In the car that morning, I didn’t give this “Twitter” a second thought. And then my husband - the man who is anti-social media and all things mainstream - announced he was joining.
Since I wasn’t about to be left in the not-so-trendy dust, I joined Twitter that day. I couldn’t figure out why people would post updates about their most recent latte purchase on Twitter, where an infinite number of strangers could see. And who can consistently and accurately sum up their thoughts in 140 characters or less? (Hint: not this gal.) So, I left Twitter as quickly as I joined, giving the platform the “It’s not you, it’s me” breakup. I simply failed to see the purpose.
Fast forward to 2012, when I began teaching in a new school district. I started out my first year there as I do every school year – full of hope and excitement and ready to take on the world.
A few days into the new year, a fellow educator asked if I participated in “#EdChat” and if I “used Twitter” in developing my “PLN.” I’d never heard of #EdChat, nor did I know what a PLN was. She informed me that my PLN is my Personal Learning Network, and that #EdChat is a weekly “chat” that brings educators together on Twitter from all corners of the globe to discuss a selected topic for the week. My interest was piqued.
That night I logged back on to Twitter for the first time in four years. This time I was determined to stick with it. The learning curve was somewhat steep. Through trial and error I learned what hashtags are – words used to identify topic-specific content - and how to use them to discover ideas for lessons, find fellow teachers who teach the same subjects I do, and how to use different apps. I figured out some best practices for engaging other users - how to reply to, retweet (reposting someone else’s message), and favorite tweets that had content I found useful.
In a world where teachers long for professional development that is meaningful to them right now – for this unit of study, or this group of kids, or this pedagogical concept – Twitter has come to fill a void caused by a lack of time, money, and resources. Through Twitter, for example, I learned about EdCamp, an “un-conference” where teachers and other educators gather and create their own professional development around questions they have or skills they’d like to share with others.
“To be a good teacher you need to pull in your network,” one of my graduate school professors used to say. Teachers can’t do our work alone, though we may sometimes feel that way. My professor was referring to fellow teachers in our department or school. Today, in an age of smartphones, Twitter, and ubiquitous wifi, those teachers remain the foundation of a strong network. But educators also have the benefit of our PLN, our network of educators who may not necessarily be in our schools – or towns, or states, or countries. To do well, we need help.
Through Twitter, I found organizations that offer professional development that pertained to what I am doing right now with my students, in my classroom. I found anthropologists working in the field to give my students real-life answers to their questions. I found one of many amazing AP Psychology teachers who offered to share her resources with me. As of today, my relationship with Twitter is as strong as ever. We communicate well and I’ve been forgiven for straying so many years ago. With a quick search using the right hashtag, I’ve found resources that sometimes can’t be found in a one-size-fits-all professional development or, dare I say it, through a Google search. I’ve gotten advice from teachers who have been there and done that as well as ideas from teachers who never have, but have an idea that just might work. So you teach Underwater Basket weaving and can’t find PD to help? Go to Twitter. You’ll find something there.
So how do you do it? How do you set up Twitter and utilize it? Here are five tips:
- Create an account! Make sure to add a profile picture – many people won’t respond or follow you if you look like an egg, Twitter’s default profile picture.
- Search for educators you already know. They may follow others you’ll also want to follow.
- Make time for chats. There is one for almost everything, any day of the week, at any time. Lurk at first, if you’re not comfortable, but when you’re ready, respond to others, ask questions, and know that the people participating want you to succeed and are willing to help.
- Engage in conversation. Follow people, retweet their tweets, and tweet at them. Dialogue is how we grow. So make sure you are tweeting your own thoughts and replying to others as well. People want to hear you.
- Lastly, be yourself and have fun. Make mistakes. Goodness knows I have! We learn, we grow, and so does our PLN.
What are your Twitter tips? Comment below!