The Wire, Twitter, and Reflective Practice

What ties the three things in the title together? Well, I love them all and I have personally found them all useful. It’s more than that, though. I have also found myself “selling” these things to others.  I am pretty much convinced that The Wire is the best television show of all time and it’s provided me with much needed distraction on numerous occasions. Reflective Practice has helped me make sense of teaching and learn from experience. Twitter has connected to me a network (ok, fine, a personal learning network) of ELT professionals all around the world and it has been incredibly useful, inspirational and fun for me.

When meeting friends and colleagues lately I’ve sometimes noticed myself going on and on about the latter 2 things. Also, I have presented on RP quite a few times and will be presenting about #KELTchat along with other #KELTchatters at the KOTESOL International Conference. Countless dinners and drinks over the last 10 months have featured me rattling on about Twitter and how great it has been for me.  I suppose that is fine as it is something that I am very excited about. I am not, however, so comfortable with the proselytizing aspect at the moment. I don’t really know the source of this discomfort but I thought sharing some thoughts here would be helpful.

I have a friend that has heard me talk about The Wire for years now and has yet to watch a single episode. I am positive he will love it. He said, “I am sure I will like it but I just don’t have  time.” I said exactly the same thing to my brother who was always talking about The Wire and telling me how much I would like it. I was full of “yeah buts” and reasons I didn’t yet get into the show. It wasn’t until I was a guest at his home and he plied me with beers after a lovely meal and insisted that we were going to watch a few episodes and if I didn’t like it we could stop after 2 episodes. He was sure I would like it. He was right. I loved it.

It seems like “I don’t have time to” is a common reason given for people not blogging or using Twitter. It also seems like this is an easily mocked or criticized comment by those that truly believe in professional development through these ways.

My friend from above who has never watched The Wire is the same person that had Understanding Teaching Through Learning  (an amazing book that I strongly suggest you get if you can…whoops here I go preaching again) untouched on his nightstand for nearly 2 years. By the way, he loved it when he finally opened it and now swears by it. On some levels, I am happy that my friend enjoyed the book. I suppose that my ego is pleased that I was right in choosing a book that would be a good fit for him. I suspect the book has helped him out and even made some sessions a bit better or at least easier to organize and was thus better for his trainee teachers which potentially makes things better for students. Ok. But, I am not really sure what benefits, if any,  I have personally received my suggestions and pestering.

Thinking back to The Wire, I can’t really see what benefits I would actually get if  my friend suddenly became a huge fan. I would be happy that he spent his free time in a fun and interesting way but maybe that is about it. I guess we could also have some laughs about the antics of McNulty and Bunk but that is about it.

I am really wondering why I care(d) so much about how other people (non-training course participant people, I mean) choose to spend their time and how they choose to develop.

I wrote above that The Wire, RP and Twitter have been extremely useful for me personally. Maybe they won’t be as useful for others and I think that is totally fine. Maybe Twitter is not so useful for everyone. Maybe they are fine with their own professional development and maybe my thoughts on how they *should be developing are not really all that important to them. Maybe I *should just chill out a bit and worry about myself and what works for me and those incredible people in my PLN.

I feel like in the next few months or so I will just talk about how great RP and Twitter (and The Wire too I suppose) have been for me and let people know that I will be keen to talk about these things if they choose to get involved. I will resist the urge to push and will just let people make up their own minds.

Questions that come to mind include:

  • Do you have any experience “selling” things like Twitter and RP? How did it go?
  • Have you ever had discomfort “selling” such things? How did you deal with it?
  • Why do you care about the professional development of others?
    (I guess this question is especially relevant if you are not paid to do so)
  • What am I missing?

