The Case for Teachers on Twitter

Educators are learners first.

woman holding iPhone during daytime
Photo by Paul Hanoka on Unsplash

“I don’t care about Twitter, and I’ll never go on Twitter,” I heard an educator say last year.

I understand this position. From the outside, Twitter may just seem like more noise, more distraction, more nonsense that doesn’t really add anything to our lives or professional growth.

I’ll also be the first to agree that as busy professionals and leaders of families, we need to be intentional and discriminating with our time. Meaningless scrolling and shallow engagement doesn’t and shouldn’t make the cut.

But what IF Twitter can serve a valuable role in our professional growth and development? What IF Twitter can add to our lives without consuming much time?

Educators Are Learners First

In my view, the case for teachers on Twitter begins with the idea that educators are learners first. The principles of learning that we believe in for our students apply just as much to our learning and growth as they do to theirs. If we’re hungry to learn and grow, it’s wise to build an active Professional Learning Network and engage.

Twitter isn’t the only place to build a professional learning network. But it’s an awesome place to start.

The Learning Activities of a Twitter PLN

1. Collaboration.

Just like our students, education professionals learn best when they learn together. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. When you have a question or you’re feeling stuck in a challenging situation, chances are your Twitter PLN will be able to offer suggestions and resources.

2. Communication.

As David Guerin once wrote, “Whoever is doing the talking is doing the learning.” When we write, read, and respond to professional conversation, we’re more engaged. We’re tuned in. We can’t help but learn. And the inverse is also true.

3. Metacognition.

We also learn when we take the time to thoughtfully reflect on our journey. By answering questions like What am I learning, Where am I going, and How will I get there, we gain awareness and greater intentionality about our own learning path. I treat Twitter as a journal, especially when I’m trying a new project or attending an education conference. You too can use Twitter to archive and preserve your own learning reflections for future reference.

4. Visible Learning.

When we make our learning visible, we benefit from feedback, and others learn from our stories. And we can make the learning of others visible, too. When asked why he uses Twitter, principal Chris Chappotin used the word “showcase.” Administrators are especially well-positioned to play this role in their buildings, since they can be in more classrooms and contexts than teachers.

5. Inspiration.

Whether it’s a lesson idea, helpful resource, or a word of encouragement, my edu-Twitter feed is an overwhelmingly positive space. Think of it as constant connection with a cloud of education leaders and mentors. It’s phenomenal.

6. Professional Relationships.

When we engage in professional conversations, we meet others in similar fields and spaces. Twitter is a wonderful place to connect with education leaders and authors, too. It’s as easy as reaching out.

5 Ways to Increase Engagement on Twitter

I believe the number one reason that so many educators try Twitter and then ignore the platform is lack of engagement. Maybe it took them forever to work up the nerve to finally tweet something pithy or valuable, but it’s only crickets in response.

What a waste of time, right?

It doesn’t need to be. By following these five simple strategies, you’ll increase engagement and gain more value from your time on this platform.

1. Use relevant hashtags whenever possible.

If you’re new to the platform, you may regard hashtags as little more than cute decorations. But for many users (including me), hashtags can be a great way to dig deeper into a topic. Think of hashtags as rooms. Whenever you use a hashtag, you’re putting your tweet in that room for others to find. Whether it’s #growthmindset, #goinggradeless, or #formativeassessment, tag your posts so that others can find them topically. With a little Googling, you’ll find the best hashtags to use for your context and areas of work.

2. Tag others whenever appropriate or relevant.

If and when you’re sharing ideas or resources that relate to someone else’s work or area of interest, you’re doing them a service by tagging them. Educators usually like thoughtful tags — especially if it’s an endorsement, shoutout, suggestion, or recommendation aimed specifically at them. I always like being tagged by colleagues in my building, because otherwise I might miss their tweets. And authors usually appreciate being tagged in quotes from their work, because you’re helping to share their message. Again, keep it genuine. But don’t be afraid to connect.

3. Use relevant images, GIFs, and videos.

Make your tweets stand out and get noticed by adding relevant media. Again, this isn’t purely an attention game, but it is about building the kind of engagement on the platform that makes activity worthwhile. You have to be seen to be heard, especially as you get started.

4. Engage in Twitter chats.

There’s absolutely no better way to build connections with other educators than by engaging in real-time Twitter chats. Not sure where to start? Try the weekly #TLAP (Teach Like a Pirate) chat, one of the largest to take place on the platform each week. Or, next time you’re at a large conference, tweet the highlights from your learning at the conference hashtag.

5. Keep it education-only.

Make a point of only following educators, which generally keeps your feed on track with education. It’s incredibly easy to switch between Twitter accounts quickly, so I have my faith, sports, and politics conversations elsewhere. If you’re still not convinced, here are 5 Reasons to Niche Down on Twitter.

