This blog post originally appeared on the ASCD EDge blogging platform in May 2016.
As a 4th grade teacher in urban Raleigh, NC going into the 2011-12 school year my forward-thinking principal came up with an iniative that was, at the time, very progressive within public education. The summer leading up to the new school year, he was reading up more and more about the power Twitter had on education if utilized effectively by key stakeholders within the building. Despite being around, 4-5 years at this time, Twitter wasn’t really utilzed by anyone in education and was seen globally as a way for folks to put their opinions out there and “connect” with their favorite celebrites. Thankfully for me, this former boss of mine opened my eyes to this groundbreaking technology that has truly revolutionalized my career on many levels.
How it started
In those inservice days ahead of the 2011-12 school year officially starting, my former principal introduced our staff to Twitter. As a seasoned educator who was always forward thinking, I immediately saw the potential benefits.
To maximize the effects of Twitter, my former boss had every certified faculty member on staff from classroom teachers, intervention coaches, specialists, counselor, etc. create a Twitter account. It was then expected that every certified staff member sent out three tweets per week. This gained traction as the year rolled along with the message being engrained within the school culture. Every “school messenger” phone call that went to home to parents included mention of Twitter, being sure to follow your child’s teacher on Twitter and basics of Twitter/sign up information on the website and many letters going home from the school of with students. The PTA was on board, classroom teachers and as the year progressed, more and more parents.
As a classroom teacher that year I started to really cherish the social media platform. After the first quarter I found myself tweeting more and more and ecliplsing the “minimum requirement” for tweets. I continued to promote the platform with parents and by the middle of the school year over half of the parents in my classroom followed me on Twitter. As my following increased so did my tweets. I was now not just tweeting but adding photos of student work, promoting upcoming classroom projects, and dabbling with school-wide function promotions. By the end of the 2011-12 school year I was sold. Twitter for educational purposes was the real deal. What an effective way to reach out to parents when you promote it and stand by it.
The 2011-12 school year was a gamechanger for my career. After that school year I started to branch out more and more with the usage, classroom promotion spawned into school wide promotion, then district promotion. Photos, videos, and my network started to grow.
Beginnings of the PLN
Network? Yes, the Professional Learning Network (PLN) It started out as connectivity with educators I knew from around my district getting ideas for curriculum, school promotion, PBIS implementation, etc. Then I began reaching out to educators outside of the district from around our state…folks I never even met in person but came highly recommended from others. Then this spawned to nationally and even internationally. Before long, a few years after this whole classroom Twitter started I had a strong PLN of connected educators from literally all over the nation and beyond.
Through the usage of Twitter, I became more connected with educators from North Carolina through #NCed bi-weekly chats, EdCamps throughout our state and school visits of connected educators throughout my PLN. EdCamps, while powerful face to face conversations about various areas of importance within education also serve as a great connectivity/tweetup tool as well as a fantastic way to grow your PLN.
In my current position as an elementary curriculum coach, I utilize Twitter for two key reasons: school promotion and academic resources from my PLN. I’m in classrooms K-5 daily and if something amazing is going on (which is often) at our school I’m taking a photo of it and Tweeting it out utilizing our school-wide hashtag. Teachers come to me all the time for advice about curriculum and content that goes beyond our pacing guides and curriculum mapping provided by the district. I get a lot of my answers along with great articles from my PLN via Twitter. By the same token, I’m able to contribute a lot of my knowledge with other educators through my PLN. It’s truly a win-win.
Beyond Twitter and EdCamps, I also utilize the Voxer app, mainly with a group of connected educators from around our state, which adds text, voice (walkie-talkie style) and photo as another layer of connectivity. Voxer is actually how I helped get assistance/advice when coming up with a hashtag to utilize at my current school. I wanted something simple, short, yet effective. I posed the question via voice with Voxer and within a few hours had feedback from 10-15 leading educators from around North Carolina to assist in hashtag ideas based on the information I’d given (school initials, PBIS theme, mascot, etc) now we have a great one that accomplished all the goals I had lined up.
Today, Twitter/Tweetdeck as a resource and connectivity tool are as much a part of my day as email, face to face conversations, walk-arounds, meetings/trainings at our central office, PLCs, etc. I’m so thankful for this platform to opening my eyes to far more than just the walls of how things are done in my school and even district.
I’m thankful to work in a very Twitter-friendly school district that embraces the technology for many of the reasons mentioned above and even has it’s own bi-weekly chat (#WCPSSchat) now which is connecting more and more intra-district (and visitors) educators.
Whether you’re just getting started with Twitter, moderate or advanced, I highly recommend the following three books: