Communication is key in every aspect of life - both professionally and personally. Within education, in order to grow and see changes in both yourself and the industry we need to be vocal and seek to make improvements.
We’re fortunate to live in a world where we can communicate beyond the walls of our school and learn and share experiences far easier than we could have done in the past. Tools such as social media, blogging forums and chat rooms allow us to connect with people we have never met, who can teach us and help us to progress and make an impact.
In order to further explore the power of communication and social media in terms of career development, we spoke to Jill Berry - a former headteacher, leadership expert and social media advocate - to find out the impact these tools have had on her career and the potential she sees in them.
Jill has taught for 30 years, 10 of which she was a headteacher. Since leaving headship in 2010, she has completed a Doctorate in Education, researching the transition to headship and has written a book based on her research and experience: ‘Making the leap - Moving from deputy to head’ (Crown House, 2016), as well as carrying out a range of leadership and consultancy work.
Jill is an advocate for the opportunities presented by social media for networking and professional development in education.
Twitter and Blogs for Networking and Professional Development in Education
I left headship after ten years in 2010, began a Professional Doctorate in Education and embarked on a new career as a leadership consultant and education commentator. I wrote for the Guardian Teacher Network and began to connect with other educators as a consequence of this. One of them recommended Twitter, and I set up an account in 2011.
Almost seven years later I still find social media an excellent channel of communication for networking and professional development, and always recommend it when carrying out any kind of leadership training. I have introduced teachers and leaders at all levels to the world of Twitter, a number of whom have then described it as “the best professional development I get.” One Head of Department contacted me a week after he had embarked on his Twitter journey to say, “This has transformed my professional practice.”
The initiatives #WomenEd and #BAMEed (which support serving and aspiring female and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic leaders in education) have used Twitter and blogs extensively to build their communities and spread their message of support and aspiration. I have learnt a huge amount – even though I would say I am now in the ‘post-career’ phase of my life.
How have I benefited, and why would I recommend Twitter and blogs to educators?
1. Build a Professional Learning Network
When deciding who to follow, you are beginning to create a network of fellow professionals with whom you wish to share ideas and from whom you believe you will learn. You may in the early stages just want to read what others say – sometimes it takes time before you have the confidence to retweet (copy to your followers a tweet you find powerful) and then begin to tweet yourself, sharing your thoughts, ideas and suggestions. Be selective: I follow those who lift and inspire me, who make me think and challenge me in a constructive and positive way.
2. Reflect and discuss
Some say that because of the condensed nature of a tweet the thoughts tweets encapsulate must be shallow and superficial. I don’t find this to be the case; because I have to express myself so concisely this forces me to think hard about exactly what I want to say and how I can communicate that succinctly. Exchanges of tweets enable you to discuss different issues, to agree or disagree (preferably respectfully and politely). Reading others’ tweets in response to mine often encourages me to challenge and revisit my assumptions and preconceptions.
3. Share and learn
On Twitter, everyone has the opportunity to contribute, and everyone can benefit and learn. I say what I think, but I listen to others and try to be receptive to alternative viewpoints. I often include in my tweets links to interesting blog posts, articles, videos or books, and I gain from following the links others suggest. Twitter keeps me up-to-date and aware of current thinking and research in the world of education.
1. Clarify your thinking
Blogs are online opinion pieces for when you want to explore a subject, or share an idea, and 140 Twitter characters just isn’t enough. It’s a good idea to keep blog posts reasonably concise (I’d suggest 500-750 words). Writing a blog encourages me to clarify what I think and to communicate it in as clear and compelling a way I can. Often this leads me to think more deeply about the issue under consideration.
2. Engage in debate with fellow professionals
I enjoy reading the responses which follow my blog posts, and try to find time to comment on others’ blogs. It’s important that this is a dialogue and not just a series of monologues where everyone is speaking but no one is actually listening to anyone else! Sometimes I write a blog in response to another I’ve read, to take the debate a little further. This makes me think harder and facilitates deeper learning.
3. Communicate and connect
I find it interesting to meet face-to-face those with whom I have initially connected via Twitter or blogs. I know something about them from reading their tweets and posts, and relish the opportunity to get to know them better, if we meet at spin-off TeachMeets and Conferences. Some of the people I’ve met are now good friends. These contacts have also led to work engagements and other professional opportunities.
So thank you, Twitter, and the world of blogs. I can honestly say you have enriched my life!