At a workshop, I asked the participants, "How many of you are on Twitter?" One teacher raised her hand. "Hmmm. Another question for you. How many of you think Twitter is stupid?" Every other hand went up quickly.
And I understood, because I too once thought that this world where Lady Gaga leads an army of followers while thousands of others spew whatever 140 character drivel flits through their brain seemed like the most idiotic concept of modern technology.
But then a teacher I respected mentioned he was on it. And then another. And then I finally caved and signed up with a great deal of sighing and hesitation. At first I wasn't sure how to navigate it and still felt unclear of its purpose. But within a few months I had gotten the swing. And now, I can't imagine my teaching life without it.
Now, at my fingertips are hundreds of other English teachers, writers, tech integrators, administrators, and professional organizations. I suddenly experience daily doses of interactive, high quality professional development. I have met the most incredible educators--from authors who write books on innovative research practices to some of my writer-heroes to other teachers doing their best to make their tiny corner of the teaching galaxy all it can be. The resources, humor, insight, lesson-sharing, and questions they are willing to share have helped me rethink my own practices this past year.
How do you get started? Once you've signed up on Twitter, you can find people to follow on sites like We Follow. You can also look up your favorite authors or specialists in your field. Search for professional organizations like NCTE or NCTM. As you start to select people you follow, you will see other suggestions over on the left hand side of your screen--these suggestions can be quite helpful.
After you begin following people, you will find that you want to do two things: 1. Share the ideas you are receiving and 2. Bookmark them for later. Both of these are easy tasks. For sharing (otherwise known as retweeting or RT), you just click the retweet button. If you want to save an idea or a resource (this is my most used Twitter feature), click on the star. It will save your favorite tweets so you can access them at a later time.
One of my favorite things to do for professional development is attend a "twitterchat." I spend every Monday night from 7-8 pm with #engchat, where English teachers get together and talk about current issues in our field. And every week I walk in with a new resource or practice to try out in the classroom thanks to the innovative and dynamic teachers I have met there. There are hundreds of different twitterchats happening for everybody from Kindergarten teachers to brand new teachers to Social Studies teachers to Technology teachers. You simply have to find a platform to use (I use Tweetchat, but there are many other choices out there), type in the hashtag of the group you are participating in (for example, on Mondays, I type in #engchat) and then presto! You are part of a larger group experience where you will meet incredible and engaging educators.
In the teaching profession we too often teach behind closed doors. Too many schools have cut professional development funds, and those who haven't often do not give teachers choice about the PD they will receive. Twitter is a great way to reach out to your profession and take ownership of your own PD.
One thing to remember--everything you post on Twitter is public--it can be accessed by anybody at any time, so it is not the place to air your dirty laundry. I solely use Twitter as my professional "voice" and save my pictures and family for my invited friends on Facebook.
And finally, Twitter is only as good as the people you choose to follow. If you follow the hordes of people allowing extraneous drivel to escape their parted lips, then you will be immediately discouraged. If you follow organizations who send out ten tweets every minute, you will be immediately overwhelmed. Seek out educators who inspire you, keep your interest, and offer you insight, and then you can do no wrong.
Good luck--I hope to see you there! (You can find me at @angiecmiller74)