Unlocking the Professional Development Power of Twitter

A few years ago, I learned about the incredible community of educators learning together on Twitter (more on that here).  I started up my own Twitter account (for the ‘how to’ on that, look here) and dove in.  Since then, I have been blessed with a constant stream of personalized, free PD that is deeply relevant and meaningful to my journey as an educator.

Tapping into such professional development is quite straight-forward:

  • Find people to follow
    • The starting point for making your Twitter use meaningful for you is to find key people to follow.  Begin by following a few people and see who they are following.
    • Additionally, you can see if they have any “lists” (to do that, go to the person’s profile page and click “lists”) and add people off of those as well.  twitter lists
    • (Lists are just a way for you to group people.  If you make a list, when you click on it, you will get a Twitter feed of tweets that are only from the people in that list. You don’t need to follow people for them to be on your list).
    • The folks on this list are a compilation of a few educators on Twitter in general and a few educators from Alberta and the western provinces.
    • Once you add a few people, Twitter will suggest others to add.  If you hover your mouse over the suggested person, their bio will show.  Use this to find people who share the same learning interests as you, who work in a similar position as you do, or who are experts in an area where you’d like to grow.
    • Remember that who you follow and how many people you follow is just one of the ways that you can customize your learning.  Whether you add many people representing broad interests or a few people with aligned interests is up to you.
    •  (When adding people, you might also want to see if their latest tweets are recent.  Some Twitter accounts are very active and some are hardly used).
  • Find hashtags of interest
    • Hashtags are a fantastic way to customize your learning on Twitter.  What are your interests?  Find the correlating hashtags and type them into your search box.  This will take you to a new Twitter feed of tweets that relates to that topic. (It’s also a great idea to go to the hashtags of your interest areas and follow the people who use those hashtags.)
    • You can’t “follow” a hashtag and make it show in your newsfeed.  They are something for you to keep in mind and search up whenever you want to learn about a specific topic.  They are also good to know so that you can use them in your tweets, so that people with similar interests can find your contributions.
    • Hashtags are not Twitter accounts.  Anything can be turned into a hashtag, thus instantly becoming a link for tweets on that topic.  Because of this, there are endless possibilities of hashtags to follow.  There are documents with gigantic lists of recommended hashtags for educators, but that’s a bit misleading since anything can be hashtagged.  The best way to find the hashtags that interest you is trial and error.  Take any topic, stick the hashtag symbol in front of it, put it in the search box and see what comes up!
    • If that’s too ambiguous for you and you’d like a few recommendations to get started, here are a few of my favourites:
      •  #edchat – ignore the “chat” part of this title (I’ll explain that further down), but know that this is a great meeting place for many prominent educators on Twitter.  I highly recommend keeping an eye on the information that flows through this stream.
      • #tlap – this is an acronym for “Teach Like a Pirate” – a book by Dave Burgess (If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favour and read it.)  This stream is the place to go for ideas for jazzing up lessons and turning learning into an experience.  Questions such as “Would students come to your class if they had a choice?” are pertinent here.  It is a treasure chest of ideas for increasing student engagement and interest in learning.  Even if you think you have to teach the most boring, obscure lesson ever, you’ll be sure to get some useable ideas here!
      • #growthmindset – this is based on the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck (another very worthwhile read).  Here you’ll find ways to encourage students, teachers and parents to rethink the way that we define success and failure.  Growth mindset means that mistakes are accepted as a natural and necessary part of learning, rather than as failure.  It also is a recognition of the fact that we all have the capacity to learn and grow.  Certain areas of study will be more difficult for some people than others, but we still all have the capacity to improve. (I’m totally oversimplifying, here.  Did I mention that it’s a book worth reading?)
      • #ffcaedu – this is the hashtag for the school system where I work.  While this specific stream isn’t likely to be particularly meaningful for you, your own school authority undoubtedly has a hashtag that’s already in use.  Find some educators from your school district and see what hashtag they’re using.
      • #abed – this is the hashtag for Alberta Education.  Again, unless you live in Alberta or the western provinces, it’s probably not of great interest to you, but your province or state likely has its own education hashtag too.  Check out the accounts for some prominent educators in your area and see what local hashtags they’re using.
      • #yyc – this is the hashtag for Calgary.  Your city will have a hashtag in use as well.  While this one isn’t directly related to education, let me remind you that one of the lovely features of Twitter is that it’s customizable.  If you would like to use your Twitter account for more than just purely education-related content, your city feed is a great place to look.  (Of course you could definitely use this hashtag in your posts about your school as well!)
    • I could go on and on about hashtags but with a little exploration you’ll be sure to find your own!  If you still feel that you need a list to consult, here are a few decent ones (but keep in mind, there’s no limit to hashtags – anything and everything can be one!): Teach Thought’s hashtags or Cybrary Man’s hashtags.
  • Participate (or at least lurk) in some Twitter chats
