How Twitter Can Take Your Teaching to the Next Level — from seven Milken Educators who have done it
Technology is increasingly pervasive in the classroom and in the lives of educators as a whole. There are myriad tools designed specifically for teachers, to help you reach students, monitor results and tailor lesson plans. But what about popular social networks like Twitter? As an educator, is it worth the time to integrate Twitter into your already packed schedule?
We asked a few of our more active “twitterati” Milken Educators for their thoughts, then added a handy resource guide to get you on your way.
Twitter = PD + PLN + Platform
The long and short of it is that if you're interested in professional development, growing your professional learning network, promoting your message, getting support for your cause, improving student experience and performance, or collaborating with other educators and classrooms around the world, Twitter might just be the tool you're looking for, and it's entirely free.
The seven Milken Educators we interviewed have successfully used Twitter to:
- Connect on the topics they're interested in
- Exchange ideas
- Find tips and resources
- Start collaborative projects
- Augment in-class learning for students
- Amplify their own voice
- Get their (and their students') work published
- Appear in a major Hollywood blockbuster (really!)
They had a lot of great insights to share. Here are just some of their answers to our questions:
Why do you tweet?
To learn, to share what I am learning, and to advocate for financial literacy for all.
It gets me and my ideas out there to the world.
Twitter has been the best professional development I've ever had! Research and best practices at your fingertips. It has also helped me create a PLN (Professional Learning Network). I have people on my Twitter that have expertise in a specific field.
As a classroom educator, Twitter became my primary source of contact with my students. When I posted new blog assessments, changed scheduled dates, or just needed them to take a look at a new resource I discovered online, we tweeted. Additionally, I used Twitter as an informal, formative assessment each day. Regardless of whether they took my class that day or not, each student was required to tweet me something they learned using #Room110 or #Room305 and #TIL (for "Today I Learned").
The impact of this exercise was phenomenal! My students engaged in conversations with me and with one another, but they also created threads of conversations with their peers and absolute strangers. What my students began to see was that social media provided an excellent platform for knowledge exchange and collaboration. They soon embraced their respective roles as teachers and began to teach their Twitter followers each and every day.
How has being active on Twitter helped you and your students?
One of my goals had been to include multiple formative assessment techniques in the classroom. I was able to ask my PLN the question and I received a plethora of ideas, templates, and visuals to use. I was able to try some and also shared some of my own. Twitter is ONGOING learning and sharing! HOWEVER it now doesn't just happen in a school…it happens throughout the world. BTW: one of the ideas I used was from a Reading Coach in Australia…How cool is that??
I met @CoolCatTeacher on Twitter and collaborated with her to develop a "Flat Classroom Project." Her students in Georgia, and my students in Ohio, worked together on writing and executing a business plan and social media plan to support the efforts of Destiny Rescue. Destiny Rescue is dedicated to fighting human trafficking.
It has generated new clients. It has also enabled broad-based discussions.
Using Twitter like a blog at a conference to keep our group of 40 updated in real-time about the most informative sessions was quite useful.
It has helped me in finding speakers for our faculty meetings and for developing partnerships for our school.
My students and I have had works published in various media outlets as a result of Twitter connections. People who followed us were inspired by the work we did and asked us to write about it. We met people who collaborated with us on projects and served as guest lecturers both in person and via Skype or Google Hangout.
As an @ASCD author, I was able to interview people for my books who were an active voice on Twitter such as @principalkafele, @richlouv, @pammoran, @Dwight_Carter, @lynhilt, and more.
It also helped me become an Iron Man III extra! I was following my Twitter handle and saw a ‘call for extras' for a local film they were filming here in Wilmington, NC and made it into the Iron Man III theatrical trailer (see 1:57 & 1:58 clips)
How did you get started with Twitter?
I began using Twitter as an early adopter. I'm usually one of those individuals who signs up via email to test out the Beta of various tech products. I have a tendency to try new things and then figure out ways to integrate them into my daily practices. Most of my personal friends still don't use Twitter, they're more of the Facebook crowd; but Twitter allows me to fellowship with an entirely new circle of colleagues based upon personal and professional interests.
My tech-savvy superintendent, @pammoran, encouraged me to begin tweeting around the summer of 2009. She fostered digital and innovative leadership and I now gain so much professionally from staying connected in this matter.
