When it comes to Twitter, I was wrong. I had all the usual skepticism, even cynicism; I even blogged about it. Once I signed on, I tip-toed into the water. I remained doubtful when another head of school told me he found Twitter to be a real time-saver.
But I can admit it: I was wrong. Now I love Twitter for all the reasons you’ve probably experienced and heard, especially if you learned of this post via a Tweet. The professional connections, the flood of useful resources, the serendipity, the pithiness of strong Tweets. I’ve been able to interact with big names whose work has really influenced my own thinking, such as Tom Peters (in one link above, I lamented not hearing back from him; I did a different, later time), Dan Pink, and Steven Johnson. I can see the amazing work some former students are doing. At random times I’ve had brief but enlightening conversations with people on different coasts when three of us happened to be on at the same time.
I’m not a power-user of Twitter. I don’t follow hundreds of people or have hundreds of followers (though I wouldn't mind more...). I know I could use the tool in ways other than I do, and I also see loads of great ways that a teacher could use Twitter in class. But that’s not the point of the post, and you can find tons of Twitter related stuff here. It has more to do with the questions I often hear from people who have discovered Twitter’s magic: Why aren’t more educators using Twitter? Shouldn’t they all? I've even seen queries wondering if it should be mandatory per a policy. I’ll address that at the end.
My goal in this post is to provide some hints that may help get some people onto Twitter who otherwise may not have started using it. They come from some workshops I did for folks here at St. John’s Episcopal School and really helped some people give it a shot. A few have really embraced it.
Before I go into my six specific tips, I offer two cautionary notes. First, don’t get caught up in numbers; think quality over quantity. Second, lurking is just fine; it’s an easy way to begin.
Many of you likely already know what I’m about to say. But maybe you know someone that would benefit from having this in one place like this, and you can share it. Maybe you’ll also like the musing at the end about Twitter use as a symbol. Anyway, without further ado:
· Judicious Following
I consider this the most important point, but I acknowledge it can feel selfish. I don’t believe in automatic reciprocation when it comes to following. Before I follow someone, I consider several factors. Do I already have a personal relationship with the person? I check the profile. What’s the connection to my network? How often does the person Tweet? Are the Tweets going to be of value to me? I also “test follow” people to see how it goes. You also can’t be afraid to un-follow. For example, I’ve stopped following some people whose Tweets didn’t add value for me. They weren’t bad at all; they were simply using the tool to disseminate information that I didn’t want, such as a steady stream of their school’s athletic results. I’m sure it was awesome for their school community. Similarly, I’ve kept on people who don’t Tweet very often, but each one is always something good.
· Hashtags and Fixed Columns
I find it incredibly helpful to have fixed columns set up in the app I use for Twitter (HootSuite is my choice), each one set up to search for a certain hashtag. I’ no talking about the generic ones people will stick in Tweets. I mean ones that highlight a specific topic. For example, because I’m in the independent school world, I have a column devoted to #isedchat and another to #indyschools. During the upcoming NAIS conference, I’ll have one for #naisac14. This enables one to regularly update and then easily skim in that area of interest. It’s also a great way to identify people it would be worth your following. You can find a complete list ofeducational hashtags at the site of @cybraryman1.
A Twitter chat is a wonderful chance to interact in a focused way on a particular topic. At first they can feel very chaotic until you get hang of it (one teacher here described it as cyber-NASCAR). Until you do, almost all post archives; you can follow the moderator to get them. I often will access the archives because it’s hard to do all the one I would like to live, and it also takes less time. Some also have so many participants they simply feel too frenetic for me. My favorite one is the #isedchat on Thursday evenings at 9:00 Eastern time. It’s contained, controlled, relevant, and full of smart folks. @cybrayman1 also has a list ofall the chats.
Some people mark many Tweets as favorites, but I don’t. It’s sort of like bookmarking websites for later reference. Because so much can flow through your feed, you need some way to mark the ones that really stand out to you. I’ve developed a bit of sense for what to mark. Several times I’ve ended up coming back to something for a presentation or piece of writing.
· Speed Reading
When I review my feeds, I simply skim along the surface, so fast that I can get through over a hundred tweets in a few minutes, unless something really grabs me. In that case I’ll explore it then if, for example, it contains an interesting link; or I’ll mark it for a later time. It requires a very different ways of accessing and assessing information.
I’d hope that these suggestions prompt more educators to try Twitter, give it some time, and fall in love with it as I have. However, I don’t believe every educator needs to be on Twitter. Simply put, it’s not for everyone. With all the tools available, people need to find what works for them.
At the same time, Twitter and the way it works symbolizes the professional outlook we should expect from quality educators. Done well, Twitter use captures that growth mindset, mainly in the constant give-and-take between people committed to their craft and constantly looking for ways to do it better. It’s about both teaching and learning.