The point is, if you follow @RealDonaldTrump, @Yankees, @Netflix, and the like, your feed will get noisy, distracting, and unproductive. My advice? Keep it strictly on education.

A Simple Formula for Getting Started

There’s no time like the present to use Twitter to develop your professional learning. Once you’ve created a Twitter account, how can you go about building a professional learning network? Here are some practical steps.

  1. Start with at least one tweet a day.
  2. Share questions you’re wrestling with, ideas from your learning, or inspiring quotes from your reading.
  3. Use one or more relevant hashtags (like #MSed for middle school education).
  4. Use one or more user handles (think of interested colleagues, figures working in related areas, or authors of your quotes).
  5. Include relevant images whenever possible.

Then, try to follow at least one more educator a day. Not sure where to begin there? Visit @MisterCavey and select Following. You’ll see nothing but educators and education organizations. You can start following them, too.

As I said at the outset, Twitter can facilitate the same learning processes that we seek for our learners: communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, metacognition, and relationships. If you’ve been a Twitter holdout, consider this both a challenge and an invitation.

Happy Tweeting! I look forward to learning with you.

Sincerely,
@MisterCavey

Thoughts from My Twitter PLN

As I put the finishing touches on this piece, I asked my PLN how they use Twitter. Here were some of their responses.

First, an educator who teaches in my area:

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And here is a reply from Chris Chappotin, principal of STEAM Middle School and guest on episode 61 of the Teachers on Fire podcast, who I mentioned earlier in this story:

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And this — from a fellow education podcaster:

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Episode 88 – Alicia Ray

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Meet Alicia Ray

ALICIA RAY is the Lead Digital Learning & Media Innovation Facilitator at a STEAM school in Mount Airy, NC. With years of experience teaching middle school classes, a major part of her current role includes building innovative learning activities that link literacy and various forms of media.

From Professional Insecurity to a Power-Packed PLC

Alicia doesn’t enjoy revisiting this experience, but she feels a certain obligation to give this lesson its due attention and share the things she learned with others. In her story of adversity, she recalls teaching a self-contained 5th grade class, which included high stakes testing in Math, Science, and reading. As one might expect, this teaching assignment brought with it a lot of responsibility.

When the 5th grade team added a former teacher of the year, Alicia found herself fighting feelings of insecurity and competition. To counter these feelings, she helped her team form an incredible PLC that capitalized on the strengths of each member. The team found sweet synergy partly from their extra-curricular activities: meeting outside of school, doing things together, and finding common interests.

As the team grew and evolved, their trust in each other increased, and they discovered how to best share the teaching load: who would create which learning activities, who the go-to authority in each area would be, and how each one could innovate and adapt learning materials to fit the needs of their individual classrooms. The best part of this trusting team relationship? Students won.

The Hows and Whys of a Master Book Reviewer

Alicia is a phenomenal reader and reviewer of books from Dave Burgess Consulting, but she’s quick to point out the source of her motivation: her students. “It’s so important to know what you believe in and why you believe it, because that does nothing but help your kids,” she says.

Alicia learns something and takes away lessons from every single book she reads, and she’s hungry for more. She wants to do better than just say she’s a lifelong learner – she wants to live it and model it in front of her students and children as well. She recently completed a research unit at her school that was inspired by several DBC books, including Launch, The Limitless School, Educated by Design, and The Revolution. She’s proud of what her students researched, learned, and created, and she looks forward to improving this unit even further in years to come.

What’s Setting Alicia on Fire in Education

Alicia loves the connections she enjoys with educators across the planet on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, blogs, and other platforms. She is thrilled to share ideas, learn from others, and connect her students in those same authentic ways.

One of the memories that she treasures from this past year was the opportunity to connect with Karen Caswell‘s class in Australia. It was a fantastic experience for her students and it brought home the point that we live in a global community.

Her Current Project: Educational Eye Exam

Alicia is constantly reading and implementing, because as Dave Burgess likes to say, “Inspiration without implementation is a waste.” Her current project is a compilation of takeaways and inspirations from her learning and practice in a book titled Educational Eye Exam. What began as a blog post kept growing and growing, and as this book nears publication later this summer she is thrilled at the prospect of sharing with the world.

A Passion by Necessity: Health & Wellness

Last August, Alicia’s five-year-old was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Since then, her family has made health and wellness a top priority. This looks like managing the family diet carefully, counting carbs, and practicing strategies to maintain mental, physical, and spiritual health.

These practices have also spilled into her professional work, where Alicia is doing more than ever to try to meet the non-academic needs of learners. It starts with awareness and sensitivity, requiring her to step back and think about making sure the conditions for learning are met before launching into the next activity.

