This post is aimed at teachers who are new to Twitter, but may also be useful to those mentoring a new teacher and want to help them shape their professional learning. It’s based on a talk given to colleagues at a recent inset day as part of an ed tech carousel.

Twitter for Professional Learning

In 2014, Twitter estimated that 4.2 million tweets on education were sent every day. If you haven’t used it before because you think it’s simply a passing fad, then you’d be mistaken. I joined Twitter in 2012 after hearing Jill Berry extol its virtues as a vehicle for professional learning. I paraphrase, but she said something like “the old adage has it that if you’re the smartest person in the room, you need to get a bigger room. Twitter is that bigger room.” I’ll admit that it was a slow-burn process for me but I eventually got into the habit of using it for reading, and then eventually sharing my own thoughts and getting involved in ‘chats’. Looking back I wish I’d started earlier and in more earnest, which might have happened if someone had given me a steer on how to make the most of it. This blog is therefore what I would have written to myself five years ago, but aimed at the time-pressed, Twitter novice teacher who wants professional learning on their own terms.

How to approach Twitter

The first thing I learned was that the term social media is misleading. When you consider the range of platforms and what they all do, labelling them all as ‘social’ is nebulous. I would classify Twitter (and things like LinkedIn) as professional media. If you want to be ‘sociable’ and post pictures of you walking the dog/baking a cake/dancing at your mate’s wedding, then go for Facebook or Instagram. Keep Twitter separate – it’s much better for reading and debating about education. To this end, keep these golden rules in mind:

  • Everything you post is public. As a teacher you have a duty to uphold public faith in the profession (think Part 2 of the Teaching Standards, if you’re in England). The upside to this is you don’t need to worry about your permission settings as you do with Facebook. Just know that it’s all open.
  • Assuming you’re employed by a school, they don’t want you to bring them into disrepute. Each time you write a Tweet, remember that your head/line-manager/pupils might be reading it. This shouldn’t put you off – you are absolutely entitled to express your professional opinion. Just make sure you keep it professional.
  • When you write up your bio, decide whether or not you want to divulge specific information. You can easily say what you are interested in without saying much about who you are or where you work.
  • Never follow pupils (or parents), or get involved in an exchange with them. They are bound to try to contact you at some point, but politely explain to them, in school, that it isn’t an appropriate forum for discussion with them.

Some basic tips

I’m amazed by how many people don’t get started on Twitter, despite their curiosity, because they find it confusing. Here are a few very simple things that will help you get underway:

  • Aim to follow a couple of dozen relevant people to familiarise yourself with it. A very good periodic table of edutweeters is available courtesy of ICT Evangelist Mark Anderson. This will cover a range of education debates and views, but also look for accounts which are relevant for your subject or specialism.
  • You don’t need to express your own opinions or write your own tweets. You can simply retweet things you like. Many people write in their bio that ‘retweets are not endorsements’ but I don’t bother because this is a pretty obvious convention.
  • If you ‘like’ a tweet it’s a great way of recording things that you’d like to refer back to later, or reread. I ‘like’ tweets to show that I support the comment, or want to bookmark a blog or website.
  • Hashtags – the dreaded # symbol – seem to cause confusion. They can be used in two ways. Firstly it can simply be a comment to add spin to a tweet, so this statement could be considered #helpful (or #obvious if you know this already). More importantly, hashtags allow you to follow something specific or join in discussions. There are many good forums that happen at a set time each week, like #UKEdResChat. If you write a tweet and add this hashtag it means anyone else following that thread will see your comment. Try it out by searching for #UKEdResChat, and then click on ‘latest’ in the menu bar. This will show you all the latest tweets in the thread, not just a select few.
  • Direct messaging is better if you want to talk to someone privately, or without the character restriction of a regular tweet. For this to be available both parties (or more if you want a larger group chat) need to follow each other. See above advice on not following pupils/parents to protect yourself.
  • There is a dark side. Some people are trolls (i.e. abusive) and personal attacks do happen. My advice is to ignore this. You can mute or block people you find offensive, or report accounts which are hateful. If you only use Twitter for reading this is unlikely to ever affect you.

What are the benefits?

When you think about it, there are real advantages here. Keeping up to date with the latest in educational thinking is essential and is built into the teaching standards in Scotland. If your focus is entirely on what’s happening in your own school and not on the wider trends in education you’ll constantly be behind the curve. This leaves you exposed to the sort of fads and faux initiatives that have blighted teachers and pupils, adding to workload without adding to learning. See Twitter as a good bulwark against this, provided you follow people who are research informed and despise learning myths.

Twitter is also a) free and b) something you can do whenever you want. I mainly use the app on my phone because it means I can check in daily for 5 minutes or so to see what’s happening in the education news. We all work ridiculously hard as teachers, but there are pockets of time (maybe 3-5 minutes while you wait for something, be it a bus to arrive or a meeting to start) that you can use. It facilitates ‘little and often’ professional learning and makes your use of time more efficient. Also the blogs that I read via Twitter are usually around the 1,000 word mark so you can get through them swiftly.

If you develop your use of it, you’ll find that it can be great for networking. Few people relish the chance to meet new people in a packed room when you attend a conference. However, Twitter is a much easier and less stressful way of connecting with people who have similar interests and concerns. You can pick up great ideas for classroom practice, because no one posts an idea on Twitter to patent it. I’ve only ever found people to be very positive when you tell them you used their idea and it worked.

As well as a personal account, you can also run a departmental account. Make sure you check your school’s acceptable IT use policy and get permission to do so first. Once this is in place, you can share the login details with more than one colleague to divide the workload. You can use it to share resources, celebrate achievement and so forth. It can be a great way of pointing pupils in the direction of good resources and extension material. I found it invaluable as a way of keeping parents informed of what we were doing on school trips, especially when abroad.

From my own perspective, I like being able to talk about things that I’m passionate (or frustrated) about with people outside my own school. I get a broader perspective and conversations are wonderfully free of the type of internal school politics that can be draining to morale and energy. This helps you focus on big issues that matter. It also means that you can start casual conversations about teaching and learning in school, which is very often where the most impactful professional development happens.

Want to know more?

Twitter accounts to follow:

  • @dylanwilliam
  • @miss_mcinerney
  • @DTWillingham

Further reading:

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