During a daily observation, this tweet dropped into my timeline:
At the time, I think I’m right in saying the author, Lauran, was a trainee teacher, so her question was perhaps pitched towards those with wider experience. Including the hashtag #teamenglish helps in that regard, and through its reach, draws in a variety of responses. #teamenglish and the account which acts under the same banner (@Team_English) are relatively young, but have enjoyed an explosion of interest in the year since their inception. An interesting case to study in their own right perhaps, but for now I’ll stay on track and explore
where Lauran’s tweet took me what assembled as a result of Lauran’s tweet.
The first response came from Becky Wood (@shadylady222, a more experienced English teacher and one of the curators of #teamenglish) which developed into a much longer exchange and also drew in others.
This Treeverse visualisation shows the extent of the exchange, it’s depth indicative of a discussion between a small group of people, rather than a broad series of brief responses. It appears Lauran was able to delve a little more deeply into the concerns she expressed, and Becky was generous in her responses. I wonder if we might consider this an episode of mentoring or coaching?
Mentoring is a structured, sustained process for supporting professional learners through significant career transitions.
Specialist Coaching is a structured, sustained process for enabling the development of a specific aspect of a professional learner’s practice.
Since then, the ‘National Standards for school-based initial teacher training (ITT) mentors’ (2016) have been published which are built around four standards. We might argue that during their exchange, Becky might be described as ‘modelling high standards of practice’ (Standard 1 – Personal qualities) and is supporting a trainee ‘to develop their teaching practice in order to set high expectations of all pupils’ (Standard 2 – Teaching). Of course there’s an expectation that this process will be sustained over a period of time through a trusting relationship, whereas a Twitter exchange is ad hoc, assembled at the time of need and may or may not be between two (or more) individuals who have a preexisting relationship. Perhaps Twitter offers something else here, a different form of mentorship? To answer that I imagine taking out the enabling actor, Twitter. Could Lauran still have asked her question? Sure, and her ITT mentor (assuming she had one) might have been able to provide an answer, but perhaps not as wide a range as the responses Lauran ended up getting from those on Twitter. I’ve no idea whether Becky is or isn’t trained as an ITT mentor, but her responses appeared to ‘support [a] trainee in developing effective approaches to planning, teaching and assessment,’ ‘support [a] trainee with marking and assessment of pupil work’ and ‘offer[ed] support with integrity, honesty and respect’ (National Standards).
Another difference between conventional mentoring and Twitter is that it takes place in a more public arena and isn’t exclusively a dialogue between two people. Others can join the conversation from either side, as mentor or mentee, or to ratify or confirm a point which has been made, in the way that Emma did here:
In total 7 people produced 45 tweets in this exchange, though only 3 participated in extended dialogue. And as I write that, I notice myself slipping back into more conventional writing. Instead I should write this as an assemblage in which some people, a number of tweets, a hashtag, a couple of images, several hyperlinks, numerous @mentions and a quote tweet all pulled one another together to enact learning. One might argue that as an ephemeral event during which Lauran’s cognitive knowledge base was extended, or perhaps her practice was changed. Those things may indeed have happened, but from a sociomaterial standpoint, the assemblage transcends those limited views and through the assemblage retains all the actors which are part of the performance. The Twitter exchange may appear to now be dormant, but every time a participant discusses one of the issues that was raised, every time one of the resources is deployed in a classroom, every time #teamenglish forms an element within a tweet, the exchange which unfolded here is involved … more, or less.
At the time, I didn’t feel comfortable dropping into the conversation; there seemed to be a greater sense of … not privacy precisely, but perhaps in its specificity. Certainly other people joined in, but they were ‘on topic’ and were answering Lauran’s initial question or were contributing to the conversation. Had I joined it would have detracted from their learning experience. In trying to rationalise why this was different from other occasions when I have entered conversations, I think it’s because it is professional learning, rather than being about professional learning, so if I’d asked questions about the process of learning, that would have been both an intrusion and a distraction. In some instances, I’ve waited until discussions have concluded before asking questions, but in this case I never followed things up. That’s largely because most of the thoughts I’ve laid out here only came to me as I switched over more specifically to analysis; my research notes at the time didn’t identify any of this thinking. I would love to go back and explore this further; maybe I still could?
Another ethical concern which always comes to the fore when I write a post like this is whether it’s appropriate to quote and link to the people whose tweets have prompted the post. I discussed some of the principles which guide my decision making in this post, and more generally across several. Essentially it’s always a balance between risks and benefits to the participants, but also includes the nature of the exchange and the kinds of norms and values to which they appear to subscribe. Both Becky and Lauran have blogs and both have written about Twitter and other Twitter users, so there’s a sense in which this kind of practice is normalised for them. Despite the concerns I expressed earlier about not wishing to intrude on their discussion, they did conduct it in public rather than through direct messages, so they are comfortable with others seeing and extending their thoughts. It is in that spirit that I write this post, but rather than provide anonymity, acknowledge and celebrate their authorship. One might ask if there are any conditions under which I would anonymise tweets and indeed there are:
- If someone’s account was protected, then that’s a clear message stating that these tweets are only for the eyes of those to whom I give permission. Whilst I may have been granted permission to view them at some point, I’d take it that that’s as far as it goes and wouldn’t reproduce them at all.
- If I was to shift my writing to another space, different to the ones in which the original authorship took place. So for example where if have presented at a conference or written a (public) paper, I have sought permission before quoting the tweet directly. If it hasn’t been possible to do that, then anonymising is crucial.
- Where I might need to adopt a more critical standpoint and my comments might be perceived less positively. Twitter is often awash with negativity; I would not want to appear to be part of that. Here I would be unlikely even to write such a post in public, let alone allow any data to remain non anonymised.
- If people are discussing issues which are more sensitive, then I feel treating that with discretion and not quoting directly, nor mentioning any personal details would be more appropriate.
However, if you have any concerns with the approach I outline here, then do please let me know in the comments.
In the next episode …
During the course of the exchange I’ve discussed here, Becky produced a quote tweet which referenced a particular resource around which a noticeable part of the discussion then formed. I think it was sufficiently interesting to merit a post of its own, so more of that to follow …
CUREE. (2005). Mentoring and Coaching CPD Capacity Building Project–National Framework for Mentoring and Coaching.