:
- A majority of those who retweeted/commented were from the UK…not surprising at all.
- 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.