Twitter education chats: An astonishing source of professional development

I have recently discovered Twitter, and it has supercharged my professional development. The reason? Twitter education chats!

Two months ago I would have said, “No, I don’t have a Twitter account.” I may even have been able to vaguely explain why I really don’t have space or reason for Twitter in my life. It certainly did not seem relevant to my work as an educator. However, during the last two months, my perspective has completely changed. I now eagerly ask fellow educators, “Have you experienced Twitter education chats? They are amazing!”

If you have yet to experience one of these chats, you may be surprised to learn that there is a rapidly growing network of enthusiastic, welcoming educators who are sharing a wealth of resources on a regular basis through Twitter.

While there are many Twitter users with great expertise, today I would like to offer the voice of an educator who is new to Twitter, possibly just like you. This is my vantage point.

A Twitter education chat is a digital gathering of enthusiastic, passionate educators, often from many places around the world, who come prepared to share resources, ideas, practices, strategies and helpful insights. The conversation among educators, coordinated around a single hashtag (#), propels the growth of one another’s personal learning networks. Twitter education chats bring the clear realization that there is a strong, passionate, generous, and far-reaching body of educators ready to support one another, ready to share resources, ready to sharpen thinking, ready to connect. Nearly every Twitter education chat I have experienced has left me with a wealth of resources: classroom ideas, video clips, blog posts, learning posters, professional reading suggestions, information about emerging technology, advancing thoughts on how to effectively use technology in the classroom, and growing connections to educators around the world. The chats are powerful bursts of encouragement, and I leave inspired. 

No expertise is required. You can simply join.

Perhaps, you are reading this blog post because a fellow educator has shared it with you. It may be that you do not have a Twitter account, which means that taking part in a Twitter education chat seems out of reach to you, just like it was to me less than two months ago. If that’s the case, I’ve detailed a pathway toward experiencing a Twitter education chat in 11 simple steps.

Step 1:  Cultivate Curiosity

You may already be curious about how Twitter can help you grow professionally. I challenge you to cultivate that curiosity. Just try it.

Step 2:  Activate an Account

If you don’t have a Twitter account, go to www.twitter.com. You can quickly and easily create your own free account.

Step 3:  Plan a Profile

Take a moment to decide what you want to do with your Twitter account. Will your purpose be to share socially, or will it be to expand your professional practice? I made the decision to use my Twitter account for professional purposes. On my account, you might expect to find math instructional strategies or thoughts about education, but you won’t find any information about what I had for lunch. I recommend creating a Twitter account for professional purposes. 

Step 4:  Build a Bio

As part of the set-up process, you will have the opportunity to write a short bio. Writing your bio will take only moments, but it is very important. If you leave your bio blank, fellow educators will have difficulty identifying with you.  However, if you use a brief description such as “4th grade teacher” this will help other 4th grade teachers around the world to find you, which will develop mutual capacity for quickly and easily sharing resources, strategies, and ideas. The bio will not limit your reach in any way, and you can always easily go back and change it later.

Step 5:  Follow Fellow Educators

Choose an educator you admire. Find the author of a book you have read recently.  Follow some of those educators and authors. Douglas Reeves. Jo Boaler. Rick Wormeli. Eric Sheninger. Vicki Davis.  Then click to see who those educators are following. Read the bios of those people and choose some of them to follow. You can easily follow or later unfollow anyone with the click of a button. While this step is not necessary to participating in a chat, it will help to quickly familiarize you with Twitter and will also provide an initial body of educators to follow and learn from.

Step 6:  Enter #edchat

If you look at #edchat you will find a constantly flowing stream of ideas, graphics, and reflective blog posts. The actual #edchat takes place Tuesdays at noon (EST) and 7:00 PM (EST), and you will certainly want to experience this high-energy, fast-paced chat once you have become familiar with other chats. However, the advantage of #edchat for beginners is that even when the chat itself is not taking place, there is a constant stream of highly useful ideas. I recommend starting here at any time of the day. This is where you will begin to understand how ideas stream from educators around the world to a designated hashtag.

