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 101 – Nancy Frey

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Meet Nancy Frey

NANCY FREY is a Professor of Educational Leadership and Literacy at San Diego State University at the graduate and doctoral levels. She’s also an instructor at Health Sciences High and Middle College, a secondary charter school which she co-founded 13 years ago with Doug Fisher and others. The school runs from grade 8-12 with about 700 students, and her teaching practice there helps to make sure that the ideas she advocates for in her research and writing actually work in practice.

Nancy has also authored or co-authored a number of books, including PLC+: Better Decisions and Greater Impact by Design.

Rocked By a Hurricane

When asked about a low moment, Nancy thinks back to the time she spent teaching in south Florida. One year, Hurricane Andrew hit the area just days before school opened. The storm exacted a heavy toll on the communities across the region, causing her district to expand very quickly due to damaged and destroyed schools in nearby counties. More significantly, almost every additional student came into the district with significant emotional trauma.

It was a difficult year that even made Nancy challenge her place in the profession, partly because she felt so unprepared to offer the guidance, comfort, and support that her learners truly needed while also promoting their academic growth and development. Thankfully, with a mix of inner commitment and support from colleagues, Nancy remained an educator, and she now credits this year with giving her valuable experiences and perspectives regarding trauma-informed education.

What is Visible Learning?

Visible Learning is the terminology used to refer to the research engineered by John Hattie, who used a meta-analysis to review hundreds of academic studies in an effort to determine what truly works in education. From this research, he and his team have created an index of what he calls effect sizes: how do different interventions positively or negatively affect learning outcomes?

With close to 300M students represented in these studies, this research can say with authority what works and what doesn’t in education. Supported by the groundbreaking research and resources from Visible Learning, schools and districts no longer need to guess about where to apply their energies. 

Taking Your PLC to the Next Level: PLC+

PLC+ by Nancy Frey and Douglas FisherIn PLC+: Better Decisions and Greater Impact by Design, Nancy and Doug Fisherlook at the power behind professional learning communities and apply the latest research to suggest ways to take PLCs to the next level. The ‘+’ in PLC+ is you – what it is that you bring to your learning community.

The book organizes the PLC+ process around five key questions:

  1. Where are we going? What is our destination?
  2. Where are we now? Take a situational assessment.
  3. How can we move learning forward?
  4. What did we learn today? How are we enriching ourselves as a PLC so that we can continue the work that we’re doing?
  5. Who benefited and who did not? This is the essential question of equity.

These questions are grounded in four universal values:

  • Equity,
  • Higher expectations,
  • Activation, and
  • Individual and collective efficacy – belief in our ability to effect change.

In Nancy’s view, PLCs and our perceptions of them have tended to become more restrictive over time. Twenty-first century manifestations of PLCs should actually integrate well with PLNs in the sense that every member of a PLC must remain engaged in a PLN in order to further support their own learning and allow them to better contribute to their PLC. Other strategies like micro-learning and learning walks must be parts of robust PLCs as well.

Building Literacy Through the Tools of Metacognition

When I asked Nancy for some quick advice for the literacy classroom, Nancy pointed back to John Hattie. Do you know your impact? Do you know when your students have learned something? These are the questions that must drive everything we do in literacy and throughout K-12 education.

In the literacy classroom we must also ask ourselves how we are bringing students into the learning. This goes beyond ensuring content relevance – it means that students must understand WHAT they are learning, WHY they are learning it, and HOW they will know that they have been successful in learning it. Learning intentions and success criteria must be made clear to learners in every lesson, and when it comes to English classes, progress tends to be incremental – they’re generally not leaving a 30-minute lesson with a brand new skill.

With that in mind, we must give students the tools of self-assessment: how can students look at their own work and gauge their own growth and progress? How can we equip our learners to critique the work of peers? For English teachers looking to empower their students in this area, Nancy points to a few titles including Developing Assessment-Capable Visible Learners, Grades K-12: Maximizing Skill, Will, and Thrill.

Other Areas That Are Setting Nancy on 🔥 in Education

Nancy is very intrigued by the ways that technology is being effectively embedded and woven into instruction today. She points to the ways that our views of technology in education have changed from past decades: from computer lab to essential tool. Technology tools can be a double-edged sword, however, because technology itself is no assurance of learning, and in fact, we still don’t fully understand how technology changes the ways in which students learn.

Today, high school students walk around with computers in their pockets – devices more powerful than the computers that first sent spaceships to the moon. On the one hand, these phones can be the bane of a teacher’s existence, but on the other hand, educators must better harness this technology in order to advance learning.

The questions around phones and phone policy in schools are not easy ones to answer, but we must continue to struggle and learn in this area. (Editor’s Note: Check out my exploration of this issue at On Schools and Cell Phones.)

Is Handwriting an Essential Literacy Skill?

Should pens and pencils remain part of the writing classroom? Nancy says that students should be exposed to a wide continuum of learning experiences. Evidence also suggests that the motor functions involved in writing seem to inform the abilities of young learners to break the code (decode letters and words). Young children should know how to engage in print and cursive, and older students should at least have the capacity to sign their name. Nancy shares her experience from a recent class of seniors – many of whom struggled to sign a document in cursive. Yes, young learners should learn how to keyboard, and voice-to-text will continue to change the nature of composition. 

Professional Goals for This Year

Nancy’s annual and evergreen goal is to ask: How can I be a better teacher this year? If that isn’t a question you’re asking, Nancy chuckles, it may be time to look for a new profession. Lately, Nancy has been writing about the intersection between teacher credibility and collective efficacy and the ways in which these two constructs can support and promote the other.

Nancy is also intrigued by the ways that students learn about their own learning through practice tests. Do students know what they’re learning and what they’re not learning?

Personal Passions Outside of Education

One activity that ignites Nancy’s passions and brings her alive as a human being when she leaves the halls of education is her work with kettlebells. She has participated in functional fitness workouts with kettlebells and the kettlebell community for the last six or seven years, and she is consistent. “Strong is the new skinny,” she says. She hits her gym about six days out of seven, and it’s formed a big part of her personal wellness.

A Productivity Habit: Meditation

The personal habit that has been making the biggest difference for Nancy in the productivity space is meditation. She meditates for 15 minutes after waking up each morning, and she finds that she is more productive as a result. It’s time to be quiet, to be mindful, to be self-aware, and to slow down. Nancy uses the Calm app and is competitive enough that her personal streaks are important to her, and she even appreciates the badges earned over time.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Nancy’s Practice

On Twitter, Nancy is a big fan of the #G2Great hashtag and regular Twitter chat.

As far as edtech tools go, Nancy loves what smartpens do for learners and learning in the classroom. There are so many uses for smartpens that fit within UDL and increase equity for all learners.

Tis by Frank McCourtNancy’s all-time favorite read is Tis: A Memoir by Frank McCourt. This classic describes the life of an English teacher in New York City from an earlier time.

In the world of podcasts, Nancy’s pick is Disgraceland, which unpacks the spectacular missteps and disasters that have followed countless pop music stars. It’s a guilty pleasure and Nancy can’t get enough of it.

On YouTube, Nancy is a big fan of the resources shared on the Teaching Channel. Get to know the Teaching Channel on Twitter @TeachingChannel

Yes, Nancy does occasionally find time for Netflix! One of her favorite series of late was Russian Doll

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

You can connect with Nancy …

Connect with the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media!

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 74 – Susan Jachymiak

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Meet Our Guest

SUSAN JACHYMIAK is a 4th grade teacher in Orland Park, IL. She’s a rookie this year, and she’s clearly on fire! Follow her on Twitter @MsJachymiak and visit her blog at http://msjachymiak.weebly.com.

Rookie Year Challenges

Susan’s teacher training focused on middle school education, but her first teaching position has been at the fourth grade level. These students come with different learning and social needs than students in middle school, so it’s taken some professional growth for her to better understand the dynamics of these younger learners and meet them where they are.

#NewTeacherJourney and the Power of Twitter

As Susan started plugging into Twitter chats before her first year of teaching, she noticed a shortage of chats dedicated to rookie teachers. That led her to create the #NewTeacherJourney chat, which typically connects on Sunday evenings at 8:30 pm EST. She’s been pleased to see the number of other new teachers plugged in, connecting, and gaining encouragement and advice thanks to this hashtag.

Susan is a strong advocate of using Twitter – not only for the purposes of connecting socially with other educators, but in order to leverage the power of the platform by actively sharing and learning from what is happening in classrooms around the globe.

Passions in Education

What excites Susan about education today are the amazing opportunities that technology is allowing learners in her classroom. She uses GoFormative to facilitate exit slips as checks for understanding at the end of lessons, Prodigy to reinforce Math concepts, and Mystery Skype to reinforce critical thinking and geography skills.

Her professional goal for the rest of this year and going into next year is focused on organization, including what to collect from students, how best to arrange it, and how best to act on it. Because so much of teaching requires thinking on your feet and making quick decisions – especially during your first year – it’s been a challenge to find the systems that work most efficiently for her. Ultimately, better organization will set her up to better meet the unique needs of each of her learners.

Susan has also been fascinated by the possibilities for learning articulated by Jo Boaler in her book, Mathematical Mindsets. In the Math classroom, this helps students understand the power of “I don’t get this … YET,” seeing initial failures as merely first attempts in learning, and adopting practices of continuous revision to improve first attempts and learn toward mastery. These concepts don’t just apply to students – they apply to educators as well!

Productivity and Recharging

Susan is a list-keeper, and for that purpose her app of choice is Google Keep. Keep is where she goes to determine what still needs to get done, what is a higher priority, what needs to be added to the list, and what needs to come off. She also recharges her professional passion in Twitter chats, and she makes it a goal to participate in at least one of those per week.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Susan’s Professional Practice

On Twitter, Susan suggests following @RaeHughart. Rae shares a lot from her practice, offers great resources from the Teach Better Team, and co-hosts the Teach Better Talk podcast.