Related (?) Links:

My most recent blog post on reasons for (Korean) teachers to join twitter

#ELTchat Summary on Introducing CPD to Dinosaurs

#Eltchat review on why the word “dinosaurs” isn’t helpful

A blog post by a teacher who chooses not to develop online 

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25 comments

  1. mrchrisjwilson

    An interesting Dilemma. I think this is true of all areas of life really, we find something great (certainly for us) and want other people to at least try it as well yet often they don’t. I guess there can be too reasons for being “too busy”
    1. Being very busy.
    It’s true that many people don’t have a lot of time but I’m sure people can free up an hour or two a week to tweet and reflect on the week, it just means sacrificing something else. (which leads nicely into point two)
    2. Not being convinced.
    Okay you may like it but it can’t really be that great can it? With T.V. Programmes like the wire etc people might think that it will just be another american cop show (when it really is so much more than that. I just NEED to watch the last series)
    (Bonus extra) No. 3. Not seeing the next step.
    Sometimes people are sold but they just don’t plan to take action and so slowly forget about what they want to do. This is where your brother sitting you down and forcing you to watch it came in. He took away the inertia and helped you to start watching it. Perhaps with something like RP you need to have a follow up straight after, get people to reflect on their last week and then share. then do the same next week. Or with twitter, show someone how to sign up and some people to follow (Sally Millin did a great talk at the IH Online Conference about twitter including both these elements and many people signed up during the workshop)

    What do you think?

    • mikecorea

      Thanks so much for the response(s) Chris,

      I really like your thoughts about being busy and not being convinced. I was also thinking that maybe “not being convinced it’s not such a time suck” is another possible factor.

      I also like your idea (as well as clear examples) on people not being able to take the next step. I think this can be super common and I can surely see it in myself with certain things.
      This reminded me of the book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard http://www.amazon.com/Switch-Change-Things-When-Hard/dp/0385528752 which talks about people getting blocked by not seeing the path.

      [I think we are on a vibe of business/self help books related to PD at the moment!!)

      I think your thoughts and ideas are exactly related to what might be blocking people (and with great solutions for this) but at the moment I am thinking that I will just worry about the PD for people that a) ask me for help b) pay me to help them. I guess I am tired of selling.

      Thanks for “listening” and thanks for the comments and ideas.

      See you around,
      Mike

      ps-Thanks for the reminder about Sandy’s stuff. I added links into my previous post on Reasons for (Korean) teachers to join Twitter.

  2. David

    Michael,

    I think you might even go further with your line of thought …..

    You’d be surprised how much one can learn from a program like the Wire. Learning is not dependent on the content per say – it is a condition of consciousness. It is this that we must nurture and cultivate, how people/teachers relate like to like.

    I think our profession has too closed a model as to what professional development is. It isn’t only workshops, reading books, taping your lessons, conferences, participating online etc….. It can be just sitting alone and thinking of ones teaching. It is the 5 minutes on the bus, going over in ones head what had happened in class. It’s a state of mind and we shouldn’t define it by the visible. However our very anti intellectual/anti thought society really does demand äction” so we miscast many teachers as lazy and not participating in their own teaching development.I’ll hark back to Heraclitus – “Latent structure, rules obvious structure”

    David

    • mrchrisjwilson

      I agree and disagree. (though I think my disagreement isn’t actually with what you said but with a possible implication of what you said)
      I agree that development and reflection doesn’t just have to be online/at a conference etc and that we can learn a lot from ANYTHING in our lives. I also agree that it can be easy to dismiss people who do reflect (though not via such public means) as lazy and unprofessional.
      I disagree in that for many people just sitting and thinking about your lesson (and nothing else) rarely leads to any change. During my breaks in lessons I can easily go “that was rubbish, those kids were so wild today! completely spoiled the lesson.” But I probably won’t have time to consider why they were acting wild and how I could prevent that or deal with it better in class. However let’s say I do later on my bus journey think back to my class and realise that I could have done X or Y and perhaps the kids were extra energetic because of A or B and then do nothing I might as well have just not even thought about it. Reflecting is pointless if we don’t at least consider changing what we do.
      (an additional point would be that structures and routines help to insure reflection where as we MAY reflect without them but it isn’t guaranteed.)
      Perhaps, I am over personalising as I know that I need to write things down, share and talk through my own personal reflections for them to actually impact me (where as others might not) however, if a reflection leads to not action (even a reinforcement of previously held beliefs and actions would be an action) then it is pointless really.
      So I agree reflecting isn’t just twitter, blogging, conferences et al but that reflecting without a result is pretty pointless in my opinion.
      (Have I got the wrong end of the stick with what you said or would you like to disagree more.)