Step 7: Choose a Chat

The map shown here was generously developed by Sean Junkins. This sampling clearly illuminates the prevalence of Twitter education chats even just within the U.S. The designations are in no way exclusive. For example, I am an Oregon educator who participates in chats from Montana, Kentucky, Florida, Texas, California, Iowa, and Oceania, as well as themed-chats such as parent & teacher chats, grade level specific chats, and chats for teachers who are new to Twitter. In addition to Sean Junkin’s graphic, this link to an extensive list of chats developed by Jerry Blumengarten is extremely helpful.

Begin by simply choosing a chat, using a hashtag (#) and following that chat. An early favorite of mine is #Nt2t (New Teachers to Twitter Chat) where there is helpful information for educators like you and I who are just beginning to step into this practice. Another great chat for beginners is #teacherfriends which provides extensive support for those of us who are new to Twitter using “Twitter Practice Chats” Tuesdays at 9:00 PM (EST).

Step 8:  Listen and Lurk

It is perfectly acceptable to simply listen to the conversation, to simply read the chat, and to gather resources as they are tweeted. Don’t feel obligated to comment or tweet. Eventually, you will be excited to contribute and will want to try out a tweet, but don’t feel that it is a requirement.  “Lurking” is the accepted term for simply watching the conversation. Lurking is a great first step and a common practice. As you watch, you’ll notice that the chats typically feature a series of questions. The questions are often prefaced by an indicator such as “Q1” and the responses are followed by “A1” to help keep track of the conversation. After several minutes, there will be a “Q2” followed by several responses beginning with “A2.” As the chats unfold, you may discover that there are additional educators whom you wish to follow and you can easily do so.

Step 9:  Respond to Resources

Chats frequently last 1 hour. During that time, you will likely see an explosion of resources come across your Twitter stream. Make it your goal to gather and use at least one resource that will make a difference in your professional practice. It may be an infographic, a professional book recommendation, an instructional strategy, a vivid statistic that will challenge your thinking, or a new digital resource tweeted by the very person who knows how to use it and is now within reach, ready to answer your questions as you consider putting it into practice.

Step 10:  Try out a Tweet

At some point, you will want to share a tweet of your own with others. This will help you to connect to others in the Twitter chat and may help to grow your personal learning network. A simple beginning point is to respond to one of the questions in a chat. You won’t be alone. Many others will also be answering the same question.

Step 11:  Try Tweetdeck

The first time I watched ideas racing through the chat, I wasn’t sure how I was going to keep up with the potential resources sliding off of my screen. Then I followed a tweeted suggestion to try Tweetdeck. I quickly found it online, and suddenly the Twitter chats became much more manageable for me. Tweetdeck is free and takes only moments to set up. Once you see the clarifying power of Tweetdeck, you may also be drawn to Hootsuite or other options that suit you better.

That’s it.  11 steps.

I eagerly encourage you to test the waters in a Twitter education chat. If this blog post has been forwarded to you by a fellow educator who already uses Twitter, simply ask that person for tips and insights or even to sit alongside you during a Twitter education chat. Or you can feel free to contact myself.

Just one more note: If you take the 11 steps suggested here, don’t be surprised if you find yourself in a future conversation with an educator who is not yet using Twitter. You might just find yourself sharing your enthusiasm about the remarkable potential of Twitter education chats. You may find yourself back at step 1: Cultivating Curiosity. You may be the one asking fellow educators: “Have you experienced Twitter education chats?”

Steve Wyborney can be found on Twitter @SteveWyborney

Comments

I’m with you on 1-10. Tweetdeck is too busy; I don’t get the interface. I love TweetBot. It has a Wild West kind of feel: I have my profile feed, search and timeline windows open on my iPad. Good stuff.

Great resource, Steve! I can't wait to try out TWEET CHAT! The link to all the teacher chats is priceless! Thank you so much!
Best wishes!
Jen :)
TeacherKarma.com

Just the lever I need, Steve! I'm gonna print your blog and hang it above the copiers in my school. It just might help answer those questioning looks I see as I'm snapping pics for posts.