    • Twitter chats are whole other dimension of Twitter.  They are a group of educators who meet at an agreed upon time to discuss a specific topic through Twitter.  The duration of the chat is typically one hour.
    • Chats always centre around a particular hashtag.  Often, but not always, chat hashtags will have the word “chat” in the hashtag (eg: #satchatwc)
    • Chats are usually once a week.  During the remainder of the week, people might continue to interact about that topic, using that hashtag, but not in chat format.
    • To find out what chats happen when, use this document (there are a few other such documents out there, but this one is consistently the most comprehensive one).
    • Chats always have at least one moderator.  This is the person who is running the chat.  The moderator usually identifies himself/herself on the chat hashtag just as the chat begins (and often in the half hour or so leading up to the chat as well).
    • Many people use external sites (like Tweetdeck) to manage chats but it can totally be done through Twitter as well.
    • To lurk (follow but not participate) in a chat, open a couple of Internet tabs.  On one tab, follow the hashtag for the chat, and on the other follow the moderator.  (For the hashtag tab, be sure that your screen is set on “live” rather than “top” so that you see all of the tweets).twitter live
    • If you’re participating in the chat, open a few additional tabs.  I recommend having one open for notifications and one for your own profile, in addition to the previously mentioned hashtag and moderator tabs.
    • Begin reading in the tab with the hashtag for the chat and keep the other tabs handy for quick checks as necessary.
    • The moderator will usually begin by asking people to identify themselves.  This gives an idea of who you are speaking with and how many people are participating in the chat.
    • Some chats will have just a handful of people participate, while others will have hundreds.  The speed of the chat is proportionate to how many people are participating.
    • After a few (usually five) minutes, the moderator will pose a question. (This is why you have a tab open for the moderator.  If you get lost in the chat and can’t find the question, rather than scrolling down through hundreds of tweets, go to the moderator’s page).
    • The tweet with the question will begin with “Q1” for question 1.  Subsequent questions will follow the same format.
    • People will begin answering the questions.  All answers will being with “A1” and so on for subsequent questions.
    • Be sure that you don’t begin your answer with “Q”.  People’s brains are trained to hone in on the “Q” tweets, which should only contain the question.  Regardless, it seems that most of us accidentally begin a few answers with “Q” when we begin.  No biggie – people will extend lots of grace.  Just be aware of it and try to remember to use “A”.
    • People’s answers will start flooding the hashtag’s stream.  If it’s a large chat, you won’t be able to read them all.  Just read what you can, and when you find a tweet that raises a question or comment, interact with that person.
    • Be sure to include the hashtag for the chat on every single tweet that is related to the chat.  So, even if you are responding to someone directly as a result of the chat, include the hashtag.  This ensures that it comes through the feed and allows other people to jump in on the discussion as well.  Often additional people will join in and add to a conversation that was initiated between two people.
    • If it’s a decent sized chat, the hour will fly by and will feel like a matter of minutes, and you’ll feel overstimulated, inspired, and encouraged by the end of it.
    • Chats can be intimidating, but the participants are very gracious.  If you’re confused about the actual process of the chat, just tweet out a question (be sure to use the chat hashtag) and you’ll get a quick reply.
    • The learning potential from Twitter chats is unbelievable.  They are an amazing way to connect with other educators and to engage in deeply meaningful learning.  Whether you prefer theoretical or practical learning, or a mix of both, you’re sure to be able to find the learning you love and a community of people who love it just as much as you do.
  • Finding Twitter Chats to Join:
    • In case you missed it above, this document is the resource to use to find a chat that interests you.
    • Some of the chats that I enjoy are:
      • #satchatwc – Saturday Chat West Coast.  There’s an earlier “#satchat” version as well, but given the time zone difference, I’d have to be up way too early for my liking to participate in that one.  Both chats are very similar, however.  They centre around a variety of education-related topics but they’ve always been topics that I find to be very meaningful and they’re always well-organized chats with many participants.
      • #sblchat – this is a chat about standards-based learning (sometimes referred to as outcomes-based grading, or similar terms).  Assessment is an area of professional interest for me, so the content of this chat is something that I really appreciate.  What stunned me the first few times I participated in this chat is that some of the biggest names in assessment research participate in this chat.  People whose work I had been reading for years were suddenly interacting with me one-on-one – very exciting!
      • #tlap – this is the “Teach Like a Pirate” hashtag that I mentioned earlier.  Unfortunately, I have other commitments at the time that this chat runs, however, since one of the wonderful things about Twitter is that it’s customizable, I can go back to the stream after the chat is done and still read the content that was generated from the chat.
      • #colchat – Culture of Learning chat.  This is another one that I am not often able to participate in live, but I appreciate the content and join the chat when I can.  This one is about things that we can do to improve the culture of our classrooms/schools/districts so that learning can happen more readily.  The moderators of this chat are putting the finishing touches on a book that they’ve written based on the content that’s been generated from these chats.