    • mikecorea

      Hi David,

      Thanks for stopping and thanks for the insight. Your comments really got me thinking! Previously I had been thinking that all this twitter/blogging development was sort of the new version of conferences and the like. Your comments made me think about other ways for teachers to develop. I fully agree with you about the profession having a closed model of what professional development is. I can’t help but think that twitter/blogging/web 2.0 stuff (do people still say web 2.o?) is just another round of things that teachers “should” do. And clearly these are examples that require action and products.

      Thanks again for the thought!

  3. davedodgson

    I have to admit, my attempts to ‘sell’ Twitter have not had much success. I did a workshop on it a few times last year and got quite a few people to sign up. However, most of them disappeared after a few weeks… I think for something like Twitter, each individual teacher has to ‘discover’ it for themselves. Workshops and personal reccomendations (mine included) tend to come from people who are reaping the benefits after putting the time and effort in and that required time and effort doesn’t usually translate to the target ‘offline’ audience.

    Which brings me neatly round to the ‘no time’ excuse… I am very much aware that there are a lot of people for who this is genuine and who do engage in CPD by other means (teaching associaitions, SIGs, attending and giving workshops, journals etc etc). (In fact, with my full-time job, MA studies, workshops and presentations, online classes, personal hobbies and my wife and son (with another on the way), I don’t have time for blogging or Twitter!!)

    But for others, it is just an excuse. I’ve noted a few people who don’t have time for Twitter or blogs and, curiously, they also don’t have time to go to conferences on Saturdays, or stay after work for a meeting, or be observed, or mentor new teachers…. I guess for some people, teaching is just a job.

    Your comment about getting your friend to watch The Wire (‘ I can’t really see what benefits I would actually get if my friend suddenly became a huge fan’) reminded me of somehting that came up during my MA research (into blogging for reflective practice as it happens) and that is the concept of ‘third party reciprocity’ meaning you may not get something back directly from, for example, commenting on a blog or retweeting something, but you will get something back from someone/somwhere else in the network. For me, that is what makes online CPD such a powerful thing.

    • mikecorea

      Hello Dave,
      Thanks for dropping by. I really like your point about “third part reciprocity” and I think that this is one of the great things about participating in a PLN like this. Maybe the help is not direct but in the end everyone benefits. This is very good to keep in mind, even if I am taking a break from selling.

      As for teaching being just a job for some I think that is exactly right and I think this is important to keep in mind for those of us that are really into prof development.’ It seems to me that it is very easy to think about what other people “should” be doing…based on our own criteria. This is something I am trying to get away from, even if it is too easy to judge others for not taking professional development seriously (ohh i feel a future blog post coming on).

      Finally, as for teachers “discovering” for themselves, I think this is right on because as we know just telling somebody about benefits doesn’t really stick so well. (And as you suggest just joining twitter is not really the effort/start needed to reap the benefits).

      Thanks again for stopping by!
      Looking forward to more exchanges and 2-3 party reciprocity.

      Cheers,
      Mike

  4. danielcraig

    First, “I don’t have time” means that I have decided that I will not allocate a percentage of my time for that activity. In other words, I don’t care enough about it to do it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We have to make determinations about what is worth our time every day. If someone says that to you, you simply haven’t made your case. It may be that you will never be able to make your case with that person.

    I have had a lot of experience evangelizing. I do it a lot less now than I did in the past. With the speed at which things change, I found that many of the things that I promoted died quickly. I didn’t mind because I was already on to the next thing, but those that I got to use the product were burned as they were generally laggards when it came to the adoption of innovation. This didn’t really get to me until it was my job to do this for an organization. I then saw my stock rise and fall by not only the stickiness of my recommendations, but also by the longevity. These folks didn’t want to learn a new system every year and I can’t quite blame them. These were the type of people who had seen teams of young know-it-alls try to tell them how to change their practice year after year. Most of these failed because they either failed to take the user into account or, much more commonly, the change agents lost interest after the new thing lost its shine.

    Since then, I have been a little more reserved in pushing what I think works. When people are looking for something, I’ll suggest it. I’ll tell them when they ask me why I use a particular system or when they simply ask what it is. I got off my soapbox and took the same approach I take with religion and politics.

