A Teacher’s Guide to Starting on Twitter

Networked Teacher Diagram - Update

Networked Teacher Diagram – Update (Photo credit: courosa)

There are many ways you can become a connected educator, but one of your most powerful tools for this is Twitter.

Starting out on Twitter can be overwhelming. How on earth do you start from having no followers, or just a handful of people you know to becoming a truly connected educator?

Here is what I’ve learned on my journey so far…

Twitter is not like Facebook.

Facebook is a social network. A typical Facebook user will be friends with a range of work colleagues, old university and  school friends, family members, team mates, and gradually that connections grow through the network of people you already know.

Twitter on the other hand is not a social network. It’s an information network. You form connections based on the information you share and are interested in. People don’t follow you because they want to be your friend, they follow you because they share an interest in the kinds of things you are sharing and talking about. Twitter will link you to far more people than Facebook will, due to hashtags, which I write about later in this article. It allows you to quickly connect with networked educators across the globe.

If you tweet about politics, as I sometimes do, then you will find yourself being followed by people who are interested in politics. If you tweet about education, then you’ll find yourself being followed by educators.

Be Purposeful.

If you are using Twitter to find a network of like-minded teachers, then keep it for that purpose. Unlike Facebook, there’s no need to tweet about what you ate for breakfast (unless of course you are hoping to find a network of like-minded breakfast enthusiasts).

It’s okay if strangers start following you. 

I’ve known a number of new Twitter uses who have been very worried when total strangers start following them. This is actually okay, in fact, it’s what Twitter is all about. You’re not going to expand your network if you just stick to people you know. Remember, Twitter is about sharing information, so they’re not following you to be your friend. They are probably following you because they think the information you are sharing may be interesting.

It’s okay if people stop following you.

I know other Twitter users who freak out when people stop following them. That’s okay too. If people choose to unfollow you, it’s their choice, and unless you know them well in real life, it’s unlikely to be personal.

There are also Twitter ‘bots’ who follow people automatically. People use software to scan Twitter for key words and may automatically start following you simply because you mentioned a word. This is often to advertise their own product and you can usually work out their purpose just by checking out their twitter feed. If you don’t follow back, they usually automatically stop following after a few days.

How to find people to follow.

If you are on Twitter to find other teachers to follow, you’ve probably been introduced to it by a teacher already using Twitter. If this is the case, ask that person to recommend people to you. If you are an Australian teacher, a good place to start is by going through this list of Australian educators on Twitter put together by Perth teacher, Sue Waters.

Rather than just following every name on that list, as it will become overwhelming, look at their bio’s. This way you’ll learn a little more about them. Also, have a look at their tweets. Are they tweeting about things you are interested in? Are they engaging with other people? Those are the two qualities I like to see in people I follow. Sometimes you’ll find someone who does nothing but self promotion on Twitter: ‘Read my blog’, ‘Check out my product’. I don’t mind a little self promotion, but if that’s the only way a person uses Twitter, I choose not to follow. I don’t like my feed being filled up with self promoting spam.

Twitter Chats

Another great way to find people to follow is by joining, or simply following the many Twitter chats that occur. Chats are discussions that take place on a particular day and time. Two of my favourite are #ozprimschchat and #teacherwellbeingchat.  To follow the chat, type the chat name, with the # at the beginning into the search field at the top of your Twitter page. This will bring up all the tweets for that discussion. You can either join in, or if you are just starting out, you might prefer to watch and learn. People who participate in chats are usually a good place to start if trying to form a network as they are active users who are interested in engaging and sharing ideas with others.  Here is a great list of Australian education Twitter chats and hashtags, and here is a list of global education chats.

Communities

You can also find communities of people on Twitter. Earlier this year, @poppyshel, @Liz_loveslife, @dbatty1 and I began a rotation curation Twitter account, @EduTweetOz which has a different Australian educator tweeting each week. We have built a community of nearly 2000 educators who are interested in learning and engaging with each other and participate in discussions throughout the week using the #edutweetoz tag. A lot of the people who participate in this are great to follow.

What to Tweet

It can be scary sending out those first Tweets, but eventually you will become comfortable in the medium and your own voice will emerge. I began by sharing any articles or blogs about teaching that I found interesting.  Another early strategy I used was to ‘retweet’ tweets by others that I liked.

Eventually I became confident enough to begin engaging with people, perhaps by asking a question of someone who had shared something interesting, or thanking them for it. Over time I became confident enough to join discussions, but it took me a long time as I’m a very shy person. I spent a months lurking, watching and learning how others interacted before I was ready to have a go myself. 