A good friend of mine, who is actually a principal, Don Miller (@dmiller212001 and the Co-Creator of #edchatri) kept sending me great resources. I would respond with, "where do you find these things?" He introduced me to Twitter. I was the first from my teacher friends to join, but eventually lured many on. I was addicted IMMEDIATELY! It was an endless world of professional development :-)
Basically, I wanted an archived repository containing worthwhile information that I could immediately access that would double as an agent for disseminating vetted and credible links.
What are the top Twitter handles to follow?
Our surveyed educators had over 50 suggestions, depending on interests and geographic region.
Here are a few that came up repeatedly to get you started:
Want to quickly follow and see what all of our Milken Educators are tweeting? Take a look at our Milken Educators Twitter list. You can click the Subscribe button on the left side and you'll see everyone's tweets, even as we add more educators to the list.
Do any of your students follow you and vice-versa?
Nearly all of our respondents allow their students to follow them to a degree. Some return the favor (and follow their students), while others prefer to give students their "personal space."
Students follow me on our classroom account @TeenDollars, but I do not follow students back.
I follow schools and they follow me! Most of my students are not on Twitter (they are mostly on Facebook).
Most of my students (now graduates) still follow me. I don't tend to follow them because I try to allow them their personal space outside the classroom.
Do you use trending topics? How?
Trending topics are the most popular terms that people are using in their tweets at any given time. Terms can trend globally or regionally, and are often hashtagged (see the glossary in the resources section below).
Some educators prefer not to pay attention to trending topics, as they may not be appropriate for education purposes. Others use them for personal reasons. Occasionally, though, trending topics can be a way to get attention to your message by tying it in to current events or something simply happening in the Twitterverse.
I usually have specific chats that I partake in and those happen on the same days and times. If you follow your interests, you will have a nice live feed. If I ever want to get attention to my message I will use #edchat. That is the most universal hashtag that has worked for me.
Using trending topics is a very useful filter for those that are constantly on the run yet want to be updated without devoting an inordinate amount of time to the endeavor.
Should every educator be active on Twitter?
We received a wide range of responses to this question, ranging from "Yes" to "YES! YES! YES!"
So we asked a few more questions to help you get started...
How should a teacher new to Twitter get started (without feeling overwhelmed)?
Don't feel compelled to read every tweet. Start small, follow 20-30 people. Don't tweet yourself until you feel comfortable.
Follow 10-20 folks and be a "lurker" at first. Be a consumer and follow more folks and then begin "producing" by conversing and sharing.
Keep it simple.
Seek out fellow educators with a good track record of being involved in Professional Learning Networks on Twitter. When you search them out, examine their tweet history. Do they consistently engage with other educators or participate in Twitter chats?
Teachers should just follow about 10 accounts and read the types of information that is being shared, including visiting the links embedded in the tweets. Subsequently, teachers should begin to retweet some of the information that is pertinent to them...professionally...and only after they become masters at Twitter should they add their own personal comments.
I suggest to get an account and just follow a few people. Twitter is like a waterfall, jump into it and you will get overwhelmed. I suggest sticking your cup in the waterfall, get what you need and get out. That allows you to process what you are seeing and slowly building connections with others online.
It's intimidating at first, but the more you practice the better you get. If all else fails...there is a garbage can icon...It can ALWAYS be erased and removed :-)
Twitter, like most social media, is about conversation and engagement. Retweeting or responding to someone else's tweets builds relationships and shows your followers what you are interested in at the same time.
Extra Credit (bonus tips)
Share out pictures of events. When I go to MFF notifications, for example, I try to tweet out pictures (and tag @milken).
Just wanted to add that TWITTER is truly the world of professional development at your fingertips! As a teacher, there is NO REASON why you should reinvent the wheel. If you are struggling with something, be assured that someone out there is too!! Twitter allows for collaboration and connections! We are not alone in trying to better the world of education! Twitter is not only inspiring BUT empowering!
Only use Twitter for professional purposes; frankly, no one cares where you are going to dinner. ;)
Twitter recently started showing attached images right in the stream, similar to Facebook. Tweets with images now stand out and a good image can significantly increase interaction.
