Two Arlington Teachers Talk about How They Use Twitter to Help both Their Students and Themselves
December 10, 2021
December 10, 2021
By Belinda Folb and Jennifer Burgin
Over the past year, as the way we worked with students changed so dramatically, many educators have added “savvy with online tools” to their list of professional skills. Would yours include social media? It does for us! One very useful social media tool is Twitter, and here are some suggestions to help you use it in your classroom, from two elementary educators who’ve been using it for a while now.
Twitter is a platform you can use to communicate with teachers, students’ families, professional colleagues, and community members. Registered users can read, write, and share small posts (280 characters or less) called “tweets.” Unregistered users can read posts but not share or comment on them. Hashtags (the # followed by a short phrase) are used to raise awareness of a particular topic or connect multiple users’ posts together. They’re especially helpful if you’re trying to give your post context. You can also call attention to people by using the @ followed by their username (known as a handle) in your tweets. When you use someone’s handle that way, it shows up in that person’s feed. Users are also able to send a message directly to other people privately in a direct message, known as a DM.
There’s no magic to getting on board with Twitter—just create an account and sign up. Some school divisions prefer that you use your school email address if you’re using the account for official school business. Other divisions prefer that you use your personal email address, so check on local policies.
Union business, political discussions, and personal photos should be done on a separate Twitter account that you do not use for school. You will have to provide a phone number for verification, and you should read the terms and conditions before accepting.
If you’re just starting, come up with a simple username and profile picture. You can change it later if you choose to begin developing your brand. If you have an old account that is no longer relevant, you can also update the username, profile picture, and banner to meet today’s needs and goals.
Building a Professional Learning Network
Twitter is a wonderful tool to connect with and learn from others. A professional learning network (PLN) is a group of people you learn with that are outside of your day-to-day spheres of influence. Building a PLN on Twitter can connect you with educators from around the world, building each other’s world views. You can also connect with scientists, authors, artists, and other experts in various fields that relate to the content learners’ experience in your classroom.
You can use Twitter for continuous professional development. After attending a conference or learning a new strategy, you can follow handles and hashtags related to what you learned for updates and information about additional growth opportunities. You can also share how you implemented the training by posting and using these handles and hashtags in your own tweets or message other professionals and groups in a DM with questions and comments.
One of the benefits of having a PLN is that you find out about unique events, contests, and additional opportunities for professional growth, including opportunities to review new books or materials and essay contests and other challenges for your students.
Developing Your Brand
Your profile picture should be of your face. Your banner picture should be related to your work. Your handle (username) should also reflect your work. In the bio section, share what matters to you.
Here are our two examples. Jennifer has a more detailed bio connecting to different professional activities. Belinda has a cleaner, simpler bio stating a strong connection to education. Both versions work!
Posting often is important and helps you connect with and maintain followers. There are some platforms, such as Hootsuite and TweetDeck, which enable you to schedule and manage posts. For someone beginning to tweet, make a goal for one tweet a day. Adding a photo, illustration, or GIF (a short video clip) often garners attention and enhances views, though beware: Keep things professional and thoughtful when selecting images and GIFs. What might pass in a private message to a close friend may not pass in a public message about pedagogy.
Remember to keep personal and union business off Twitter. You can create an additional profile with your personal email address for that purpose and brand those accounts specifically to personal or union goals.
Once you have begun to establish your PLN and develop your brand, it is time to start using those established connections to give back to your community.
Last year, a teacher wanted to provide enrichment opportunities during the summer and began tweeting an educational activity every day so parents would have ideas for fun and academic activities without the pressure of signing up or purchasing subscriptions. The teacher did not need to think of all these activities, but rather share the opportunities that were available on Twitter. This activity was able to connect families to local and national resources they might not have found on their own.
Some of the best ideas we’ve come across have been from other educators. This is the power of the retweet or retweet with comment. You can amplify others who have inspired you, and then share your inspiration to uplift others. Twitter can allow you to share the amazing ideas that you have thought about, such as sharing about a book that you read in class, a routine that you tried that worked well, or a lesson that you experimented with. Another educator might be looking for an idea and you could be their—and their students’—inspiration. Twitter is not so much about being perfect and getting others to be you, but rather about sharing your strategies, lessons learned, and helping out others making this professional journey alongside you.
Another advantage of Twitter is its ability to share the voices and ideas of some very important people—the students you serve. Children have a lot of thoughts and questions, and Twitter can enable them to both reach amazing people to find answers and insight, and to share their voices and accomplishments.
Depending on your school division’s policies, you can share student work. Some teachers have a special clip that students can put on their work when they want it shared on Twitter. It is a great opportunity to discuss guidelines for safely sharing on social media.
Sometimes educators are hesitant to allow students to use Twitter because they’ve heard stories about negative experiences online or are afraid they could be endangering their students. However, social media is a part of this generation’s lives and probably always will be, so it’s important they they’re taught how to use it as a safe and effective messaging tool. Safety, anonymity, and an open discussion with families is paramount to this step. Families will let you know early on how comfortable they are, especially after you explain how you intend to use social media collaboration. Some families may say “Go for it!” Others might ask you to blur a learner’s face.
A good rule of thumb when putting student work on Twitter is to remove any indications
of their identity, such as using their name, their handwritten name being visible on a piece of work, or allowing any identifying information to be seen. If you do post something that could identify a student, always be sure you have permission from parents. Then, ensure that you have the learner’s permission. A student might have an amazing work sample, but their decision in the tweet matters more than anyone else’s opinion. They will learn consent through this exercise, and that is extremely valuable. You can also let families know that you will be as careful with your learners’ branding as you are your own. Sometimes students’ clothing is too loose or tight, and parts of their body that are an “Oops, fix your outfit” in class would be made embarrassing in the public eye. Use a critical eye when scanning images and work samples, and your own judgment to ensure that tweets are heartfelt, genuine, and respectful.
One way to begin bringing students into Twitter is by creating tweets as a class to an author that you read. Sometimes the authors tweet back! Encourage your students to ask questions and then tweet them to experts in that specific field. When they notice an unusual cloud, tweet to the National Weather Service. When they see an unusual bird or insect, tweet to a local nature center or university. Students are excited when their idea or question goes to experts and are even more excited when they reply.
Twitter is a great way to communicate with other professionals, give back to the educational community and amplify the voices of your students. Give it a try! Both of us have really enjoyed Twitter and the benefits of a virtual PLN.
Also, if you try it, give yourself grace. Currently, Jennifer is less focused on her professional Twitter account and working on a program-based account for her school. Belinda has taken a break as she uses CANVAS more to connect with parents. Ebbing and changing with your Twitter use is natural, and when you’re ready, it’ll be there waiting for you.
Folb and Burgin, members of the Arlington Education Association, teach at Hoffman-Boston Elementary School.