#TwitterforTeachers: A New Window for Learning

  • Twitter can seem intimidating until you’re familiar with it. With more than 67 million users globally and hundreds of millions of tweets sent daily, the whole thing can seem overwhelming.

    Even the name sounds a bit frivolous, conjuring an image of birds on a line chattering nonsense to one another. The social media site’s devotion to all things Beyonce and Jimmy Fallon doesn’t do much to change this notion. And while Twitter is popular for breaking news and politics, it’s also just as likely to devolve into virtual insults and shouting matches.

    So, you’d be excused for thinking that as a teacher, there are better ways to spend your time. But you might also be surprised. There are fabulous educators at all levels on Twitter, hashtags that guide you to the best education discussions (we’ll get to hashtags in a minute if you aren’t sure what that is), and enough teacher camaraderie to brighten even your most frustrating day in the classroom.

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    “Twitter provides a modern platform for teachers to share, network, gain emotional support, build professional learning communities and make a contribution to their profession,” writes The Conversation, a non-profit global journal, in an article titled “Why Teachers are Turning to Twitter.”

    Education World is also an advocate. “Twitter has grown from a small niche micro-blogging site to a truly useful web resource for educators (and lots of other folks, too),” it says. “Educators on Twitter join in Twitter chats and parties, share what works for them and discuss everything from education reform to the nitty-gritty of using tech in the classroom.”

    So, how does an educator teacher use Twitter to best advantage? Easy. You are careful about whom you follow, and you use hashtags to focus what you see.

    Wait, you say. I don’t even know how to “follow” people, and I still don’t know what a hashtag is.

    On Twitter, every person’s or group’s name begins with an @ sign, and if the name is more than one word, they are run together. So, for instance, Education World’s Twitter name (also called a “handle”) is @educationworld. When you sign up for an account, you’ll create your own Twitter name, and it will have an @ before it.

    You find people to follow by searching for names you know – or maybe those you find on a “recommended” list online, like “36 Twitter Accounts Teachers Should Follow,” an article on the website We Are Teachers. It lists accounts that specialize in diversity, math, STEM, bullying, innovation, language, reading, and more.

    Education World’s list of the “Top 15 Educators on Twitter” includes teachers, principals, professors, authors, a former U.S. Secretary of Education, and experts on technology in the classroom. Here are a few other lists of notable education-related accounts:

    Ok, So you’re on Twitter and you’re following some education accounts. What’s next?

    Let’s get back to the hashtag, the same symbol that used to be called the “pound sign,” which Twitter users can type before any word or phrase. So, if you write a post and end it with #teachers, any person searching for that term later will find your post – without having to sort through thousands of other posts that aren’t relevant.

    By using a specific hashtag – say, #educatorsconference or #classroomtips or #teachinspired – Twitter users can find one another and have entire conversations in real time. By clicking on a hashtag term, you will find all other tweets that have used that same term. The caveat is that there must be no spaces (or punctuation) between the hashtags and the words themselves.

    Or, let’s say you want to gather educators’ opinions on a topic. Perhaps your tweet asks for creative ways to raise money for classroom needs – and you add the hashtag #classroomfunds. Interested in getting lesson-plan tips? Add two hashtags, one with your subject and one that says “lessonplans”. Other possibilities: #5thgrade (or any level), “mathclass” (or any subject), “#criticalliteracy”, or your location. The more hashtags you add, the smaller a niche you create.

    “When used properly, education hashtags can help you take part in important conversations and make valuable connections whether you’re a teacher, principal or superintendent,” says the website Getting Smart. It offers a list of “100 Educational Hashtags for Teachers and EdLeaders,” emphasizing the professional development and educational growth possibilities of Twitter.

    Here are a few examples of recent tweets found by clicking on specific hashtags:

    • #masterybased – @michaelbhorn – Can labeling students as “gifted” cause more harm than good? In my latest blog post, I discuss how shifting to a #masterybased education system can provide all students with an equal opportunity to reach their full potential, not just a select few.
    • #studentengagement – @TinaWillette You’ve got to love it when a teacher turns her classroom into Hogwarts the week before winter break. #studentengagement.
    • #edtech –  @BeataBarto1 Inspired by students who are #coding & sharing their gifts at the gaming competition. Thanks for organizing @sjaictshsm @DPCDSBSchools #edtech
    • #digitalcitizenship – @RavenswoodCSD We believe in building a positive school culture that supports safe and responsible use of technology. That is why we are offering resources to parents on the topic of #DigitalCitizenship. Check out some of the online resources on our website.

    Dominican University of California recognizes the value of Twitter in teaching and offers a two semester credit/unit course, Twitter for Educators, that helps you explore the site and its uses – while satisfying your professional learning requirements.

    “The use of Twitter has revolutionized the media world, and is being used in education for communication, research, news and real-time updates,” writes the university. “Twitter for Educators will focus on building a twitter page, developing a professional learning community, and learning how to use twitter in the classroom.” The course, which aligns with Common Core Standards and with International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) quality standards, will help you introduce Twitter as a digital tool and resource in your classroom and in your professional life. It is one of 30 online technology courses Dominican offers.

    Need more convincing? Take a look at 50 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom from Teachhub.

    “Using Twitter in the classroom is limited only by an educator’s imagination,” writes Samantha Miller for the education website. “Though many believe its limitations prevent valuable applications to an academic setting, teachers in the know have learned that using Twitter in education can establish a nurturing classroom for students of all ages.”