The importance of hashtags

Hashtags are really important if you are new to Twitter and trying to find or build a network. They are an amazingly simple, and very clever device that will amplify your tweet and send it out to potentially thousands of people.  Even if you have zero followers, a hashtag will allow your tweet to be found by others. By tagging a tweet #ozprimschchat, for example, it will be seen by anyone who participates in that chat and likes to follow that tag. For a list of commonly used hashtags, check out the links I included above for Australian education Twitter chats and Global education chats.

By the way, if  you see a hashtag on someone else’s tweet and click on it, Twitter will show you all the other tweets that have recently been sent using that tag.

For me, Twitter has caused an absolute explosion of professional learning and opportunities. I’ve learned about and begun using pedagogies I had never even heard of before, and I’ve connected with educators all over the world. I’ve found a great group of teachers who willingly share their practice, and a wonderful group of academics who keep me updated with their latest education research. I’ve made great friends with other teachers around Australia and the world, and have had opportunities open up to me which I never dreamed of. If you’re not using Twitter, I recommend you have a go, and if you are just starting out, I hope you stick with it. The rewards really are worth it.

For more tips, check out my 5 Tips for Teachers Getting Started on Twitter

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5 Tips for Teachers Getting Started on Twitter

Twitter is by far the most powerful professional learning network (PLN)  I participate in. Using it is like being at a teaching conference every day. I am constantly exposed to new ideas that inspire and challenge me to try new approaches and rethink old ones. Through Twitter I’ve met a great group of educators from around the world, all of whom are passionate about teaching. We have great discussions and share resources.

However, I know that for many, Twitter is a bewildering experience. It’s easy enough to join, but what then? How do you move from sending random thoughts into the ether, or following a small network of friends, to making connections with inspiring educators from around the world?

I thought I might share what I’ve learned so far on my Twitter journey in the hope that it might help others get started.

Tip 1: Let people know who you are

If you are planning on using Twitter to build a PLN it helps to have a public profile. That way its easier for people to find and follow you. Using a real name will add credibility to your account, but many people use nicknames, and that’s fine too. If you worry about mixing your personal and professional lives, you can always create an account just for your professional network and a separate one for private use.

You will also need to set up a bio. If you want to make connections with other educators, they need to know what you are about. If a random stranger starts following me without a bio,  I am unlikely to follow them back, but if their bio describes them as working or interested in education, I usually add them to my list right away.

Its a good  precaution to add a disclaimer such as ‘opinions are my own’ in your bio, making it clear that anything you say on Twitter is your own opinion and does not represent the views of your employer.

Here is a screenshot of mine:

Tip 2: Find some good educators to follow

I find these educators and organisations particularly helpful: @tes  @daveandcori  @gcouros    @principalj    @patrickmlarkin  @edutopia

To find more people, have a look at who the people you are following follow.

Another way to find people to follow is to use the search function. For example, today I did a search for “Flip Classroom”. Have a look at the results:

Not only did I find some great links about flipping the classroom, I also found some great educators who might be worth following!

Tip 3: Start Contributing

It’s possible to get a lot out of Twitter  just by lurking and seeing what others have shared, but since I’ve started joining in the conversation I’ve found my experience  more rewarding.

One way to begin contributing is to simply retweet links that other people have shared which you find useful. People appreciate this because it sends their message out to a wider audience. As you begin to share links that are useful, other people will begin to find you helpful as well, and your network will grow.

If you find a useful or thought provoking link, share that as well. For me, sharing is at the heart of what my PLN is all about.

Another way to contribute is to comment on what people have shared with you. If you found a link helpful, reply to that person and tell them you appreciated it. If you have a question or a thought about it, share that. You can start some great conversations that way.

Tip 4: Use Hashtags

Hashtags are a very useful way of sending out and searching for information on twitter. If you are sharing a resource about educational technology for example, add the hashtag #edtech. This way other people who are interested in educational technology will find it, even if they aren’t following you.

A great list of educational hashtags can be found here.

Hashtags are also useful for retweets. For example, you could change #edtech to #edchat. This serves two purposes. Firstly, it will allow the tweet to reach a different group of teachers than the original tweet. Secondly, you will avoid creating spam in the original  feed.

Tip 5: Use Lists

It took me a while to figure out lists, but as my network grew, it became essential. I reached a point when my twitter feed became overwhelming and I couldn’t keep up with the amount of information. To solve this I created lists that group the people I follow into areas of expertise or interest. I have a list for my friends, a list for teachers,  a list for educational policy and several more. If I want to catch up with my friends, I click their list and it will block out all the other traffic.

The native twitter clients for iPhone and iPad aren’t  great for using lists. I  use Tweetlist for iPhone and Hootsuite for iPad.

For more ideas for getting started, have a look at this article by Danny Nicholson (@dannynic):  Ten Twitter Tips for Teachers

I also like this one by @syded06, which very much describes my own journey: Teachers – The Ten Stages of Twitter

Do you have any Twitter tips? Leave them in the comments section.