I’m a career history teacher with 20 years experience in comprehensive schools in Cardiff, and for the past few years have led a successful department in the city’s second largest school. I was nominated to write a blog by Sean McDermott on the theme of “sharing is caring.” At least it wasn’t the ice bucket challenge. I haven’t blogged on education before – at least not in the public domain – and were I to do so regularly, I would have to do so anonymously or my offerings would be pretty bland. But thanks to Martyn Reah for offering a platform for these brief musings.
I didn’t come to Twitter originally to tweet about teaching, but as a private individual who was pestered to do so by friends who thought I’d prefer it to facebook. They were right about that. So I have various ‘communities of common interest’ on Twitter: my locality (Cardiff), my hometown and its football club, those who share a similar sense of humour, taste in music, and politics (though I also engage with those who differ, for stimulation and debate, within reason.) So although I do read some education blogs, and massively respect some who tweet ceaselessly about education, even in the depths of the summer holidays, I’d recommend you cast your net wider to get full value and enjoyment from your timeline.
As a way of keeping up with contemporary and news events – something I’ve always believed was essential for a history teacher – Twitter is marvellous. I see so many stories reported in various mainstream media days after I’ve seen them on twitter, and an increasing tendency by journalists to describe Twitter events as if they were news events themselves. I’m simply better informed, professionally and personally, for being on here.
It soon became apparent that Twitter was a fantastic tool for beefing up my subject knowledge and communicating directly with proper experts. Wanting to share some of the fantastic content I was finding with my students, I set up a “corporate account” @HLlanishen and can now boast that 650 odd academics, curators, enthusiasts, students and parents in my school’s catchment and around the world follow and are aware of our work. To be honest I’m far more interested in my subject than debates about pedagogy and education more broadly. And if you want to borrow some of our resources, follow the link to our well-stocked moodle site on that account’s bio page. You’re welcome.
Many useful and exciting developments have ensued: a steady stream of ideas, photos, video footage I can and do use in lessons. DVDs, posters and books sent by a small but valued group of well-wishers. Other departments in my school inspired to do the same. I’m hoping to welcome some visiting speakers, Twitter contacts, to address my students this year. Should I have a question or be looking for a fresh angle on a well-worn topic, or perspectives on a range of questions from fellow practitioners, I can ask Twitter and almost always get an answer.
So Twitter is clearly powerful, and enables communication and networking outside the often lonely and isolated black box of the classroom or individual school, in a world without walls. It has given the teaching profession a voice and a presence absent before. There are countless examples of how this has led to good things, to give a couple of examples: the campaign against Mr Gove’s appalling back-of-a-fag-packet draft history curriculum last year brought together academics and teachers and forced changes; I very much doubt that OFSTED would be talking about abandoning the subjective tyranny of graded lesson observations were it not for Twitter.
But it seems clear that teachers in Wales have been slower to adopt this tool. I don’t see so many teach-meets or Twitter-inspired conferences organised in Wales. Although a few years ago I was pleased to be largely beyond Mr Gove’s clutches, Welsh education now seems to have the worst of both worlds: rapidly escalating and constantly shifting examination specifications, increasing results-based pressure, but also a micromanaging PISA-obsessed political bureaucracy that is simply not allowing us the freedom to teach. Estyn, the Welsh inspectorate, has not adjusted its MO or PR as OFSTED has begun to.
So if any history teachers based in Wales are reading this, please do your best to attend Fitzalan High School in Cardiff on October 22nd between 5-7pm where we will be attempting to revive an organisation for History teachers in Wales. Let’s share good practice, organise to defend our subject, and get to know each other. Because sharing is caring, and together we can make our voices heard and change things for the better.