“We all know that education budgets are getting cut more and more, and that meaningful professional development opportunities have unfortunately become a bit of an oxymoron in education. Not only can being a “connected educator” help change that, but it can also provide you with ongoing inspiration and support. I’d even go as far to argue that being connected will be the most impactful thing you can do in your career.” Elana Leoni, blogger for Edutopia.
I will even go far enough to say that becoming a connected educator is a Teacher Superpower!
While I can come up with pretty new and innovative ideas while planning inside my classroom, I can gain so much more from sharing my ideas, collecting ideas on Twitter (known jokingly as #ideabandits), and connecting with other educators to collaborate about even more inspiring ideas. This movement of becoming a connected educator is known as creating a Professional (or Personal) Learning Network, known as a PLN. I wholeheartedly believe that joining fellow educators on Twitter will impact you and your classroom more than you think. Just try it. What do you have to lose?
Here is how:
Get yourself logged onto Twitter and sign up for an account using your computer, iPad, or smartphone. It is really easy. You need to pick a Twitter handle. This will look like @____________. For example, I am known in the Twitter world as @AppEducationFox. If your whole name is no longer available, as in my case (@JoAnnFox was already in use) then feel free to get creative with your handle. A lot of educators add “edu” to their handle. So I could have chosen @FoxEdu. Try not to have a super long handle like mine since Twitter only allows you to use 140 characters in a tweet. You may be stuck at this step for some time, but keep at it! If you already have a twitter account that you made in college and you no longer like that handle, you can simply go into your settings and change your username! It’s easy as pie.
Next step is to add an image of yourself. You don’t want to be an egghead.
Last, add a bio. This step is important since you want others to know that you are on Twitter for the sole purpose to connect with other educators. Add a little bit about yourself like what grade level you teach and what your special interests in teaching are.
Here is an example of my bio. You can see that I also added a header photo. You can do that as well but that is not as important.
One last thing. You can make your Twitter account private so you have to approve everyone who follows you. If you want to do that, that is fine. However, I keep my profile public and here is why. The whole purpose for me to be on Twitter is not to share what my children are doing at the beach or to post pictures of my dinner. I am on Twitter with one goal: to connect with fellow educators and to continue my journey of being a life long learner of the teaching profession. If my purpose is to connect with educators, for me having my profile public is the best way for me to accomplish my goal.
Find other educators to follow! I have curated a list of teachers who inspire me on Twitter. If you follow this link you can begin following these amazing educators as well. This is a great start. Once you start following others, they will begin to follow you back, especially if you are not an “egghead” (have a picture of yourself) and you have included a bio.
Start watching your Twitter feed. This is also known as lurking and this is perfectly acceptable in the beginning. Those who you follow will be tweeting out links to articles, photos of their classrooms, or quoting speakers at educational conferences. If you find a tweet with a great link you can “retweet” that person’s tweet. This basically means you just resend that exact same tweet to those who follow you but it adds the original tweeter’s name to the tweet. You can also “favorite” a tweet if you like what someone said. This is similar to “liking” something on Facebook. And when you feel really comfortable, you can begin to reply to tweets. So if someone tweets something, you can “reply” to that tweet so you are speaking directly to that person. Remember, whatever is posted on Twitter is public.
If you happen to read a really wonderful article online, then you can be the one to Tweet that article to your followers. This where you give back to all those weeks of lurking. Now you are really using Twitter to not only gather new information, but to share it as well. Usually when you are reading an online article, there will be a Twitter link at the bottom of the article for you to share what you just read. At this point you may have your followers retweeting you, favoriting your link, or even replying to your tweet.
The Power is in the Hashtag!
This is perhaps THE most important part of using Twitter for professional development. The power is truly in the hashtag. Basically the hashtag is the pound symbol followed by words without spaces. For example, #thepowerisinthehashtag. Twitter created the hashtag as a way to categorize tweets and make them searchable. Now let me explain the hashtag a bit better. There are four main purposes for the hashtag.
