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The danger of Teaching and Twitter conversations: poorly formed bipolar arguments.

cultural confusion toilet signs.03
Sometimes in life, there really are only two options.  Get the wrong one and you can look like a muppet.  Take this useful sign for the toilets in Morocco.  I successfully navigated it, choosing the right option.  The result? No egg on my face.  As a mountain leader, there are many right or wrong decisions that I’ve faced, as there are all over life.  It’s not a good idea to let inexperienced young people walk themselves down Snowdon.  They may die or be seriously injured.  If someone is showing the signs and symptoms of hyperthermia, you need to treat it fast in a specified way.  There is no real arguing with this sign:
Other options are less obvious.  Take this sign recently spotted near to where I live:
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Now, I wouldn’t consider sleeping in a bin.  However, faced with a sub-zero night, I could see the appeal.  The danger? Being tipped into one of those huge lorries with a compactor. (by the way, I only really considered all of this thanks to questions from my four year old boy).
Then there’s teaching arguments.  You know the things, prevalent on Twitter, especially during things like #ukedchat.  It seems that many (on both sides of a divide) can only ever consider that their point of view is right.  I see the experience of others being dismissed (nothing really works, no matter how successful you tell me it was in your school or how many 'academic ‘studies’ have found that it’s a wonder method) and the assumption that one’s experience means that they know what will happen in every single classroom in the known world.  You know the arguments:
  • Mobile devices;
  • Technology;
  • Seating arrangements;
  • Listening to pupils;
  • Play;
  • Creativity;
  • Behaviour.
And more.  These are arguments that don’t have ‘it’s totally pants, never do it’ or ‘it’s totally the best thing that will transform learning’ that can be generalised to every classroom in one single school, let alone across a nation.  As mentioned by myself many times, the skill of the teacher is to choose the best tools, methods, strategies that will work best in your situation.  I can give you advice, I can say what’s worked for me and what hasn’t, but I can’t tell you what to do.  especially as the same approach often doesn’t work with different classes of young people.  There is no ‘one size fits all’ teaching strategy that will revolutionise your teaching.  If that’s the claim, ask what they are trying to sell you.
My approach?
  • Quickly glance at the extreme viewpoints on each side, but ignore them quickly.  It’s not because their point of view is invalid, just that there is an inability to accept that the other person may be right.  Even just a little bit. If it works for you, super, if it doesn’t but you’ve given it a go, great. You;re a professional able to make your own mind up.
  • Subvert the great stuff from everything and add to my teaching tool kit.  Even the national strategies had some good stuff in it. 
  • Accept that if something has worked for me, it may not work for someone else.  That’s OK.  The mobile device policy I implemented didn’t aim to have every teacher using them in every lesson.  That would be morally wrong for one thing.  The default setting was ‘phones away, off, out of sight.’ I got to that position by listening to teachers and pupils.  When I arrived at Priory Geography, the temptation to change everything and use the ‘I know this will work as it did in my last place’ was difficult to resist, but I took time to understand the context.  Turns out some stuff worked wonders, and other stuff didn’t.  even within a team of four, not every approach works with every class every time.
  • Take educational research and other people’s claims with a pinch of salt.  Critically analyse them for sample size, methodology.  Ultimately, they are all just stories.  I can claim that our GCSE results increased every year by x% and underachievement fell, but that doesn’t mean what worked at Priory will work elsewhere. 
  • I read around the educational stuff – for example the critique of Blooms.
  • If I see a new idea, I’ll consider it, think about where it would work.  More importantly, where it could be embedded.  Talk about it with colleagues, perhaps trail it.  I accept that I’m braver than others.
  • Argument is good, it’s how we confirm what we believe in and tackle new ideas.  I don’t get upset if someone disagrees with me and says so.
‘"You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.’ The American President.
Anyway, Let’s remember that the educational debate is not bipolar, it’s a whole shade of grey.  It’s a continuum, not two armies. 
Photo credit:


  1. I just don't bother now as the medium which allows people to connect also allows people to become more entrenched in their view of how things work. I've decided to be more focused on what matters most.


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