In summary of my now rather-lengthy post (sorry!), to get started with using Twitter for professional development: follow people, find hashtags, and join chats.  You can spend as much or as little time on Twitter as you like, but the learning is always available, it’s always customizable, and it’s always free.

Happy learning!

Beginner Basics for Twitter

Previously, I’ve shared my rationale for joining Twitter.  If you’re interested in joining the world of Twitter but need some guidance for the beginning steps, read on:

Opening an Account:twitter home page

  1. Go to Twitter.com and sign up.
  2. You will be asked to choose a username, which will become your “twitter handle”.  When people want to respond to you via Twitter, they will use your handle.  Any tweet (including handles) must not exceed 140 characters, so ensure that your handle isn’t too long.
  3. When twitter eggyou sign up, by default you will have an egg as your profile picture.  The egg tends to be indicative of accounts that are rarely used, so change your picture to something…anything.
  4. Provide some biographical information in your profile description to help connect with people with similar jobs or interests.  twitter bio
  5. The first few tweets are the most nerve-wracking.  Send out a few to try it out.
  6. Find some people to follow.  After following them, their tweets will show up in your “Twitter feed” (to find your feed, press the “home” icon on the Twitter website).  This is your live feed of tweets from anyone you follow.twitter feed

How to Read a Tweet

  • Twitter handles:
    •  As was mentioned above, the @ and the characters immediately following it is a Twitter handle.
    • Clicking on it will take you to that person’s page, where you can view all of their tweets.
    • Including someone’s handle in your tweet will cause them to be notified of your tweet and will put the tweet into their notifications.  In the tweet below, by putting Shelley Burgess’ handle in, I was able to ensure that she would see that particular tweet.

  • Hashtags
    • Twitter uses hashtags (the # sign and the characters that immediately follow) to collate data.
    • This is similar to a Twitter feed but it is specific to a certain topic.  Unlike your Twitter feed, here you are able to see tweets of people who you do not follow.
    • If you would like to ensure that people who are interested in a particular topic see your tweet, include a pertinent hashtag.  I wanted to share my tweet below with people who were interested in neuroscience, so I included #neuroscience.  Anyone can look up #neuroscience and this tweet will show up, even if they don’t follow me.

  • Links
    • Note that hyperlinks often look different on Twitter than they do elsewhere.  This is because of the 140 character limit.  Sometimes the link has been condensed using a URL shortener.  These look something like this: http://goo.gl/YDeezH.
    • Links that have been condensed by a URL shortener are becoming much more rare because Twitter will now automatically shorten links.  If you put in the full URL of a site, Twitter will only show the beginning of the website and the rest is cut off, like this alamocity.citymomsblog.com/2015/08/20/dea…

Really, the best way to learn how Twitter works is to start using it.  Set up an account, follow some people, and then click on the links and explore.  A whole world of information is waiting to be discovered!

