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Virginia Journal of Education


May the Tweets Be Ever in Your Favor

One teacher’s experience with Twitter as a professional resource.

By Molly Patrician (@mspatricianhfb)

Back when Twitter first became a fad, in my late high school and early college years, I honestly did not get the point. I saw some fun in following celebrities and comedians, but it didn’t resonate with me enough to be on it more than once a month. It never occurred to me to use it as a professional resource.

I’m assuming many of you are in the same boat—the “How would I use this?” cruise ship, so to speak—and I want you to know I understand exactly how you feel. I’d also like you to know that I hope to completely change your mind.

I created my professional account last August, right before beginning this school year, and I did it for several reasons. First, the arts education department in my district was trying to get more teachers involved on Twitter. Second, Arlington Public Schools (APS) officials were trying to get more teachers involved on Twitter. And third, I knew that, with a little work, this might be the best platform to reach the parents of my students.

You may notice none of those reasons were, “I wanted to have a professional Twitter account.” That’s because, at the time, I absolutely didn’t.

For the first few months, I was pretty much alone in the Twitterverse. I tweeted pictures of activities in my classroom, new bulletin boards, and exciting announcements. I tried to generate followers by following other APS employees and the National Association of Music Education (NAfME), but mostly failed in actually gaining followers. It wasn’t until I went to the NAfME conference in Nashville last October that I really started to connect with other educators. That was where I also learned about the power of the hashtag (#). I tracked the conference hashtag (#Nafville2014) and was able to find out about great sessions, giveaways and exciting takeaways from the three-day conference! Upon my return to Arlington, my mind was spinning with ideas, and I knew I needed to take my involvement on Twitter to the next level.

In the whirlwind that followed, I learned about Twitter chats and started to participate in countless ones each week. I started with #sunchat (Sundays from 9-10 a.m. EST), which introduced me to some great Twitter educators. From there I moved on to more content-specific chats like #elmused (Tuesdays from 9-10 p.m. EST) and #musedchat (Mondays from 8-9 p.m. EST), as well as area-specific chats like #vachat (Mondays from 8-9 p.m. EST) and #novaedchat (Wednesdays from 8-9 p.m. EST). By connecting with educators in these chats, I followed many of them and started to gain followers of my own like crazy!

More importantly, I started to understand why Twitter is such a powerful professional development (PD) resource for educators.

Do you ever attend a conference or workshop and leave hungry to learn more? Have you ever wanted to attend a conference but lacked funding or time to actually get there? Twitter gives you the ability to get all of that PD from the comfort of your own home. My favorite spot to chat is nestled in the corner of my living room couch.  I have participated in chats on almost any topic you could possibly suggest: digital learning, behavior management, music education advocacy, parent communication, Teach Like a Pirate (#tlap- Tuesdays from 10-11 p.m. EST), and the list goes on. If you have a question, you can tweet it out with the hashtag or hashtags that you feel most appropriate to the subject and, more than likely, someone will answer you within 24 hours. There is a constantly-updated online list of educational Twitter chats. I used this to decide which chats I would participate in. Some have been incredible resources for me, and some are a better fit for different teachers. That’s the beauty: there really is something in the Twitterverse for everyone. I am proud to say that after about six months of chatting and truly connecting with educators using Twitter, I have gained over 1,000 followers—a huge milestone!

That’s a little about my personal interaction with Twitter. Let me explain how I was able to use Twitter to connect not only my school community, but also the community of educators in Arlington in general. I’ll start with my school, Hoffman Boston Elementary, located in South Arlington. After immersing myself in the Twitterverse, I wanted to share my excitement with my colleagues, so I begged my principal to allow me to give a short PD during a faculty meeting. Later that week, our school’s public relations liaison, who was the only one other than me on Twitter for professional reasons at my school, approached me about starting a staff Twitter contest at Hoffman Boston. And so, #HFBTweets was born.