- Educational Categories: When I am tweeting about a great app that I use in the classroom, I usually follow my tweet with the hashtag #iosedapp. Many people in education use this hashtag to share apps. So if I want to find all the tweets about this I can go into the search window in Twitter and type #iosedapp, then select “all” and I can see all the tweets on Twitter with this tag. There are MANY educational hashtags out there and I highly recommend visiting @cybraryman1’s website here. He has a list of all of them!
Just for Fun: Sometimes people use the hashtag as a sort of a joke or just to be silly or witty. Here are some examples of “just for fun” tags: #EduAwesome, #EduWin, #SaidNoTeacherEver.
Hashtags for Conferences: If you attend an educational conference there will usually be an official conference hashtag. For example, if you attended the ISTE conference people were using the tag #iste13. The tag was used to share what people were learning. But the truly amazing thing about conference hashtags is their tweets not only share with others at the conference, but are share with those who are not at the conference and using Twitter to follow the tag feed. While I was not at #iste13 you can bet I was following the tag from my home throughout the duration of the conference. If you happen to be at a conference that has not created an official tag, be the one to create one and share with others the power of Twitter.
Educational Chats (known as Edchats): On any given day, at any given time, you will see some educational chat trending on Twitter. I kid you not! An edchat is a group of educators meeting on a certain day, at a certain time, to discuss educational issues. For example, every Sunday at 8pm Pacific Standard Time California educators collaborate using the hashtag #caedchat. Again, @cybrayman1 has a webpage with a schedule of all the Twitter chats. You do not need to be invited to join these chats. If you have an interest in the chat, then feel free to join!
Edchats always have a specific topic. For example, the #caedchat on July 17 is about student blogging. Edchats have moderators who lead the discussion (and I will be a moderator for #caedchat’s topic about student blogging). The moderators pose questions with their tweets. Here is what a moderator question could look like.
Q1 How has student blogging impacted your students’ writing success? #caedchat.
Notice the question begins with Q1. This means “question 1.” Also, notice following the question is the #caedchat tag. Every single tweet in an edchat MUST have the chat’s tag in it. The questions will stay live for about 5 mintues as everyone in the chat replies to the question posted. After about 5 minutes, the moderators will post another questions, this time beginning their tweet with “Q2.” And so on and so forth.
The next step in an edchat is that anyone participating in the chat can answer the question. Yes! That means you! The answer tweet should look like this:
A1 When students blog, they have a better understanding of audience. #caedchat.
The answer always begins with A1, A2, A3, etc. (depending on which question you are answering). This keeps the chat organized. You can also tweet links to blogs and articles in your answers if they pertain to the topic. Don’t forget to always follow your tweet with the edchat hashtag. In this example, I ended the tweet with #caedchat.
When I am in a Twitter chat, I prefer to use a Twitter client. I was using Tweetchat.com regularly up until about a month ago when it started to not work consistently. What I liked about Tweetchat was that it automatically added the hashtag to the end of my tweet. What I didn’t like was how fast the Twitter feed moved. It was hard for me to keep up with the conversation, especially in a big chat like #caedchat. It works much better in a small chat like #4thchat.
I am now using TweetDeck. During a large Twitter chat like #caedchat I can have two columns opened for #caedchat. One that I allow to keep in time with the conversation, and one that I keep slower so I can attempt to read all of the tweets for the chat. Jerry Blumengarten (@cybraryman1) also suggests to have a column open just for the moderators. If you use this client, you have to remember to add the tag yourself at the end of your tweets. I just usually copy and past the tag in every time.
If this all sounds like too much, you can just use the Twitter webpage. In the search window, search your chat and be sure to click on “all” so you can see all the tweets in the chat.
My favorite thing about edchats is making new connections with teachers. If you participate in an edchat, be sure to follow your new #edubuddies.
Here is a video I made about how to participate in #caedchat:
You now have the power in your hands. Using Twitter for professional development is dependent entirely on you. If you just visit every now and then, your learning will be minimal. If you make connections, participate in edchats, find colleagues in your area willing to meet with you for a #CoffeeCue, and begin to add to the steady flow of educational discussions you will certainly be a changed educator forever.