It’s been an interesting task diving back into the online education world for this review of blogs. For the past few months, I’ve been taking an extended break from EduTwitter. Twitter as a whole, in fact, which means I’ve also abandoned my other haunts: academic Twitter and stressed-out left-of-centre-millennial Twitter. It probably makes sense, then, that I was drawn to this blog by Simon Smith about his own EduTwitter ‘break-up’.
Here, he neatly summarises many of my own feelings about the platform and its uses for educators: the way it can enable us “to have a voice […] to challenge, discuss and learn”, but also its dark side, the ‘dementor swarms’ of factional conflict.
EduTwitter might lead you to ask yourself: if a teacher teaches and nobody tweets about it, did they teach at all? The answer is a resounding yes, and this blog is a helpful reminder of that. In fact, it might be all the better for it.
The question of social media influence on the profession brings me neatly to my next blog, which explores accountability, observation and scrutiny. The piece reflects lyrically on the forces and institutions that observe teachers, and the ways in which we scrutinise one another and ourselves.
In SEND schools, we escape many of the traditional scrutiny measures mainstream teachers are subject to. Although I teach year 10 and 11 students, they won’t be taking GCSEs, so I won’t be judged on their results. As a consequence, I have much more freedom to design a bespoke curriculum without being restricted by an exam syllabus, and the government appears to be less focused on micro-managing every aspect of our daily operations (for now!).
I love this aspect of the job, but working further away from scrutiny can be a double-edged sword. Parents of learners with SEND often cite lack of accountability as an endemic problem in their encounters with the SEND system. How do we make our practice transparent without compromising our autonomy? How can accountability be productive rather than restrictive?
Clearly, there’s no easy answer to what is a deeply human and philosophical question, as Whatonomy illustrates. “Measures, judgment, observation, appraisal, development, difficult conversations, standards… These are all lines drawn between souls.”
Many of the debates on EduTwitter (indeed, many of the conflicts which can cause the kind of ‘dementor swarms’ observed by Simon Smith) hinge on questions of accountability and how we promote it among our students. How do we help young people understand that they have caused harm or disruption? Are we behaviourists, issuing top-down judgments in an “environment of regimented sanction and rewards”, or do we use “restorative approaches and relational practice”? In this blog, Catrina Lowri narrates her personal journey from the former philosophy to the latter.
For me, an interesting aspect of her story was her discussion of SEND-related practices. Many interventions commonly used with autistic learners, such as the PECS communication method and TEACCH workstations, were originally developed by strict behaviourists. For Lowri though, this doesn’t mean we should discard them – as long as we have “taken the time to develop a good relationship with [the] learner, their family and other key professionals”.
In other words, we can detach a technique or intervention from the philosophies of its creators, and use it as one tool among many in a relational and learner-centred practice. I really appreciated Lowri’s honesty and self-reflection as she recounted her change of approach over her career – an example, perhaps, of accountability and self-scrutiny creating meaningful change.