    With that being said, many people find great fulfillment in evangelizing, just not me.

    • mikecorea

      Hey Dan,

      Thanks for the thoughts. I think that in this (as in many things) you provide a nice model. I think I am now ready to take the step off my soap box and just let things come to me (or not). I actually didn’t even think of the speed in which things change but that is of course a crucial factor. Thanks for the reminder. Also the idea of the early adopters moving along is a key one. Finally your point of people seeing “teams of young know-it-alls” trying to change their practice is a great one. Adaptation fatigue perhaps. Thanks again for the helpful comments.

      Have a lovely weekend and talk to you soon!

      ps- I have now convinced my siblings that skype is here to stay and we are reaping the benefits of this. When I get my parents on there I will feel my victory is complete. I mention this not to brag about my “selling” skills but just to say that some innovations are here to stay and that when we have a personal stake in it (like saving money on phone calls) the selling can be worthwhile.

  5. Ben Naismith

    Hi Mike,

    Once again, I find myself surprised by how much I relate to your posts. I can’t help but to try to push ‘The Wire’ after watching all 5 seasons in a sickeningly short span.

    At the moment, I’m trying to sell the idea of continuous assessment and communicative competence to my teaching staff, and with my students I’m trying to sell them the value of lexis and functional language rather than nothing but grammar rules. To be honest, both are a struggle, so I’m just trying to covertly influence them little by little…

    Regarding PD – it seems to me that the problem with pushing it is that unless people are intrinsically motivated to become better teachers, there’s not much point. Unlike other professions, doing more training doesn’t necessarily lead to financial gains or promotions, so there really has to be a willingness. All you can do is create a bit of awareness, lead by example and hope for the best!

    • mikecorea

      Hey Ben,
      Thanks for the comments. I was actually laughing out loud when I stumbled across your old post about writing aims on the board (because this is something that has been on my mind for ages especially because it is often something that is just done without thinking).

      In terms of selling, I like how clear you are about what you are selling (and why). I think the idea of covertly influencing little by little is the way to go.

      By the way, some of your thoughts here reminded me of the book that I recommended above (below?) to Chris. It might be something worth checking out. I found both books by the authors very interesting and both surely related to teaching and professional development.

      I also think you are on point with your thoughts about professional development requiring intrinsic motivation and that leading by example and hoping for the best are the ways to go. My current thought is to create a space (place?) and time for it and hope for the best.
      (with the obvious caveat that I am not really responsible for anyone’s development unless they are a course participant)

      Thanks again the comments and insights!

      ps- Have you seen Breaking Bad? Everyone is saying that this is the current best show.
      (Well those that are not talking about Game of Thrones)

      • mrchrisjwilson

        I haven’t seen Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones (which may well be blasphemous) but everyone says they’re great. I guess I *cough* haven’t had the time *cough* (see have been out in the Ukraine and not used any of these stream online sites in a while. Though I’m sure I’d love GoT what is Breaking Bad about?
        On a more serious note (?) This has been really interesting and I love how it’s continued long after the initial post. I guess the lesson is, some people will take ages to change, don’t get so worried about it (but still keep mentioning things) and be happy 🙂
        (fair summary?)

      • mikecorea

        Hello Chris,

        I love how you’ve been adding things. I your summary is spot on. The only thing I would add is something like “If someone doesn’t follow your recommendations it is not always about you and there might not be anything you could do or could have done” but perhaps “be happy” and “don’t worry” takes care of this. Nicely put.

        I think Breaking Bad is about a high school science teacher that become a drug dealer (drug maker, kingpin, something) and things spiral out of control. I don’t really know because I have never seen it but the word on the street is that it is great.

        Take care and your reasons for not watching TV have been accepted. 😉

  6. mrchrisjwilson

    A extra little thought. I remembered about this chart that is used in Marketing and some terms. (check it out at this link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_adopter) the basic theory is that some people are predisposed to trying the latest thing, being at the front of the next craze and will take risks and do these things. Other people will only come round to something once everyone and their dog are doing it. I wonder if this is a true of what we’ve been talking about? Perhaps some of the resistance we come again is just because they need to see EVERYONE else doing it first…

  7. gwennieA

    MikeCorea, “sales” is one of your many talents. So it is not too burdensome when you’re “selling”. I still don’t understand the draw of Twitter, though. Whenever I go to Twitter I feel like I’m reading endless, endless, endless adulterated ticker tape.

