Nature of inspiration Twitter as CPD

I strongly suspect that you have had moments of experience that I would call “inspiring”. We all recall the power of some TED talks, conversations with mentors, peers, likeminded, friends, online or offline. Moments that have filled/fueled us with a kind of warmth. Moments that move us, “providing a kind of psychological or spiritual sustenance” (Hart, 2000, p. 1).

Although we all know these moments of inspiration, the experience of inspiration itself has received little theoretical or empirical attention within psychology (Thrash & Elliott, 2003). And in the context of education and CPD, inspiration has not been mentioned often as a starting point for sustainable professional development of teachers. For example, in the work of Day & Sachs (2004), there is not one index entry on “inspiration”. Korthagen (2012) makes reference to inspiration in the context of personal character strengths but does not approach inspiration itself as a psychological construct for professional development. Thrash & Elliot (2003) on the other hand have done research on inspiration as a psychological and phenomenon-based construct, and they have offered a conceptualization of inspiration, characterized by evocation, motivation and transcendence.

But what is inspiration exactly?

“In its literal sense, inspiration refers to the process of breathing in or inhaling, but it is the figurative sense that is relevant to psychology” [and education]. (Thrash & Elliot, 2003, p.1)

Logically, in the context of my research the participants did not make reference of inspiration as the process of breathing in and out. Neither did they perceive the experience of inspiration from a religious point of view. In ancient Greek times inspiration implied being possessed by a god or having a god in oneself. In “ancient inspired creativity the Muse are described as whispering, breathing or singing into the recipient, providing the source for music, poetry and so forth.”  (Hart, 2000, p.2).

In the context of this case study the word inspiration does not address issues relating to religion. Rather, inspiration is

“an infusion of some idea, purpose etc. into the mind: the suggestion, awakening or creation of some feeling or impulse, especially of an exalted kind” (general definition of OED; Simpson & Weiner, 1989 as cited in Thrash & Elliot, 2003, p.1).

In the context of this case-study I argue that professionally developing through Twitter can be considered as an inspirational activity of being inspired to know. One that is “distinctly different from the kind of knowing characteristics of the typical normal waking state which is dominated by constant internal dialogue in the form of object-subject thinking.” (Hart, 2000, p.1)

For further reading on these matters, I refer to the already cited works of Thrash & Elliot (2003), and Hart (2000). But I summarise their outcomes because a number of emerging categories are clearly linked to the work of these authors. The data is grounded in this notion of inspiration and I will link concepts of inspiration to the data in the following chapters.

Summary of Hart (2000, pp. 4 - 15)

There are four general phenomenlogical characteristics that help to identify and define inspiration: contact and connection, openness, clarity, energy.

A kind of direct contact and connection occurs in the moment of inspiration. This is accompanied by a shift in a sense of self-separetedness. Inspiration as a moment of being overwhelmed. Contact is not reserved to great beauty but also small moments (or even tweets) can be described as moments of inspiration. “Where conventional thinking and perception is often maintained by a belief in objectivism and manifest in the perceived separation between objects, inspiration breaks through those distinctions.” (p.7)

Inspiration is experienced as an “opening, as an availability and receptivity which occurred quite unexpectedy and spontaneously for some.” (p.7) There is a sense that inspiration is an “opening to awareness, a state of knowing and being that has been there all along” (p.10). A kind of illumination.

As people are in this open state, they experience a feeling of sensory clarity. Seeing a kind of “hidden layer of reality” (Hart, 2000, p.12). This state might be called emotional-cognitive (Hart, 2000). Where the scientific community generally assumed hierarchy in the relationship between emotion and cognition, “recent evidence and argument suggests that this interplay might be quite different.” (Hart, 2000, p.12) As participants suggested, Twitter enhances their broad view on education that goes beyond everyday practice, resulting in a sense of clarity towards their entire educational practice.

“The emotional change was not merely feeling better but was an immediate and powerful shift commonly described as ‘joy, excitement, enthusiasm, being at peace’.” (Hart, 2000, p. 14). Moments of inspiration lead to emotional and physical energy.

Summary of Thrash & Elliot (2003, pp. 871-887)

These authors have argued that the field of psychology has not given adequate attention to inspiration. Through their research they have offered a conceptualization of inspiration and they have validated inspiration as a psychological construct characterized by evocation, motivation and transcendence. “Inspiration implies motivation, which is to say that it involves the energization and direction of behavior; inspiration is evoked rather than initiated directly through an act of will or arising without apparent cause; and inspiration involves transcendence of the ordinary preoccupations or limitations of human agency.

They use the term trigger to refer to a stimulus object that evokes inspiration (f.i. a person, an idea, or a tweet), and to a target to “refer to the object toward which the resulting motivation is directed (f.i. a possible self, personal goal or creative product).” (Thrash & Elliot, 2003, p. 871)

Their research has lead to a number of relevant antecedents and consequences of inspiration. All categories emerged both as antecedent and as consequence which refers to the moving and dynamic character of inspiration as a psychological construct. Relevant categories in the context of my case-study are:

  • openness to experience (receptiveness to evocative influences),
  • work mastery (inspiration has an enduring impact on motivation and focus),
  • positive emotionality (positive affect was inspiration’s strongest correlate)
  • and transcendence (the capacity to engage with a bigger whole).

They conclude with “inspiration thus stands as an important empirical construct in its own right, worthy of serious attention within mainstream psychology.” (Thrash & Elliot, 2003, p. 886)

> Now that you're acquainted with the core category 'inspiration', read further on the first characteristic of inspiration: Work Mastery