The topic of the week is Social Media for Teachers with Ross McGill.
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This week we welcomed Ross McGill to talk about Social Media and its use by teachers.Ross says that he first became involved with social media via blogging to update his family about his first son’s condition after he was born at a very low weight. It was about communicating with the family but also some therapy for Ross himself. He was amazed to see how the reaction to his blog snowballed. This led to him starting to apply the same concepts to his teaching reflections and that’s how Teacher Toolkit got started.
Ross has a varied and fascinating story in education which began when he was only 18 and started teaching design and technology to Year 7s at his school in his free periods. Subsequently he did a B.Ed degree and then moved through a variety of schools and teaching situations until his present role at Greig City Academy. In September 2014 he is moving to be Deputy Headteacher at Qunintin Kynaston Academy.
Ross maintains that for him and many teachers, social media has transformed their practice. If you are prepared to contribute, to share, to reflect, then you can get instant feedback. If your contribution is high quality, then you will get a lot of feedback. Also, you can receive helpful critique on your ideas.
Using social media in your own school or department allows you to be outward-facing and Ross recommends starting small, simply by going to Twitter – even without an account – and reading some Twitter biographies and tweets from those learners. For example, looking at twitter.com/teachertoolkit will show you all that Ross is sharing. ICTEvangelist, Mark Anderson has a number of useful guides and tips to get you going.
The sophisticated choice for teacher social media – Twitter
Ross stresses that you should make a clear distinction between a personal Twitter account and a professional one. You can decide whether you want to be ‘transparent’ or anonymous. The TeacherToolkit account is purely for teaching-related tweets, while Ross also has personal accounts. Only one of his accounts is ‘locked’ – the one he uses with Sixth Form Pupils. At first, don’t feel you need to contribute, don’t feel you need to reply to everyone – it’s a learning journey. Once you understand how it works, the power is in your fingertips!Ross goes into detail about why Twitter is a great choice for teachers.
Paul and Ross discuss the importance of being professional with a professional account – including the choice of avatar (photograph)! After all, int he UK there are Teachers’ Standards which need to be complied with.
Overall, enjoy Twitter, enjoy Facebook but please do it professionally!
Paul asks about how you can avoid the unhelpful or abusive users on Twitter and Ross describes how his group of trusted contacts provide a buffer or a filter for him. Ross also uses a rule of thumb:
- Is this message emotionally intelligent?
- Can it wait 24 hours?
He says he often drafts a tweet in response to a negative message and then waits 24 hours by which time he has calmed down and often ends up not sending it at all. Again, Ross goes into a lot of detail in the episode.
Where to begin?
Paul asks about starting out in social media as a teacher and Ross says that it’s all about consistency. Use the same name (even if it’s one you have adopted just for social media like TeacherToolkit) and the same avatar (photograph or image) throughout social media. The consistency of blogging 2 or 3 times a week – and producing consistently good qaulity content – has helped Ross become one of the most successful bloggers on the web. Your activity has to be of value to yourself, help you to be a better teacher and giive value back to your school. Blogging consistently is sometimes hard to fit in with working at home on school business. You also need to come up with a clear purpose and react to feedback you receive.
- Start small
- Expect some feedback
- Expect it to take some time to develop
- Update it regularly
- Through his blog, Ross says he is having an effect on the whole school system even including government policy by producing influential, practice-based articles.
Next, the conversation turned to Teachmeet. Ross put off attending his first Teachmeet for over a year because it seemed like a lot to ask to travel over 50 miles on an evening after school. The tipping point for him was that he went to an event at a school where he knew someone. He loved it:
- Everyone has the same attitude
- Everyone wants to learn something new
- Even if you aren’t interested in the topic, something else will be coming along in 2, 3 or 6 minutes
- Lots of people come along to share an idea, to talk about teaching and resources which have worked for them
- There’s also a lot of online dialogue around the events
- You can even take part from home via videos or tweets from the events
- You can make lots of new friends
5 minute plans
Another huge part of Ross’ work has been around the concept of the 5 minute plan. He points out that we all know you can’t do much in 5 minutes. It takes years of practice and hours of thought to be able to plan a lesson and it depends on that built-up knowledge and experience but you can write it down on a piece of paper in 5 minutes. So by adding shapes and colours, it is possible to scribble something really useful down in 5 minutes.
The power of the 5 minute lesson plan is teachers being able to focus their pedagogy very quickly into a snapshot. You can change the headings on the pro-forma – there is no set format but the 5 minute lesson plan enables you to hone in on what you need to have on paper for what Ross describes as a ‘bog-standard’ lesson. If you are a good teacher, all you need is the headlines, there is no benefit in writing lots of detail down in a lesson plan. Ross now just focusses on the ‘stickability’ box, a single component of the 5 minute plan.
There are now many variations on Ross website of the 5 minute plan – not just lesson plans. Behaviour, marking, Assessment for Learning and lots of other areas of school life are now covered by their own 5 minute plans, many of which have been contributed by other teachers.
There is soon to be a digital version of the plan which will be free to download on mobile devices.
Teachers should be able to sell the resources they create
Finally, Paul and Ross discuss the new website and initiative Ross has embarked upon – Sellfy.com This is an easy way for teachers to sell resources they have created. Ross believes firmly that teachers should feel able to do this. Ross has 5 or 6 resources available to buy on Sellfy.
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