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Continuing Professional Development (CPD) used to mean turning the tables on teachers, keeping them in school after hours for formal courses and workshops where they acquire new knowledge and skills.
Social media is something most teachers spend time trying to keep kids off, but it has changed the way teachers work and especially their continued professional development (CPD).
A common school of thought is that teachers learn best from teachers, and massive social networks like Twitter and Facebook are increasingly being used to facilitate this popular peer learning. Teachers say it’s a livelier way to learn – fast, bite-sized exchanges rather than long passive CPD sessions – and it has the added benefit of connecting colleagues around the globe.
Meanwhile, myriad online options for formal CPD exist – from the COBIS Programme for Middle Leaders to courses at the TES Institute, FutureLearn, even Cambridge University. These are flexible and often cheaper than classroom based learning.
So how can teachers make the most of social media for their professional development? Some will have never written anything in 280 characters (the maximum length of a Twitter post). So where should they begin, and how can they avoid being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content – and sometimes negativity – online?
Teachers rely on learning and knowledge, so CPD should be a core part of the job, whether you’re a veteran head teacher or a new learning support assistant. Regularly refreshing your knowledge and skills will help you remain effective and innovative in the classroom and ultimately contribute to improving student performance.
Fiona Rogers, Director of Professional Development and Research at the Council of British International Schools, says: “Many teachers in the international school community make excellent use of online platforms, including social media, to support their professional development.
“While there is a huge benefit to face-to-face training and networking opportunities, remote and blended learning can be highly effective and more efficient in terms of both time and cost.
“Blended programmes that combine elements of online/remote learning and virtual communities with face-to-face sessions can be particularly successful.”
As the availability and quality of online training increases, teachers have a greater variety of content to create a CPD programme tailored to their professional and personal needs.
Many teachers engage with communities of education professionals online, sharing resources, ideas and research on groups through WhatsApp, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter social platforms.
“With peer to peer professional learning, the fact that there is no censor allows ideas to be shared in a candid way,” says Gary King, Deputy Head Teacher at Isca Academy, a school in Exeter, England.
“This is authentic, is usually from colleagues who are in a similar position to yourself, and looking for creative ways to provide the best education possible to students.”
He sounds a warning over social media for CPD, however: “Effective online learning has to be interactive, contain up to date educational research and be based on factual information.”
An even worse concern is the negativity surrounding social media platforms, with some teachers fearful of the potential negative scrutiny of their ideas once published online, especially in public forums.
An anonymous teacher wrote in The Guardian newspaper that social media has brought out our vanity and self-pity, with superstar teachers and their followers creating a toxic culture of one-upmanship.
A way to avoid this is to start off joining small, private groups of teachers whom you know, or have a connection to. King says: “The key to social media as a source of CPD is filtering out the ‘white noise’ and at times, the negativity that we know exists out there in blog form and on social media platforms.”
Some teachers, however, say these groups can feel more like an exclusive clique than a thoughtful free for all. A lack of knowledge of social media platforms and the terminology used on them can be intimidating and knock the confidence of those who did not grow up with social media.
King, who has some 20,000 Twitter followers, advises that newbies join Twitter first and follow active and influential figures in the education sector to get up to speed. “This will open up avenues to a wealth of information, ideas, strategies and blogs,” he says.
For schools, CPD helps in the attraction and retention of top teaching talent, while hiring and holding star faculty can improve the reputation of the school. Many institutions mandate that teachers have to complete at least 30 hours of professional development per year.
More and more, that is being done digitally rather than in person. Online learning makes sense for schools because there are no travel costs and time out of the classroom is limited. With UK schools spending £900m annually on educational technology, CPD can also keep teachers abreast of the latest technological developments that are changing teaching.
Technology, from iPads to whiteboards, even virtual and augmented reality, has made teachers more facilitators of learning rather than providers of knowledge. Using this technology to learn yourself – as many online CPD courses facilitate – will surely help in using it in the classroom to teach children.
Picking a high quality provider that suits your training needs is critical to its success, however. When exploring online providers, King advises that teachers read testimonials and speak to colleagues for feedback on the provider and the credibility of the lead facilitators.
He does not, however, think online training can replace traditional CPD. “Online CPD has its place, but I believe that face to face is much more meaningful, especially if the person delivering the course has worked in education recently,” says King. He adds that with in person instruction, “you can work off and judge other people’s reactions and address any misconceptions”.
Online methods should ultimately be used as a supplement to face to face tuition. CPD in the future seems like to be a hybrid approach of the two, rather than one or the other.