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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Advice for New Teachers – You Are Not Alone

This poignant ad from NSW Teachers Federation is about a teacher’s first day.

There’s one week to go until the school year begins in NSW. Students will move into new grades and classes. Kindergarten students will begin their school journey. Hundreds of new teachers will start teaching their own classes for the first time.

It’s an exciting but overwhelming time.

There is so much to learn, to be responsible for and to do.

This is the first in a series of posts that I hope will help teachers who are getting started on their careers. It won’t be just my advice: I have some awesome guest bloggers lined up,  each of whom bring a unique perspective.

To keep up with the  series,  you might like to subscribe using the link on the sidebar.

The most important piece of advice I want to give you right from the start is this:

You are not alone

Teaching is rewarding and meaningful work. It is fun, creative and challenging. But it is also incredibly difficult at times.

When you start, you have to get your head around the curriculum requirements for your students and how to cater for their individual learning needs. You’ll need to write a program, develop units of work and find resources to make these programs happen.

You have to learn to manage your class and deal with the different behaviour, emotional and social issues that go along with it. There are routines to figure out, and organisational issues, like where to house all those resources and how to deal with the deluge of paperwork that will inundate you from day one.

You will have to learn how to build positive relationships not only with your students, but with their parents and your colleagues. There will some difficult people and  conversations.

But you don’t have to face or figure out any of this by yourself. Your colleagues are either going through the same thing with you, or have been there before. Don’t be afraid to talk with them about what you are going through.

It is a stressful role at times, and it’s our colleagues who get us through. No one expects you to know everything and be able to do everything on the first day. In fact, no one expects that after twenty years. We are continually learning and developing as teachers no matter what stage of our career we are in.

So take up opportunities to build a support network with your colleagues.

If you work in a small school, or are finding it difficult to build a support network within your own school, you still don’t have to be isolated.

Networks for New Teachers

There are several supportive networks you can be a part of.

Join Twitter and start following other teachers – you’ll find a very engaged, friendly and supportive community there who will happily offer help, share ideas and discuss issues.

If you are working for  NSW DEC you can also join the Yammer network – sign up using your DEC email address but replace the letters DET with TAFE. Yammer is a private social network. Just post a question and you will usually find several people willing to answer. People are also very generous in sharing programs and resources.

Join your union. Unions work hard to support their members, so find out what services your one offers new teachers. If you are a NSW Public School Teacher, you can join the NSW Teachers Federation. Here is a link to some of their resources for new teachers.

Getting Connected – How My School Encourages Staff to Use Twitter.

Those of us who have spent time using social media to build a personal learning network often talk about the transformative effect it has had on us professionally. We are part of a global staffroom, encouraging and learning from each other, sharing ideas, becoming inspired to look deeper in to what we do and how we do it.

It’s a very natural thing to want our coworkers to become involved in this too. We want them to experience the same inspiring, transformative experience  that we have.  Yet, we are often met with skepticism and disinterest when we try to explain to others how powerful connected learning is.

My colleague, @susiej18 and I have been trying for a long time now to persuade our colleagues to get involved, but with little success until recently.

The world of Twitter and PLNs is still alien to many, and it takes time to figure out how to use it in a way that is beneficial. Many of our colleagues couldn’t really see the point of it. So, instead of trying yet again to bring them into our online world, we decided to bring our PLN to theirs.

Step 1: A Website

We started by building a professional learning website and blog where we could share some of the great resources and ideas that we have picked up on our Twitter journey. You can check out our website here. We publicise the website at meetings, and post updates on our staff bulletin.

Step 2: Twitter

The second part of our strategy was to create a Twitter account, @CCPSlearning, that we use to publicise updates to the website and share other links and news items we think might be relevant to our staff. Of course, most of our colleagues are not using Twitter, so this could be seen as an exercise in futility, but that’s where the rest of the strategy fits in.

Step 3: Facebook

In addition to the Twitter account, we set up a Facebook page. Our Twitter account automatically posts its updates to Facebook as well. While very few of our colleagues use Twitter, we know that most of them are on Facebook. All they have to do is “Like” our page, to receive our updates. Even if they never log into Twitter or our website, they will at least start to see some of the valuable things that we discover.

Step 5: Workshops

Finally, once all of this was in place, we sought the permission of our principal to run a professional learning workshop  for all our staff in which every teacher had to create a Twitter account and follow @CCPSlearning. Surprisingly, this part of the workshop was met with enthusiasm. Many of our colleagues commented that they had been curious about Twitter for sometime, and were happy to have the opportunity to explore it.

That was just over a month ago.

After all that effort and so much energy put into making it accessible, we’ve made just limited progress. We know from our hit counter that only a few of our colleagues actually look at the website, and most, even after the positive feedback from our Twitter workshop, have not sent a single tweet since that day. Of our staff over 30 teachers, only 10 have connected with the Facebook page.

Of course there are some who will never participate, and that’s okay – connected learning is not for everyone.

But there are signs that things are changing.

A small group of colleagues are gradually becoming more and more visible on Twitter. Their eggs have been replaced with photographs. They’ve started sharing links, retweeting others, and even commenting and joining in conversations. Very occasionally they will ‘Like’ an update on the Facebook page, or even post something to our page.

When I think about my own Twitter journey, I realise that it took me over a year before I started using it for professional learning. Perhaps it will be the same for others.

Change takes time.