Friday, June 30, 2017

Twitter for Education: How Tweeting and My PLN Have Inspired Me

In 2011, I caved to millennial pressure and signed up for a Twitter account. During the first two years that I had my very own handle, I only occasionally scrolled through the feed but remained tentative to post anything. I followed a few close friends and was unsure of how to access content that applied to my purposes for using and creating a Twitter account in the first place. Initially, I did not know how to search hashtags for key information or filter through the chaos. Overwhelmed and inefficient at utilizing this social media platform, I rarely gave it a glance.

Approximately two years after my inaugural tweet, a friend from work began sharing her experiences with #sschat and the personal learning network that she formed not only locally but around the country. The ideas she gained, and in turn, shared out were motivating and inspiring her to take on some neat challenges in her classroom. From technology tools to teaching strategies, discipline-specific content to interdisciplinary studies, the information she acquired from the other passionate and innovative teachers she connected with on this platform was incredibly valuable to my friend and the students at our school. After several conversations about how much she was learning and gaining from this experience, I decided that I relinquish an hour into exploring Twitter's potential. Even though I am an English teacher, I was invited to meet my friend and another social studies teacher for a coffee and Twitter chat date.

Upon arrival, I found myself slightly intimidated by the onslaught of devices that filled the table. From computers to tablets to cell phones, it seemed that my two colleagues were able to navigate multiple screens to quickly engage in the fast-paced frenzy that is a Twitter chat on a Monday evening. Abbreviations, hashtags, and edu-lingo allowed them to express meaningful ideas and contribute significantly to a conversation to which I could barely keep pace. Rules such as "Include an A1, A2, Or A3 before responding" and "Don't forget to use the hashtag" were being directed at me. Certainly, my novice nature was showing.

After my first chat, I was in awe at how open and encouraging people were. Teachers were sharing links to favorite resources, their curriculum, blogs, and teaching strategies that they found helpful and spent a great deal of their time curating. The openness of the teachers participating in this PLN was impressive and encouraging. The willingness that this PLN embraced to take risks and attempt lesson plans that may or may not yield favorable results brought me back to the Twitter-verse several times over. Because of Twitter and the members of my PLN, I read more and been exposed to incredible and innovative ideas that encourage me to continue to hone my craft.  I have been inspired by people who care deeply about their students and are constantly challenging themselves to learn more. By reading tweets from educators from all over the country, I view curriculum, read articles, and access resources that I would never have seen without this platform. Most importantly, I am continually encouraged after the both the best and toughest of teaching days.

I am grateful to so many educators that I have never met face-to-face because they have supported and renewed my passion for teaching countless times. Their passion, generosity, and endless curiosity have no doubt made me a better teacher, a more versed individual in current trends and techniques, and taught me how to utilize technology effectively and meaningfully in my classroom. 

What's neat is that it's never too late to jump on the Twitter bandwagon. What advice would I give to a person who, like me, initially had no clue as to how to tap into the amazing resources and individuals connected through Twitter? Here are a few tips:

1. Find a Personal Learning Network (PLN) 

Start searching through the hashtags! Explore a few hashtags that most relate to your content and interests. Signup for Tweetdeck, which allows you to view multiple hashtags at the same time in separate, easy to navigate columns. Jump into conversations and ask questions using the hashtags to help people filter through the noise and find you. Look also for the scheduled chats that occur weekly or monthly.

2. Log in with Some Consistency

Resources, articles, and ideas are being shared at a rapid rate. While not every person can consistently log in and engage in a chat each week, make sure you're opening the app on your phone in a free moment. Browse and scroll a few times a week, even for a short time period. You're guaranteed to find at least one tweet with an interesting article linked, a TED talk to inspire, or a quote to invoke reflection.

3. Don't Just Lurk - Post!

Many people will search familiar hashtags or communities, which is fantastic. Challenge yourself by putting your best ideas and resources forward. Share what's inspiring you! You never know who might view it, respond to you, or share it out to be seen by someone who needs to hear what you have to say. Never doubt your talents, creativity, and the ideas you have to share. I was so scared to engage in my earlier teaching career and doubted my thoughts and perspectives. While I am still always learning and growing, I have come to realize that challenging myself to share my ideas has given me more confidence and encouraged more growth than if I stayed silent.

4. Favorite and Find Meaningful Content

Twitter feeds and Twitter chats move at a rapid pace. When you're on the move or locked into a chat, it can be difficult to process every great resource or idea sent your way. Save great ideas for a time when you can quietly reflect and devote time to exploring further. The best tweets are great to share and retweet later, too!

5. Form Relationships

Especially for people who participate in a Twitter chat consistently, do not be afraid to build relationships. Share your ideas and compliment those ideas that inspire you. Do not hesitate to reach out to people and attribute credit where it is due! When you attend conferences or regional events, do not hesitate to meet up with people face-to-face. We're all equally nerdy and passionate about education. Besides, you do not want to be that person eating alone at an EdCamp anyway!

Reflecting on my Twitter experience is certainly long overdue. I truly am so grateful to the people in my PLN for inspiring me and challenging me to be a better educator on a daily basis. I cannot think of a better professional development experience than Twitter. Tweeting and using Twitter for educational purposes has been a tailored experience that allows me to forge meaningful connections on my own time. I cannot recommend using it enough! If you're interested in reading up on the Twitter chat I help organize, #engsschat, please check out the archives here: 

Tweets by @Steph_SMac