Twitter – “awful, polarised, adversarial”?

I have great respect for Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, an organisation which has done some great work over the past six years.  I have read sensible, balanced comments from Kevan who seems ideally suited to his current role, looking at evidence to help educators make informed choices about where best to spend their time and resources.

The TES recently reported on Kevan’s contribution to a debate organised by UCL Institute of Education about the use of evidence-informed practice in education, during which he was asked about Twitter debate into the relative merits of ‘progressive’ and ‘traditional’ approaches.  Kevan’s response was:

“I think it’s great that people are having this [debate], but I think we need compassion, we need more respect amongst each other and we need to honour collaboration.

“What we must reject is not ideas, but we must reject this idea that we have to only have debates in education in this awful, polarised, adversarial way.”

This made me reflect on my own experience of Twitter.

I joined Twitter on 2011 and have used it extensively over the past seven years to connect with others in education and to share ideas, resources and debate on various educational topics.  I have found it a generous, generally good-humoured, constructive and energising channel of communication and have learnt hugely from my Twitter interactions.  It has opened my eyes to the range of educational blogs out there (and motivated me to blog via @staffrm originally, and now here).  I feel I have given and gained, contributed and benefited, from my involvement in Twitter and blogs.  Many of those I met originally through the world of Twitter I have subsequently met face to face, and some of them I now consider good friends.  Twitter has been transformative for me – even in this post-career phase of my life.  It has offered me opportunities – to work, to write and to engage in some enjoyable and productive spin-off events.  The #WomenEd initiative was largely dependent on Twitter and blogs for its inception, development and growth.  I consider I owe Twitter and those who engage with it a considerable amount, and I believe the world of education does, too.

However, I am fully aware of the debates which can rage on Twitter and how healthy disagreement can become angry, personalised and aggressive.  I am aware of those who seem never able to “let it go” (and I often think of the ‘Frozen’ song and what a useful mantra it is) – those who are determined to have the last word and for whom conceding another point of view might have validity and they might, perhaps, NOT have all the answers, is difficult.  So I see the ‘awful, polarised, adversarial’ side of Twitter, but I can ‘let it go’ and rise above it, refuse to be drawn into it and not allow it adversely to affect my engagement with the exchanges I find much more positive and affirming – not because I am only interacting with an ‘echo chamber’ of voices who agree with my own, but because I see that disagreement can encourage reflection and, sometimes, rethinking what you thought you thought.  And I say that as someone who taught for 30 years and has been very much involved in education for eight years more.  In my experience, education is far more complex and nuanced than some would leave us to believe.  There IS no silver bullet and no single answer – much depends on context and specific circumstances.

My concern is that those who see Twitter as aggressive, confrontational and point-scoring, (where the motivation of a tweeter is simply to prove how clever they are and to use their intelligence to cut others down to size), will never engage or will withdraw from Twitter, bruised by their experience.  I HAVE seen, to quote Sir Kevan, great compassion, respect and collaboration on Twitter and in the world of blogging.  This encourages me to rise above the ‘awful, adversarial, polarised’, to take care who I follow, listen to, retweet and respond to (and how I respond), and never to forget that there is a huge amount of positivity out there too.  Let the rest go.

Photo credit: John Berry

6 thoughts on “Twitter – “awful, polarised, adversarial”?

  1. A great post. I have been part of Twitter for just over a year, mostly communicating and sharing ideas with other SBMs as well as using it as a platform for my growing blog. I find it to be a positive, inspiring, collaborative place and have met only professional, supportive and like-minded colleagues. I would recommend Twitter to everyone involved in education.


  2. Hi Jill,

    I’m with you here. I don’t understand the desire for point scoring at all. As you’ve alluded to, staying inside your own echo chamber isn’t helpful for growth and we are definitely stronger as a profession when we are united rather than divided. Unfortunately, some just find it very difficult to develop positive relationships and demonstrate respect to other parties. Your approach is, as ‘Bocks1’ says above, good old common sense but more than that, it helps to develop those positive relationships. This is just one of the reasons why you are well respected by so many, Jill.

    I always say that Twitter is the best staffroom in the world. It disappoints me nowadays to have to say this with a pinch of salt when we can see it at times descend into arguments that do nothing but undermine the profession. Bring back the old Twitter!



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