Transformation of education through communication

If you look at every major change in our society, you will find that communication between individuals was instrumental to the change, and that in many cases, a change in how communication occurred between individuals precipitated the change itself. For example, the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, and the current revolution in Libya are all the result of the masses who believe in change being able to communicate that belief through social media.

What is strange about education is that by and large we know an awful lot as a profession, but the rate of change is glacial. We actually know a tremendous about how kids learn best, but schools keep re-inventing the wheel every time they encounter a new problem. Why is this? My thought is that while there are lots of great ideas out there in education, they are not generally communicated well.

So if we want to institigate change in education (and I think we do need a change) then we need to change how communication happens in schools. As much as the people reading this blog believe that change is around the corner in education, the vast majority of people involved in education are not on Twitter, they don’t read blogs, and we are lucky if they are even on an email list of any kind related to education.

We need to bring down the barriers to using these types of communication tools if we want to deepen and enrich the conversation about education. Some of the barriers include:

  • Knowledge:

    Most educators don’t even know that educators are using Twitter and other social media tools to connect about education. We can counteract this by being proactive and talking about these tools with other teachers. Be brave and introduce teachers you meet to productive uses of social media.

  • Access:

    Many educators work in areas where they don’t have access to the tools themselves because they are blocked at their workplace. It is ironic that in places that are supposed to foster learning, that some of the best tools available for learning are blocked. Here the problem is administrative, and if your school district is one in which social media is blocked, it is worth having a conversation with your administrators about its potential value to their district.

  • Time:

    It is hard to convince someone who is already overworked that social media isn’t just going to be "another thing" to add to their pile. Take the time to show how to use Twitter as a search engine, and as a time-saver. Show them how they can engage with other educators to brainstorm lesson plan ideas, and just generally save themselves time re-inventing the wheel. Savvy school administrators could even build time into schedules expressly for the purpose of communicating & sharing with other educators.

  • Permission:

    In many school districts, there is an explicit policy against using social media professionally. In others, there is a fear of using it incorrectly and having it destroy your career. This problem can be best mitigated by sharing the stories of the thousands of educators who are using it effectively (while keeping their jobs). Point out that the people who have lost their careers as a result of social media were actually involved in some pretty stupid activities already. Make the recommendation that if you wouldn’t say it to your boss, you probably shouldn’t put it in print. We also need to develop policies around social media which recognize that teachers are learners too, and that people who are learning make mistakes.

  • Fear:

    Educators are afraid someone will steal their ideas. They are afraid that someone will reject their thoughts and dismiss them out of hand. When you visit stories on major news websites about education, and read the comments, you can see that a lot of their fear is justified. How can we combat this? I think we need to build a sphere of trust wherein educators feel comfortable sharing and know that at least within this sphere, they will at worst receive constructive criticism.

It is my opinion that if a school district adopted a social media policy which was intended to promote open dialog between the educators in their district, and then encouraged educators to use social media responsibly to communicate with each other, that this would be far more effective in terms of changing their school system than any professional development day could ever be.



  • David you bring up an important point on communication in the 21st century. How do we demonstrate that these tools can make life easier when it looks on the surface to be adding another layer to the job. I remember when I was doing my practicum and first couple of years of teaching that I wasted so much time looking for resources via google or Yahoo, but I was doing much of it alone because I would do most of my work at home. We could email each other, or pick up that thing called a phone and with 3 way calling work with two other people. I can only imagine how much easier life would have been if we had access to something akin to GoogleDocs where as a group we could have built our resources together, opened it up on Twitter to expand it outwards to a greater population.

    Reflective practice is often limited to a few individuals in a very controlled manner. I would love to see student teachers blogging as a part of their practicum, collaborative assignments with feedback through wikis or blogs. Why should professional development be limited to a Faculty Advisor and a School associate. Yes, student teachers need to respect their feedback but should not limit themselves to only that. They also need to start modelling appropriate social media use for their students. There are far too many teachers and administrators who are ignorant of what is available out, don’t understand how to use it to collaborate and therefore cannot help guide students. This is something I need to do a better job of explaining and working on at my school and in my district. I think we need comprehensive professional development in this area as well as protocol and guidelines. Let the fun begin.

  • David Wees wrote:

    I’d love to see an article come out in the BC College of teacher’s magazine. Most teachers in the province read that don’t they?

