My interview with Tessy Britton of Thriving

Jan 22, 2009

Miles Berry

Tessy Britton interviewed me about my own and my school’s use of social media for the thriving too blog. The original is published under a CC by-nc-nd licence at

Miles Berry is the Head of Alton Convent Prep School in Hampshire.  Miles is one of very few Headteachers who is currently using social media, keeping his own blog and communicating on Twitter. He has kindly agreed to be interviewed for the Thriving Too blog…</p>

Tessy Blogging and using social media seems like a bold step for a Head to make… why do you think so few Headteachers are blogging?</p>


Miles – Well, there are a few of us, but I’ll admit it’s something of a minority interest at the moment. I never saw it as a bold step myself, as I’d started blogging before taking on my present role.

As to why there aren’t more of us, in part, it’s a time thing – there are plenty of occasions during the school year when work seems to take over almost every waking moment, and then the blogging and engagement with the broader educational community have to take a back seat.  There’s also, I suspect, a generational thing, in that it’s only now that Tapscott’s N-Geners are moving into headship.

More cynically, it’s possible that new heads’ previous experience of social networks via NCSL’s talk2learn system has failed to fire their enthusiasm, but things are changing at NCSL, with a new system coming soon.

Another issue is that of the head’s persona as somehow representing the school, and I can imagine some of my fellow heads being reluctant to share too much of their personal views and experiences online.

Tessy I certainly see that last point being a important reason.  You are very interested in technology in schools and education, are you using the blog and Twitter to keep connected with other people working in education and technology, or are you also using them as communication tools within the school community more widely?

Miles My own blog and most of my tweets tend to focus on the use of technology in education, and I’d say over half of my ‘personal learning network’ are people in the ed. tech. world; for me, this is the area in which I feel I can contribute most to the world of education beyond my own school.

The other side of this though is the school’s own website, which I built using the open source content management system Drupal. This  has a lot of blog-like features, such as reverse chronological ordering on the front page, RSS feeds and tags, although we’ve not enabled comments yet. The tag system also creates department blogs automatically, and we have an RSS feed from the website into the virtual learning environment (VLE), so our students are kept up to date about what’s happening elsewhere in the school.

My ‘Dear Parents’ letters are included here along with match reports, write-ups of visits and highlighted work form our students.

Tessy Have you had any response from parents?

Miles To the school website, yes; very favourable ones – we average around 200 hits a day in term time, with really positive feedback from present and prospective parents as well as our own students. Occasionally I hear about some of my pupils finding things I’ve written online, but I’m not aware of any of our parents who regularly read my blog or follow me on Twitter, although I do have a number of blogging and tweeting colleagues now.

Tessy Do you think other Headteachers should be encouraged to blog?

Miles Professionally, there’s much to be said for the Head’s Blog as a successor to letters home, and it would be great to see more heads doing this through their school websites. Reflection on practice and connections with others outside the sometimes insular world of British schools certainly ought to be part of every teacher’s or school leader’s professional development, and blogging is a great way to do this in a less formal, more organic way than traditionally accredited courses.

Tessy Are you encouraging the use of social media tools with your students?

Miles Absolutely. We use the open source software Elgg to host our own social networking platform inside the school network but accessible form home, and create accounts on this for all our Year 6 students. We spend a term using this as a medium for their writing, both in lessons and outside of school – a kind of digital ‘show and tell’.

This lets us cover a lot of the e-safety groundwork, as well as nudging children towards collaboration and creativity rather than just the communication and consumption of culture that tends to characterize their use of the Internet outside school.

Our VLE, Moodle, also includes a number of social media features, and we’re keen to use this as a way of extending the learning community into the home, through discussions and wikis, rather than just delivering resources and quizzes.

My brilliant network manager is now running a ‘digital arts’ club for the prep school pupils, with some great podcasting being done; we make extensive use of Wikipedia; we don’t filter out YouTube at the moment; and we use Flickr’s creative commons search extensively for presentations and the like.

Tessy Do you think social media tools could potentially be used to build trust, openness and contribution within the school community?

Miles The trust, openness and sense of contribution come first, in my experience. Having a culture of collaboration and an emphasis on the classroom and school as learning community mean that social technology can be introduced without undue concern on its being abused.

The technology does help to build-up and extend these qualities outside of the classroom. However, simply introducing the tools won’t suddenly transform a hierarchical, assessment-led institution into a vibrant learning community.

Tessy Thank you so much Miles for giving us such valuable and important insights into yours and your school’s approach to these complex issues, which all schools are trying to address.  I hope that your innovative work will show other schools a balanced path between safety and maximising the learning, communication and collaborative opportunities enabled by the internet.