By Dr Nina Hood
Championing the knowledge and expertise of teachers is a central tenet of The Education Hub’s philosophy and mission. A core part of our work involves working with teachers to capture their knowledge and practice, and to share it with others.
I was interested, therefore, to read an article that appeared in the Australian newspaper, The Age, last week about the rise of teacher influencers “making it big” on Instagram. These teachers are sharing photos of their classroom designs and decorations, and in doing so helping to develop a community of teachers who share ideas and tips online. This new trend builds on the rise of websites such as Teachers Pay Teachers, an online marketplace, which enables teachers to sell resources and materials online.
The use of social media and online forums for the sharing of resources and community building can be incredibly powerful. The desire for teachers to connect with one another online is not surprising (or a new phenomenon) given that teachers are more inclined to trust information and advice offered by other teachers rather than that provided by external experts or researchers. Research also tells us that some of the most beneficial professional learning is that which empowers teachers to learn from and with each other in communities of practice that are sustained over time. So while there are undeniable benefits associated with online knowledge sharing, it does also raise some questions and concerns.
A growing concern is how to ensure the quality and rigour of resources being shared by teachers online. This reflects a challenge facing the teaching profession more broadly – the absence of mechanisms for validating and vetting teacher-made resources and materials. As teachers increasingly are turning to the Internet to find resources (by way of example, albeit from the USA, a 2016 study conducted by RAND Corporation found that 95% of primary teachers and 97% of secondary teachers use Google to find teaching resources while 86% of primary teachers and 63% of secondary teachers use Pinterest), it is critical that teachers can easily search for and identify relevant, reliable and high quality resources, ideas and advice.
However, research suggests that the majority of resources shared online, particularly on Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers focus on low-level learning tasks, and do not promote the deep learning and critical thinking our school system aspires to. This is particularly concerning given that research has determined that the quality of curriculum materials and resources used by teachers has a substantial impact on student learning. There is a disjunction therefore, between the most commonly accessed sites for finding teaching materials and the types of pedagogy and learning our education system is espousing.
A second concern raised by The Age story on the teacher Instagram stars sharing photos of their classrooms, is the growing body of evidence suggesting that the way classrooms are decorated impacts on students’ learning. In particular, research shows that heavily decorated classrooms can over-stimulate students with too much visual information, leading to reduced memory and trouble concentrating. However, this is not to say that walls should be bare. Further research suggests that 20-50% of classroom walls should be left bare, and that decorations that include students’ work, visual aids such as charts and maps, and inspiring quotes or pictures of leaders can all support students’ engagement.
At The Education Hub we are thinking a lot about how we can build the mechanisms to validate and vet teacher-made resources in a manner that is sensitive to teachers and their expertise and knowledge. We welcome opportunities to work with teachers who are keen to share their knowledge and resources, and to work with a community of teachers to continuously improve their practice. We urge teachers who are keen to share and learn together to get in touch.