For edtech tools, Susan recommends Class Dojo as a means to build class culture and encourage collaboration toward group goals. She also points out Plickers as a fun way to quickly and efficiently collect feedback and formative assessments across the class using your mobile device.

Susan’s writing has already appeared in a published book! It’s called Chasing Greatness: 26.2 Ways Teaching Is Like Running a Marathon by Mike Roberts. Follow the author on Twitter @BaldRoberts.

Two educational podcasts that Susan is listening to are Teach Better Talk and The Pondering Education Podcast.

Over on YouTube, Susan is tuned into a channel called Pocketful of Primary, hosted by Michelle Ferré. On her show, Michelle shares all the ups, downs, and ideas from her work, and Susan gleans things of value from every episode.

On Netflix, Susan enjoys two classic series: Fuller House and Friends.

See More From Susan

Subscribe to the Teachers on Fire podcast on your mobile device.

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Follow the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media.

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 66 – Dr. Sarah Thomas

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Guest Profile

DR. SARAH THOMAS is a regional technology coordinator in Maryland and serves as affiliate faculty at Loyola University. In 2014, Sarah founded the EduMatch Project, and she has spoken and presented at numerous conferences since. Find out more about Sarah on her blog and follow her on Twitter at @sarahdateechur.

The Challenge of Finding the Right Fit

Sarah’s first three years in education were the hardest of her career. She came through alternative certification after completing a bachelor’s degree in radio, television, and film. As she began her undergraduate work, Sarah’s mother became a middle school teacher, and Sarah was impressed.

After graduating with her bachelor’s degree in media, she enrolled in a Master’s of Education program. Early into her Master’s studies, she responded to an ad calling for teachers in her district. Once she finished her training program, she found it a challenge to find the right placement in the district. It was discouraging at first to try to figure things out and adapt to different school cultures, but the support of her family and the meaningful relationships she was building with students propelled her through.

The Vision and Mission of EduMatch

EduMatch started from a conversation Sarah had on Twitter, when she connected two educators with unique passions and interests that matched the other’s. That’s what it’s about: learning and growing together, helping others on their education journeys, and leveraging the power of stories. Through its publishing work, EduMatch amplifies the voices of students and educators who have a story to share. A series of crowd-sourced books have led to solo projects, with five solo titles published in 2018 and more on the horizon. If you’re an educator interested in contributing to the 2019 edition of EduMatch’s annual Snapshot in Education, complete this form.

Passions, Goals, and Creativity

Social media has opened incredible opportunities for educators around the world. The democratization effect created by the internet now allows every educator to find their own voice and share their own learning journey. The old paradigm of established voices and gatekeepers has shifted, and as the sharing increases, the professional learning accelerates. This democratization also opens up new possibilities for learning with and from students, which is equally exciting.

In terms of professional growth, Sarah is hoping to get back to producing more content this year. She argues that when we share what we’re doing, what we’re doing well, and what we are trying to improve, the act of publishing helps to give us the valuable feedback that we need to direct our next steps. Over the past year, Sarah was able to collaborate on Closing the Gap: Digital Equity Strategies for Teacher Prep Programs, and now that she’s got the writing bug she feels ready for more!

Outside of her work in education technology, teaching, and publishing, Sarah is most passionate about music. She’s enjoyed listening, playing, and learning musical instruments for as long as she can remember, and she’s excited by the prospects of bringing more music back into her life in 2019.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Sarah’s Professional Practice

If you’re looking for passionate educators to add to your PLN, Sarah invites you to check out the Awesome Table of EduMatch. Find educators around the world who are working in the same spaces you are.

Sarah’s edtech tool recommendation for educators is Voxer. Get in and get connected! Follow Voxer on Twitter @Voxer.

The book that is most meaningful to Sarah at the moment is one written by her father! She’s working through it on her Kindle at the moment and it’s giving her a fascinating understanding of her family’s history.

One education podcast that Sarah has been tuned into for some time is the The Dr. Will Show. The show is hosted and produced by Will Deyamport, with a focus on edupreneurship: serving other educators well while producing an income as well. Follow the host of the show on Twitter @IAmDrWill.

Sarah has two YouTube recommendations to share. The first is The Mr. Wasko, an educator who creates fun similes and metaphors from movies and pop culture. The second pick is purely for fun: Zach Morris is Trash – a serial that appears on the Funny or Die channel. Follow these channels on Twitter @FunnyorDie and @TheMrWasko.

Finishing her doctorate has allowed Sarah to enjoy a season of reduced demands, leisure, and rest. On Netflix, she’s been enjoying Wentworth.

We sign off on this conversation and Sarah shares the best ways to follow her and EduMatch online. See below for details!

Follow Sarah …

Subscribe to the Teachers on Fire podcast on your mobile device.

iTunes | Google Podcasts | Spotify

Follow the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media.

Song Track Credits

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