Resources for Educators to Get Started and Maximize Twitter
Quick Usage Guide
Tweet LengthTweets are limited to 140 characters. This was originally done to conform to SMS (text messaging) capacity. Twitter has stretched this a bit now (see "links," below), but for the most part it still holds true.
"@"A prefix indicating the username (or "handle") of a Twitter account. Note: A tweet that starts with a user handle (e.g., "@Milken") will be visible to that user and their followers, but not to your followers. If you want everyone who follows you to be able to see the tweet, too, don't start it with a @user handle. Common convention is now to put a " . " before the @handle. E.g., if you were to tweet:
@Milken: thanks for the follow! <-- this would only be visible to us (@Milken) and people who follow us.
.@Milken just surprised another outstanding educator! <-- visible to us, our followers and your followers.
RetweetA way to rebroadcast someone's tweet to your followers (see "RT" in glossary below). Tweets will often include "Please RT" or "Please retweet" to encourage sharing, but these should be used sparingly for important announcements or alerts.
FavoriteThe equivalent of Facebook's "like" function, clicking "favorite" on a tweet tells the original tweeter that you enjoyed their post, but doesn't send it to your followers.
If you are including any link URL in your tweet, you only have 117 characters to use for the rest of the text.
Due to the 140 character limit, people traditionally used link shortening services like bit.ly (or HootSuite's ow.ly). While those services still have their uses if you want to track analytics, for the average user, they are no longer necessary as Twitter automatically shortens all URLs internally. However, you should still take into account the characters that the (shortened) link will take, leaving you with 117 for everything else.
Hashtags (#)A hashtag is like a keyword that you want people to be able to find your post by. Hashtags are used to identify topics, Twitter chats, and general items of interest. The most popular ones at any given time are referred to as "trending." Although they started on Twitter, social media hashtags have spread to most networks, including Instagram and Facebook.
This year, when we released news associated with the Milken Educator Awards notifications, we tagged it with #MEA13. Throughout the rest of the year, when we'll be using #MEAchat to let you know that this is something Milken Educators should note, or to have a live Twitter chat.
To give a visibility boost to your tweets on education, several of our respondents suggested using #edchat and #satchat (ongoing Saturday Twitter chat).
Wouldn't it be great if there was a comprehensive list of active twitter education hashtags and chats, with explanations of their focus and scheduled times so you can tune in and participate? Here it is!
Thanks to Brian Page for the link to this resource. Or, in Twitter speak: "H/T @FinEdChat!" (See explanation of "H/T" in the acronym guide below.)
Because of its limited 140-characters-per-tweet length, Twitter spawned the usage of a lot of acronyms and borrowed others from conventional texting. Here are the core ones you need to know to get started:
RTRetweet. Usually followed by a user's name and quoted text. Twitter now has a "native" retweet function that eliminates the need for the "RT" format. This frees up the extra character space previously required to prepend the tweet with the "RT @handle:" often breaking the 140 character limit, but the original RT style still persists. E.g.:
RT @wkingbg: Twitter is like a waterfall, jump into it and you will get overwhelmed. I suggest sticking your cup in the waterfall, get what you need and get out.
MTModified Tweet. Like an RT, but the quoted tweet is excerpted, condensed (usually for space) or otherwise altered.
DM(or just "D") Direct Message. A private message to the recipient that only they will see. You can only send a DM to someone who follows you, and only people you follow can send them to you. E.g., "d @Milken Thanks for the tip on direct messaging!"
HTor H/T – Hat Tip. Gives credit to a source. E.g.:
We've got the info to get #teachers tweeting! HT @YanaizaGallant @PrincipalKafele @ajaffurs @FinEdChat @billsterrett @mrssilveri @wkingbg
#FF"Follow Friday" hashtag. Suggestions of whom to follow. Traditionally done on Fridays, this is a way to share and discover twitter handles to follow.
For a more complete guide, browse over to this Business Insider Twitter Acronym Guide. (NB: FWIW, some of these are NSFW, but good to know to keep up w/conversations, IMHO. Just FYI.)
Twitter Apps for Your Computer and Mobile Devices
HootSuiteAn excellent cross-platform (desktop and mobile) tool to help you manage your Twitter, Facebook and other profiles. Need to send an assignment reminder to your students at a specific time? HootSuite will let you schedule tweets and posts, too. We use the "PRO" version of Hootsuite here at Milken Family Foundation, but the free version has all of the features most people will ever need.