To Tweet or Not to Tweet: There is no question

About a year and a half ago I attended a professional development day with a session on Twitter.  I was rather incredulous that such a session would be considered worthy of my time, but to enable myself to scoff and ridicule in a more informed manner, I decided to attend the session.  Educators are busy people and social media can be very time consuming – what benefit could there possibly be in following celebrities and seeing pictures of their breakfast each day?  I was about to learn that Twitter could be used for more than celebrity gossip.  Little did I know that my professional world was going to be radically affected by my decision to attend this session.

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Why I Appreciate Twitter

Educators have really done a spectacular job of creating a sub culture and community on Twitter.  When utilized as a network tool among educators and others with a vested interest in education, it has the capacity to profoundly impact and improve one’s practice.  Here are some of the reasons why I fell in love with Twitter:

Personalized Learning: Twitter is easy to manipulate so that your learning is personalized to your passions, strengths, and weaknesses.  Find and follow people who excel where you don’t, and learn from them.  Offer your insight to people who need it.  Follow your passions and grow with others who are just as passionate about the same topics.

Vetted Suggestions: People don’t typically become passionate about things that they haven’t tried.  Most of the ideas that flow through the pages of educators on Twitter are things that have been successful.  They have been revised and tweaked and are practical, useable, and worthy of consideration.

Accessibility to ‘Gurus’: It took me multiple days to stop flying high after my first Twitter chat.  I was dumbfounded.  These education ‘greats’, whose works I had read, who had greatly inspired my practice, and who I hoped to be so fortunate as to meet one day, had just sat down and chatted with me – directly – through an organized Twitter chat.  Questions that I had after reading their books or roadblocks I was encountering with applying their theory – all of that could be addressed with them personally.

Portion Control: We’ve more than likely all been in a professional development situation where we reached our saturation point but the conference or session was still in full swing.  On the contrary, it’s not uncommon to attend some form of professional development feeling like it was just enough to get you interested but then drew to a close and left you hanging.  Twitter is adjustable to your own learning needs.  If you’re the kind of person who needs to take one idea at a time and let it percolate for a while before moving on, no problem.  If you prefer to feel like you’re drinking from a hydrant and fully immerse yourself, there’s more than enough content available for that, too.  Similarly, learning on Twitter is on demand.  Learn anytime, anywhere.  It’s incredibly convenient.

Fresh Perspective: One of my colleagues comments on the risks of incestuous professional learning.  When most of our own professional learning happens within our own four walls, or even within the parameters of our school district, we can get locked into circular thinking.  Twitter blasts through all of that.  Interact with people in every type of school imaginable, in a myriad of education-related positions, and in locations across the globe.  You’re certainly not going to agree with everyone, but that’s wonderful: expand your thinking, learn to better justify why you stand by your practices, and call into question some of your practices that might need re-examination.

Budget friendly: Professional learning is expensive!  Conferences quickly add up with costs incurred from travel, lodging, meals, and substitute coverage, not to mention the cost of the conference itself.  I’ve often come away from an hour on Twitter with more useable, practical, personally relevant learning than I could ever hope to glean in a day or weekend of traditional seminars.  The fact that there is endless, meaningful learning available completely free of charge is not something to overlook.

Twitter has been great in terms of inspiring confidence in me.  It has validated not only my thoughts and contributions to discussions, but it has also validated my struggles.  To know that someone else, somewhere, is struggling with the same thing as you is comforting.  It’s also comforting to know that there are people who are able and willing to coach you through the struggle and walk the journey alongside you.

My venture into Twitter was also very timely.  I had come to a place where I was, for a variety of reasons, feeling disillusioned with education.  My interactions on Twitter renewed my hope in the pillar of education and breathed new life into my passions in education.  My online learnings have snowballed into much more self-directed study and I am now much better equipped with knowledge of how to fuel my passions.

A year and a half ago, when I attended the Twitter session with the intent of harshly criticizing it, I quickly learned that I had no idea that this world of professional learning was happening.  There was a wealth of learning available and I wasn’t in on it.  I suddenly felt like I was missing out – and I was!  I was missing out on more than I could ever know so I jumped in, hit the road running and haven’t stopped since.