    • mikecorea

      Hey wow, thanks. I guess I am more comfortable selling from the standpoint of “this is what I am doing and this is what has worked for me rather than this is what you should do” or something like that. So, I am trying to keep my future selling to situations where it is really desirable.

      That said… (haha) I think the thing about twitter is that it takes some time and effort to build up a group of people to interact with (the usual term is PLN–personal learning network). This is to say that it is much more fulfilling (for me at least!) when I start to get to know the humans on the other side of the ticker tape. I think that asking for help (and not being too bothered when it doesn’t come) and helping others when we can is a good start to really getting the most of out twitter.

      For me another key thing about using twitter is that I had to train myself (my brain) to not worry about reading every tweet carefully but sort of skimming and scanning for things that might be interesting to me.
      Haha.. that is probably enough twitter advice for now!

      Thanks for the comments! 🙂

      • haeundaelife

        I’d echo those sentiments exactly. I got started with a flurry, but then died down and did not really know how to proceed. It took me a few months of half-hearted use but, once I got the hang of skimming, joined a chat or two (#KELTchat) started following some people and helping out where I could (and in helping i mean just adding my voice to the conversation in most cases), it all starts to click. And once it clicks, it’s like a deluge of helpful tips, useful resources, motivating stories, and inspiring ideas.

  8. haeundaelife

    Hey Mike,

    Great stuff here. I too love all three things, and two of them are because of you, well partially! Now, that being said, did I fall in love with them because you told me I should, no. First, I saw the RP meeting with you, and a number of other presenters and could see for myself how it could benefit my teaching. I also had a personal connection with it, because I know that I reflect upon myself and my personal actions everyday, so RP was a natural leap for me to take. The fact that I went to that meeting was because of a push from a friend to attend the prior months meeting on NEAT (where I heard about the upcoming RP meeting). Now, I’m not really interested in NEAT, but thought i would be a friend and support him, as well as do some networking (and what a possibility that turned out to be!) Anyway, this is all convoluted way of saying that things happen the way they happen because people respond to what they feel will help them. I thought going to the NEAT meeting would kick-start my networking and help me find ways to PD. It did, and then I was led to RP, and you, and everyone else, and now help run a group in Busan. Who could have seen that coming in March? certainly not me.

    In relation to twitter, you have a much more profound influence over that. I, like so many, was skeptical. Not because I disbelieved in its usefulness, but because of the generally held view of Twitter from those who don’t use it. But, once I got started, i mean really got started, like a month or two ago, you and the PLN attached to you really SHOWED me how it could be useful.

    When I talk about RP and Twitter I never say YOU SHOULD USE/DO THIS, I just tell personal stories of how it has helped me. People can take that or leave that as they will.

    I think the natural response for people (at least it is for me) when everyone says, you have got to see this or do that, is to think no i don’t. But if someone says you know, this show really blew me away. The story lines were so authentic, and the characters so well drawn. It is my favorite show ever, I’ve watched all five seasons straight through a number of times. Then maybe the recipients interest will be piqued and watch for themselves. (PS, I was talking about The Wire there, and its all true. Best show ever made…so far)

    In response to your third question, I care about others PD because I know that it helps make us better teachers, and I truly care about being the best teacher I can be, thus giving my students the best I can give them. If a fellow teacher is not interested I get frustrated thinking that they aren’t doing their best and hence not giving their students the best. Also, in terms of my current situation, EPIK teachers who don’t care about what they are doing affect the general viewpoint on ALL EPIK teachers. Thus affecting peoples view towards me.

    Anyway, I can not thank you enough for everything so far! Every day I am amazed at how much has happened this year, and how far I have come in terms of PD and teaching. The strides I have made in improving what I do in the classroom have been remarkable. I could never have imagined the future with such fascinating possibilities and that was all kick-started by you and the rest of our excellent PLN.

    John Pfordresher

  9. Pingback: Follow the Money: What I Learned from “The Wire” | ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections

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