One of the most popular social media platforms for educators looking to build a Personal Learning Network (PLN) online is Twitter. Twitter provides educators the opportunity to connect with peers around the world and engage in "anytime, anywhere" professional development. Though the positive aspects of the social media platform are many, Twitter also can be overwhelming for new users. Whether you have already started exploring the educational community on Twitter or have yet to set up an account, here are some tips to help you on your journey.
1. Don’t be afraid.
At a conference keynote I attended, Mark Milliron said something that really stuck with me: “You should always be a rookie at something.” It is OK to be a rookie at social media! We all started in the same place. Twitter can be very intimidating at first. If you have an iPad, you may wish to view your Twitter feed through the Flipboard app, which presents content in a very visually appealing and user friendly way.
I was initially very intimidated by Twitter, but as a wise colleague and Twitter veteran told me, “Sometimes, you just have to jump in with both feet.” I took her advice to heart and will be forever grateful for that push. Consider this your push!
2. It’s OK to lurk!
Don’t feel like you need to actively participate in the conversation until you have gotten a feel for Twitter etiquette and culture. Start by watching and learning, and jump in when you feel more comfortable. As my Twitter colleague Tom Murray (@thomascmurray) once said: Lurk. Listen. Learn. Lead.
3. Stick with it.
It's natural to feel uncomfortable when you're trying something new. It takes time to gain confidence and develop your social networking skills. Participating in social media is like learning any new skill — you have to stick with it to see the long-term benefits. Model the learning skills you want your students and teachers to exhibit. Remember, we ask our students to learn something new every day!
4. Set aside some time every day to participate.
The most common reason school leaders give for not learning to use social media is, "I'm too busy." You don’t have to spend two hours a day on social media to realize the benefits! Commit to spending 15 minutes a day on your social network of choice for a month. You will almost certainly find that the contacts you make and the resources you discover will save you time and energy in the long run.
5. Leverage the power of hashtags
Hashtags are words preceded by the pound symbol (#) and are used to categorize and filter Twitter content. By following hashtags, you can find content related to your interest. #edchat is perhaps the best known hashtag, but try following #cpchat, #satchat, or #edadmin to connect with other school administrators on Twitter. Just enter the hashtag into the search bar at search.twitter.com or in the search bar of your mobile Twitter app. You can find list of educational Twitter hashtags here.
6. Try following a Twitter chat
Twitter chats are interactive conversations on Twitter that take place at a predetermined time using an agreed upon hashtag. All participants append the chat hashtag to their tweets, making it easy to follow the chat. Twitter chats are a great way to meet like-minded school leaders. Try using a tool like TweetChat to help you follow the discussion. Visit this list of Twitter chats and hashtags.
7. Check out these helpful resources!
Educator Jerry Blumengarten, known as @cybraryman1 on Twitter, has a fabulous website that all educators should bookmark! Jerry has curated resources for every educational topic under the sun on his site. Check out these helpful Twitter pages to start your social media journey:
- Twitter for Beginners — Great resources for school leaders new to Twitter.
- PLN Stars — Find people to follow and jump start your Personal Learning Network!
- How to take part in a Twitter Chat — Tips, instructional videos, and much more!
About the author: Susan M. Bearden has been the director of information technology at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne, Fla., since 2009. She frequently presents and writes about social media as an educational and business tool. As a technology leader, she strives to provide teachers and students with the support, tools and training needed to help them become responsible digital citizens and 21st century learners. She tweets about education technology and social media as @s_bearden.