  • I have only recently discovered twitter and believe it is the best professional development tool around! I am preparing to do research for my MA Leadership at RRU. My research topic is about existing or new structures and processes which could be used or developed to inspire teachers to embrace practices congruent with 21st Century Learning. In the preliminary discussions, very few fellow educators in my School District understand twitter. Without being fanatical, I am initiating conversations with potential converts and so far, people are interested. We just need to get the word out and SHOW people the tool. I plan to take 10-15 minutes at a staff meeting to show people how I use twitter. Gradually, we can change the culture surrounding professional development so it becomes embedded in our daily work. Like me – I think once educators get a taste of the possibilities, they will be sold.

    Thanks for your great contributions to communication!

  • Jacquie Taylor wrote:

    I began my teaching career in 1974 so chuckled when I read about the issues of finding lesson plans on google. When I began teaching, other than going to the one ‘teachers store’ in the metro area, the only way to get ideas was to peek into classrooms in your school…I confess that I did this after hours when no one was around!
    One of the things I have noticed in communication as a teacher, principal or superintendent is that my formal ‘role’ in the system often got in the way of true dialogue. The parent is nervous to talk to the teacher, the teacher to the principal and so on. As superintendent, it is difficult to have a real conversation with folks because the job title really gets in the way and it is difficult to have enough interaction time with anyone to be able to develop the relationship that enables real dialogue.
    Now that I have tiptoed into the twitter world, I have noticed that ‘roles’ are more or less irrelevant in most conversations or posts. It seems that it is more about the idea that is being offered than the role of the person ‘speaking’.
    If our education system is going to change sufficiently to be relevant to our children, we must find a way to have real conversations that influence collective action. Everyone has a type of work that they are tasked with in an organization…but somehow in education we need to find a way to reduce the issues related to roles and focus on ideas that lead to collective action that will move us forward. I think social media is a tool that could be very useful.

  • David Wees wrote:

    I agree Jacquie, this is one of the transformative effects of social media.

    For example, yesterday I was involved in a conversation on Twitter with the BC education minister George Abbott, Chris Kennedy who is the superintendent of the West Vancouver school district, Ashley Bayles, a student teacher at UBC, Remi Collins, a principal of an elementary school in BC, and multiple teachers including @ajgadd @amhwrites @MrReidWSS @SheilaSpeaking @reachCorrey and a few others. I cannot imagine that conversation happening outside of Twitter.

  • Hi David. It is weird isn’t – it “seems” like so many are embracing social networks like twitter when you’re immersed in it with others. But, I suspect the 90/10 rule is at work with 10% of educators being involved. But it is growing…

    I think time is a significant fear people have and also lack of knowledge and understanding of social networking and the value people can extract form and contribute to it. Tools like twitter et al can certainly consume copius amounts of time. It can be a distraction from other important work and deadlines. I honestly don’t know how some people find the time to be tweeted as much as they do knowing that they have other “physical world” work to do – must be a magic formula. I think helping people understand how to govern and protect their time while they embrace social tools, is important. I’ve introduced lots of people to twitter but it takes a while for them to stick with it – they are “too busy”… As to value, I think that has to be experienced personally before people will “get it”. I joined twitter in 2007 but didn’t really start to use it until about 18 months ago. Even now there are days where I won’t tweet a thing and won’t really read a tweet – too busy. But I value it so much that I make time otherwise here and there to participate and to contribute as much as I can.

    Communication may be a factor in transforming education but ultimately I think it will be fundamentally different types of learning opportunities and experiences enabled through technology such as 3D immersive environments (think holodeck like) that will transform education. Teacher guided and supported learning via digital immersive learning environments… that might do it.

    The iPhone fundamentally transformed the mobile device market not because it was a little bit different – no, it was a lot different and people were surprised and compelled to pay attention. I think it will be that type of change that will transform education…

  • I’ve said this so many times in so many places recently, that I’m almost hesitant to share it again… but here I go anyway:-)

    “I think there needs to be a recognition that
    we aren’t in the ‘teaching business’,
    rather we are in the ‘learning business’,
    and if we aren’t constructing a teaching model that
    supports teachers in their learning then we need to
    redesign what a teacher’s day looks like!”

    I’ll share a great post by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach

    Commitment, Reflection… and Time! That’s what is needed. We expect commitment and reflection, but are we truly giving teachers enough time to fairly expect their full participation?

  • Thanks for writing this, David. I believe communication is a central issue of concern in school systems today. Transparent, readily available, timely communication will transform schools for the better.

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