Home > Commentary, Education Policy, Teaching > Challenge Everything

Challenge Everything

Recently Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher) wrote this post which sets out a rather bizarre chain of events that occurred after he wrote a review of Daisy Christodoulou’s (@daisychristo) “Seven Myths about education“.

I won’t recount the events here, if you are interested read Tom’s post, and I won’t discuss the book or the review as I am yet to read said book. It’s on my list, I’m very much looking forward to it and I’m sure I will write about it once I’ve read it.

The reason I mention it is a twitter conversation I saw about the events. Tom was discussing it with Chris Waugh (@edutronic_net). The gist of the discussion was that people shutting down debate and seemingly cynically setting out to silence one side had led to disengagement. Chris then tweeted this:


And this really got me thinking on the whole subject of twitter, blogging and educational research.

Around 18 months ago I was having a conversation about Twitter as CPD with Mark Miller (@GoldfishBowlMM). During the conversation I mentioned I had unfollowed some people because I felt they held views that were diametrically opposed to mine. Mark responded by saying he had thought about doing the same, but had decided to keep following those people. His reasoning was that if you only followed “like minded people” than you were only hearing opinions that reinforce what you believe already and you never test or develop those ideas as they are never challenged. I re followed said people.

This idea of testing and challenging ideas is an important one. Tom Sherrington said at Northern Rocks that if there was no one in his new school challenging his policies and ideas he would appoint someone as a challenger to do just that. We all need to be challenging, where appropriate, things that are put in front of us, but we also all need to be challenging our own ideas.

When I’m researching assignments I find it very easy to find sources that agree with me and use them to pick holes in ones that don’t, but since that conversation with Mark I’ve made a marked effort not to do that. I’ve even ended up changing opinions on some things, and I think that’s healthy. We all need to be in a position where we can accept we’re wrong when we are presented with the evidence.

Debate is a good thing. It was testament to the organisers of both Northern Rocks and ResearchEd York that speakers from both ends of the spectrum were they. The organisers wanted to promote debate, not shut it down. They wanted to help people challenge what’s put in front of them and challenge what they think. We need to be constantly challenging everything. That’s how we grow, how we evolve our practice, refining it. Keeping what works and rejecting what doesn’t. It’s also how we grow as people, and is a mindset we should be instilling in our pupils and our own children.

I think this sums it up quite well:

“I don’t necessarily want you to think like me, I just want you to think” Tait Coles (@totallywired77), Northern Rocks, 7th June 2014.

  1. jillberry102
    November 24, 2015 at 8:50 am

    Only just caught up with this, and I agree with you. I’ve said before that I think I’ve learnt most on Twitter and blogs from people whose views don’t naturally coincide with mine. And changing your mind in the light of evidence/new thinking is definitely a strength, I’d say.

    I often say in my leadership training that the worst thing a leader can do (heads especially) is to surround themselves with people who say yes to everything they say. I was lucky, when a head, that I had a senior team and a PA (and a husband!) who would challenge me – albeit calmly, politely, professionally, and not aggressively in public! (There were a few who would do that, too, but they weren’t my trusted advisers!)

    Re: research, when you say “I find it very easy to find sources that agree with me and use them to pick holes in ones that don’t”, I think that’s very common (sometimes called confirmation bias, and sometimes subjective validity). The important thing is to be aware of it and to challenge yourself. Certainly in my doctoral writing it’s something I’m discussing very openly in the section on researcher reflexivity/positionality.

    Re: the debate about blocking and unfollowing, the only thing I would say is that it isn’t always the disagreement that rankles as much as how it’s expressed and the tone (which can be arrogant/condescending/intimidating) which causes upset – though I’m not saying you’ve been guilty of that! See the post by @viewthrudiffeyes which I reviewed for Schools Week on Friday, and the comments below: http://schoolsweek.co.uk/reviews/jill-berrys-top-blogs-of-the-week-16-november-2016/ I’d be interested in what you think?

    Thanks again.

    • November 24, 2015 at 10:29 am

      Hey Jill,

      Thanks for your comments.

      Re the debate about Twitter and the blog you linked to. It’s is sad to hear these things go on. I’ve seen them occur online, although I’ve not seen many in the educational twittersphere. Unfortunately some people cannot differentiate between a disagreement and a personal attack and take umbridge at disagreement and start to throw barbs. Usually when one side starts to use personal insults the other responds in kind. We should all be able to separate professional opinion from personal feeling. If someone wants to disagree with me about something I’ve written in a constructive way, offering reasons for disagreement and a potential alternative then that’s great. If someone starts insulting me personally and using that and a justification to write off my ideas then that seems wrong.

      Often the tone is an issue- and quite often it’s not even the intended tone, that can be a massive issue in any debate using text as a medium, especially one which is limited to 140 characters.

  1. March 1, 2016 at 9:19 pm

Comments welcome......

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: