Chances are you’ve heard colleagues discussing how great Twitter is as a professional development resource, but maybe you are unsure how to use this tool to its full potential. The staccato rhythm of nonstop messages consisting of less than 140 characters can be confusing and intimidating at the same time. Like any strategy that pays big dividends, getting on Twitter will take some initial investment (in time), but the rewards have the potential to change the trajectory of your career. With its abundance of information and ease of accessibility, Twitter can be an extremely useful tool in your path to lifelong learning.
Since joining Twitter five years ago, my educational philosophy has completely transformed, thus improving the educational outcomes of my students. What’s more, I’ve met lots of smart, inspiring people along the way. If you are just starting your Twitter journey or have an account and aren’t sure what to do with it, here are some tips to get you started on your path.
“Lurking” Is OK
Despite the ominous feeling that the word lurking creates, it is harmless on Twitter. Simply put, it means that you are following along with a conversation between others and gathering information or ideas without adding your own thoughts. This is the way the vast majority of Twitter users (myself included) began using the service for professional learning. By following along and sticking with it, you’ll learn the shorthand used in Tweets, such as RT (which means retweet), and you’ll have your thinking expanded in ways you didn’t anticipate. During this stage, you can find other educators and follow as many as possible to ensure you get a nice compilation of perspectives in your feed. As long as you have a profile picture and mention you are in education in your bio, you will find that most educators will follow you back.
Exploring Blog Posts
Finding interesting content is one of the biggest reasons to join Twitter. Think of a newspaper. When you buy a newspaper, it has a finite number of articles in it. Once you finish it, you’re done. Twitter isn’t like that. It is a nonstop deluge of timely, interesting, and relevant articles just waiting for you to delve into. Honestly, some of the most transformative ideas I’ve read about were during short, seemingly insignificant times like waiting in line at the grocery store. Be sure to open links you see from the people you follow and read what they’ve written or shared. Find something especially relevant? Retweet it so that your followers can benefit from the information, too.
Joining Your First Chat
Once you’ve become familiar with the lexicon of Twitter and discovered people and topics that interest you, it is time to unleash the true professional development power of Twitter by joining your first chat. Chats are online discussions based on a hashtag (the # sign followed by a word). Typically lasting an hour and taking place at the same time each week, these discussions help move ideas and philosophies forward. Once you’ve identified one you are interested in, make time in your schedule to join it. Remember that it’s OK to lurk at first! It can be difficult to get the full experience using your phone, so consider using a tablet or laptop. Tools like Tweetdeck can help manage the information in a cleaner and more easily digestible manner.
Inspiration can be found in unlikely places, and Twitter is no exception. Besides finding great resources, you’ll connect with many like-minded educational professionals. If you keep an open mind, you will gain friends who will be happy to answer questions or lend you a hand when you are in need. So much more than it seems on the surface, Twitter offers the opportunity for real, deep conversation and the exchange of ideas in an open environment. It is within this unique space that incredible lifelong learning can occur.
For additional ideas to improve your professional practice, check out these ASCD featured resources.
Jasper Fox Sr. is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015. Fox teaches science at Lakeland Copper Beech Middle School in Shrub Oak, N.Y., where he is in his thirteenth year of teaching. An avid writer and connected educator, he maintains an active Twitter presence as @jasperfoxsr and writes regularly for Inservice on improving educational practice to help all students succeed.