TweetChatWhether you're participating in one of the dozens of regular education Twitter chats or one that just sprung up spontaneously, TweetChat lets you filter the twitter stream in real time, allowing you to focus on and respond to just the conversation that you're interested in.
StorifyWant to share a chat, class project or the convention buzz associated with a hashtag? Storify lets you pull the associated tweets, photos and links and combine them into a "story" that you can easily share. It even works across multiple social media platforms.
UberSocialA full-featured Twitter app for Android, Blackberry, and iOS with a friendly interface. UberSocial aims to help you discover new cadds curated content.
TweetDeckOwned by Twitter, TweetDeck lets you monitor multiple streams, accounts and searches in one powerful dashboard. Available for Windos, OSX (Mac) and as a Google Chrome extension.
About the Milken Educators
Tweets: 2,865 Following: 573 Followers: 502
Supervisor of Mathematics
Tweets: 1,993 Following: 1,999 Followers: 642
Tweets: 18.5K Following: 8,066 Followers: 17.6K
Tweets: 9,200 Following: 1,504 Followers: 2,199
Tweets: 6,702 Following: 514 Followers: 1,749
Professional Learning Admin.
Tweets: 13.1K Following: 1,133 Followers: 955
Educational Leadership faculty and program coordinator
Tweets: 4,392 Following: 1,648 Followers: 2,688
What's your Twitter experience?
Do you have a Twitter tip or story about how it impacted your career as an educator? Tell us in the comments below!
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In January 2013, I assumed a new position in Long Beach Unified School District to lead a Gates Foundation funded innovative Professional Development (iPD) Initiative. You can view this prezi to get a sense of what iPD intends: http://tinyurl.com/o8buuot . Our work was also featured in an article by Ed Surge: https://www.edsurge.com/n/2014-02-26-the-long-beach-road-to-perfect-pd . Ultimately, our goal is to design a professional development system that allows teachers to grow in ways not bound by time, proximity to resources, and geography, with multiple inputs and outputs tailored to each teacher's needs.
As our work has developed, we have found that Twitter has been an incredible resource to glean information/ideas, but that it has been equally amazing in gleaning feedback from people in the field. We have gotten some great insight from partners all across the country. That's when it dawned on my that I would love to see the Milken Educator voice in the conversation as well. There are so many talented peers in the network whose insights can inform our work and potentially form a base of our national Professional Learning Network, that it would be a waste not to attempt contact.
I was wondering how I email everyone in the list serv to get the word out to share resources, solicit insight, engage in dialogue, etc. on Twitter. Our professional Twitter account where this work is detailed and resources are currently displayed in @LBiPD.
Any guidance or help you can provide would be very much appreciated.
Posted by Nader Twal, CA 2003, 28/03/2014 4:37pm (9 years ago)
My best twitter tip is to begin experimenting with lists. You can create a list (either private or public) for each of your specific interests and you can also follow other people’s lists if those lists are public. For example, the Huffington Post’s education reporter Joy Resmovits has a public teachers’ list with over 600 accounts. You can find the official twitter accounts for the U.S. Department of Education in their public twitter list of 21 accounts.
What I most appreciate about using lists is that it provides me with a quick way to stay abreast of the latest conversations with key influencers in my areas of interest. Also, you can place a twitter account on multiple lists. For instance, many of the people on my edvocates list are also on my innovators list! If you have questions about using lists, send me a direct message via twitter: @Codega
Posted by Barbara Bowers, Milken Family Foundation, 26/03/2014 4:54pm (9 years ago)
What a helpful article! We just had the TAP conference earlier this month where teachers were clamoring for a good set of tips to get started! I happily Tweeted this article to our TAP network. As manager of @tapsystem, it pleases me to see the increased number of teachers engaging with us on Twitter. They are hungry to interact, especially around the TAP System, as the hundreds of schools are spread out around the country. We held our first Twitter chat to keep up the momentum and are excited about more opportunities to engage our audience throughout the year.
Posted by Jana Rausch, Milken Family Foundation, 26/03/2014 4:16pm (9 years ago)