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:

Annotation 2020-01-18 161004

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:

Annotation 2020-01-18 160918

And this — from a fellow education podcaster:

Annotation 2020-01-18 161037

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.