Apologies for the mondegreen parody of The Proclaimers chart-topper. When James Fraser aka Twitter: @eatsleepICTrpt and I got to meet for Sunday lunch, one of our big chats was about the Twitter following I found myself having accumulated in October 2022. This achievement may at face value appear all the more astonishing since my Twitter account shows my membership on the platform since December 2019. So, here’s a little insight on how and a little bit of a why…
The ‘power’ of social media
I was introduced and inspired to join Twitter by @natachakennedy who was not only the lecturer leading on Computing (which was then still frequently referred to as ICT) on the PGCE Programme I was on but also my wonderful link contact during my placements and portfolio building. She inspired us with the idea that the micro-blogging platform enabled its users to connect with influential voices and key thinkers. She also suggested that Twitter was a magnificent means of building what has been regularly referred to as a “Personal Learning Network”.
Admittedly, I didn’t actually join until the end of August 2012 which was immediately before I took up my first paid teaching role. In fact, I didn’t make much or any use of the platform until May 2016 when I met @LegoJames and others on the @RaspberryPi_org workshop who essentially echoed what @natachakennedy had said almost four years earlier. It was at that time too that the Leadership Team at the school I was working for wanted to raise their social media presence and tasked me with the role of doing so.
Until the end of 2019, I managed both my personal Twitter account as well as the school’s account with a regular stream of posts. I took the view that I would only focus on school-related content. The school I have worked for since 2015 is part of a Multi-Academy Trust. In 2017 I was fortunate enough to have been invited or selected to be sponsored to study for the MA in Educational Leadership at Manchester Metropolitan University. This study opportunity saw me begin to build a base of followers and following. I started with fellow students, the lecturers and those I was either reading about or been tasked to read articles they had written.
It was during this time that, through Twitter, I secured the school some amazing opportunities. It was a Tweet from @chance2shine which enabled me to create a memory making moment, taking a group of children from across the school to take part in the world’s biggest cricket lesson at a single venue. This World Record stood until May 2022. I often get some of the ‘children’ I previously taught meeting me in the street, so many years on, saying “Sir! Remember when you took me to Lords to play in the world’s biggest cricket lesson? It was so brilliant!”
It was also in 2017, again through Twitter, that I read about the application process for a CBBC TV equivalent to University Challenge called ‘Top Class’ presented by Susan Calman. The episode my school featured in was available to watch on-demand as recently as 2020, during that year.
The networking opportunities incredibly also led me and my school to appear as part of a video news feature for @CNNBusiness, an all expenses paid trip to @ISTE in Philadelphia to launch the @TeamKano Windows PC in the @Microsoft Village and in August 2019 this moment for me on live national television:
I painfully found out that there is truth in the metaphor “play with fire, get burnt fingers” as towards the end of 2019 I was feeling discontent with my presence on social media. Languishing with only a few hundred followers, I wanted to raise my profile as somebody who was ‘influential’ in commenting on the educational landscape. However, a Tweet about non-contact time incurred the direct wrath of my Line Manager at the time. This was further compounded by a post that the then-newly appointed Head of School thought was inappropriate in tone. I was therefore taken off social media duties for the school with disciplinary proceedings instigated against me.
As a reparation, I agreed or decided to no longer engage with social media by quite literally logging out of Twitter. It was actually quite an appropriate time to do so since it was the lead-up to the 2019 General Election. As a former Civil Servant, I kind of thought of this period as my personal electoral ‘purdah’ or “the period immediately before elections or referendums when specific restrictions on communications activity are in place” (Civil Service Code of Conduct). My last post was in early November 2019.
My silence on social media was immediately noticed by some wonderful contacts I had established through the platform who have or had in turn become real-world contacts and supported me through my time off-line. It was through their encouragement that I decided on New Year’s Eve 2020 to return:
In returning to Twitter, I had made a personal resolution to approach social media with a new carefully curated approach of engaging with irreverence and frivolity and avoiding, as much as possible, controversial ‘click-bait’.
#WorkingFromHome and #HomeSchooling
Then this happened:
With the world being so out of routine, it was a perfect opportunity to exercise the irreverent and frivolous outlook I had decided to adopt as an attempt to simply raise a smile and be a voice of support during difficult and challenging times:
It was adopting such an approach and connecting with others right across the wider teaching community and beyond which saw the number of accounts I was following and being followed exponentially rising. In the space of five months, I exceeded the number of followers I had tried to cultivate in the seven years I had previously been active on the platform.
It was during this time too that I discovered the popularity of various hashtags which I began to regularly and frequently use. I became a regular member of the #teacher5oclockclub and had time to take part in the ‘chats’ hosted by @MenTeachPrimary and @PrimaryRocks1. When in May 2020 I was offered and accepted the role of Computing Lead, I started to join the weekly #CASChat hosted by @CASChat_UK. Building these connections continued and flourished to the point that I’ve had the experience of joining in chats and virtual or remote events across time zones from America to Australia. These international connections have been made more possible since the difference in time zones means that the chats are outside UK school hours as well as differ in holiday periods too so active and engaging when the timelines for teachers in England might be less work-focused.
Aside from the carefully curated irreverent and frivolous approach, I also adopt what I would describe as “Paddington’s Principles”:
I have to be honest and do kind of baulk at those who seem to scream “be kind!” as their response to wellbeing and supporting good mental health. Having had my own mental health challenges to the point that I required and received immediate medical attention in 2013, I have much sympathy with those who either find daily routines challenging or have other issues that they might be personally struggling with.
Setting social media boundaries
As part of the curriculum I teach is about Digital Citizenship and staying safe online, I use social media as a means of essentially practising what I preach. I will happily share photos and stories from my family life since it is an integral part of me and I am pleased and proud to be a parent, husband, son and brother. I will however never mention family members by name and carefully avoid exactly pinpointing where we live and any routines that we might have to maintain their anonymity. I have also tried to maintain a professional distance between the school I work for although increasingly I have seen the value and merit of directly acknowledging where I work given the symbiotic success that both my school and I mutually share when celebrating the work I do for the school on social media.
I wholly understand why many on social media carefully curate their presence and limit what they post to work related content only. My counter-argument to that is that in my unwitting experiment and experience of my time on Twitter and the enforced ‘reboot’ of the way I engage with the platform, I have found the more open approach of intertwining my personal and professional timelines being a really powerful way of reaching a wider audience. As I have frequently posted too, Twitter to me is not about how many ‘likes’, retweets or replies a particular or specific post receives. If a message reaches and connects with just one other person, then that in itself is the power of that message making a difference. Meanwhile, I will share my #morningmugshot as often as I can…