 #HFBTweets is my baby. Don’t get me wrong, my music program is incredibly important to me and I put just as much time and energy into that as I put into Twitter. However, once our school had its own hashtag, something great began to unfold. We announced a staff-wide Twitter contest to begin last December. Staff members or grade level teams submitted their Twitter handles to me and in December we started to tweet in full force. Points for the contest were gained based on the following rules:

• Each tweet must include #HFBTweets.

• You gain one bonus point for tagging another handle from Hoffman Boston or Arlington Public Schools.

• Watch out for emails from me to find out about bonus hashtags.

• The winning team gets a catered lunch from our awesome principal!

And so it began, slowly at first, but gaining momentum as the month went on. Sure, some people were more involved than others, but isn’t that the case with all new initiatives? I wasn’t worried about getting everyone involved right away; all I wanted was for us to break into this rich education and communication resource. Now that we’re several months into the contest, I can say that half of the Hoffman Boston staff members are on Twitter and that a good number of those are tweeting on a regular basis. Our school community is now connecting on a totally different level. By tracking the hashtag on a daily basis, I am able to see what teachers around the school are doing in their classes, and they are able to see what I am doing in mine. Not only that, but we are starting to gain a steady stream of parent followers who have expressed their excitement at seeing the activities that their children are participating in at school.

After many of my coworkers got hooked on Twitter and its ability to connect us as a school, I wanted to increase activity and start a school-wide Twitter chat. Knowing my audience, I attached the idea to a book study. At the time, I was participating in a book study on Teach Like a Pirate, an incredible book on education by Dave Burgess. I wanted to share this at school, so we started #HFBTLAP. This was a great introduction to Twitter chats for about 15 staff members and I really enjoyed leading professional development from my couch!
 
A few weeks after starting #HFBTLAP, I was able to connect with the APS Director of Communications, Jennifer Harris. She started the PR liaison initiative earlier this school year and this has really helped to amp up the APS presence on social media: Facebook, Twitter and, most recently, Instagram. Jen connected me with two APS teachers, Josh McLaughlin from Barrett Elementary and Katharine Hale from Abingdon Elementary, both of whom are involved with Twitter as a professional development resource and within their school communities. Together, the four of us worked hard to launch our countywide Twitter chats, #APSChats (Tuesdays from 8-9 p.m. EST), in March.

#APSChats has been hugely successful. We’ve discussed a number of topics, including digital learning, 1:1 collaboration and arts integration. Josh, Katharine and I served as moderators in our inaugural chat, which had more than 50 participants. Since then the chats have been moderated by teachers, administrators and instructional technology coordinators. Many educators in our county felt pretty isolated when talking about the key issues we face every day, and #APSChats has brought us together to face these issues head-on. We are very excited to continue this professional development activity.

My involvement in Twitter has opened me up to a whole new world of resources and connections I could never have imagined a year ago. Recently, I even started a slow chat (you can talk at any time during the day) with some of my elementary music educator Twitter friends, #elmusclass, where we are now engaging our students in the world of Twitter. #APSChats has also gotten a lot of support from our superintendent, Dr. Patrick Murphy. I was honored to present on a panel on social media with him and Jen Harris at the Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington, D.C. in March. Knowing Dr. Murphy is behind us 100 percent has made the endeavor that much more exciting!

I encourage you to start to use Twitter and, if you’re worried about using it as a professional, then take baby steps. Even as a “digital native,” as they call those of us who grew up with technology, it still took me a while to get acclimated to this kind of professional development and school communication. So if you’re going to jump in, don’t worry about it making total sense from the very beginning. My best advice would be to ask questions. Ask me questions. I welcome them all. I made myself available to our staff when we started to use Twitter on a regular basis, and that helped make people feel comfortable using this social media platform.

I have totally bought into the incredible professional development that Twitter provides, and I challenge you to try it too. You might be surprised at what you find.

Patrician, a member of the Arlington Education Association, is a music teacher at Hoffman Boston Elementary School.

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