Goals, Google Sheets, and Bullet Journals

Alicia calls herself a goal-setter, and her goals are the key to her productivity. When she orders books, her goal is usually to have it completely read within 48-72 hours after receiving it. From there, she’s found that if she’s going to write a review of the book for her blog, it needs to happen right away.

When it comes to running, she sets a goal of getting to a particular mailbox (remember, she lives in rural North Carolina). As long as the goal is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely … it’s SMART and it works for her.

Alicia tracks her goals and daily habits in Google Sheets (using hacks she learned from Alice Keeler), and has also become obsessed with bullet journaling since reading Lisa Johnson’s Creatively Productive.

The Ideal Reading Time & Place

Alicia’s ideal reading environment usually materializes around 9:30 p.m., after the kids have been put to bed – centered on a large sectional in her pajamas, with comfy blankets and a nest of pillows. It’s a recipe that would put most people to sleep in a hurry, but it works well for her!

Voices and Resources That Inspire Her Thinking 

On Twitter, Alicia recommends following @Hayes_Melisa. Melisa has an awesome personal story to share, and she never fails to bring the awesomeness!

 Her pick for edtech tools is Google Forms. Forms are powerful, versatile, and can probably do more than you think they can!

 When asked to choose just one book, Alicia goes back to the one that started it all: Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. She’s written and highlighted her way through a few physical copies of the book and listened to it several more times on audiobook. The passion never gets old!

Over on YouTube, Alicia suggests subscribing to DBC Inc. This channel is relatively new, so get on it and make some noise!

When she needs some laughs and lighter fare on Netflix, Alicia is heading to The Office. This classic sitcom will never be beaten … unless of course they made a school version!

We sign off on this fun conversation, and Alicia gives us the best ways to connect with her online. See below for details!

Connect with Alicia:

Song Track Credits

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel.

Staying Hungry

Before I’m an educator, I’m a learner.

Photo credit: James Barker

“The best teachers I know are the ones that still see themselves as works in progress and are continually looking for new ways to improve. They are learners. They are students of their profession and calling.”

— Jarod Bormann in Professionally Driven: Empower Every Educator To Redefine PD

At 40 years old, I’m now in my 18th year of teaching at my fourth school. With memories of being the “young guy” on campus still fresh in my memory, I now wear the label of veteran.

Of course, those years of experience offer confidence and insight. 17 years removed from rookie, I have a clearer sense of my professional strengths and weaknesses.

I know a whole lot more about classroom management and student behavior. I have a firmer understanding of what optimal conditions for learning look like. My thinking around assessment and learning has evolved astronomically. I’m better at setting personal boundaries and establishing self-care practices that allow me to be better in the classroom.

But I’m keenly aware that I still have a long, LONG way to go and a whole lot more to learn.

And I love that.

There might have been a time early in my career when I envisioned the master teacher as an educator who had basically arrived. This was the teacher who held her students’ attention with hypnotic powers. Who oozed the sort of charisma that inspired incredible heights of work, creativity, and achievement. Whose timeless classroom management systems had been tweaked to a state of permanent perfection. Who drew from a bottomless well of instructional resources to locate a solution for every possible challenge. Who personally knew every inch of their content area and whose expertise was legendary.

Who never made a mistake, never failed, who never felt embarrassed or frustrated.

Today, there might be some aspects of confidence and mastery in that vision that I still strive for. But I also recognize that most of that picture of “arrival” is mere mythology.

I now see that year-over-year consistency leads to stagnancy, that comfort breeds complacency.

As I continue to grow as a professional, as I learn from my PLN, as I read Mindset by Carol Dweck or Professionally Driven by Jarod Bormann, I’m constantly reminded that we’re all — ALL OF US — on a continuous journey of growing, stretching, and learning.

Even the best among us fail, miss the mark, pick ourselves up and continue to learn.

Especially the best among us.

I took a new teaching position this year, and in some ways, a new position means going back to square one. Hitting reset.

It’s a chance to ignore my old assumptions and beliefs, to reimagine every moment, every class, every course, every subject. To critique my own practice. To push the limits of what is possible for every one of my learners.

I want to push myself into uncomfortable spaces and take bigger risks.

Because I haven’t made it. And because “making it” isn’t the goal, anyway.

“If you haven’t failed in the classroom lately, you aren’t pushing the envelope far enough. ‘Safe’ lessons are a recipe for mediocrity at best.”

— Dave Burgess in Teach Like a Pirate

I’m a student of my profession.
I’m a lifelong learner.
And the appetite for growth is real.

So I’m getting after it.
I’m seeking to stretch, risk, grow, and learn.

I’m staying hungry this year.