On Friday, the use of Twitter for professional development was discussed at our in-service meeting. The vibe in the room seemed to range from "Seriously? That stupid thing the kids and celebrities use?" to "Duh, I've been on it for years!". I have had an account for many years (@liberrygurl), but just started to really use it in the last year or so. I occasionally participate in Twitter chats and frequently repost articles of interest to those in my Professional Learning Network (PLN). I also set up an account for the library (@gvlmc) where I post announcements, trivia, book club information, young adult literature news, etc.
The first step to getting involved with Twitter is to set up an account and make sure you pick a really secure password with a mix of letters and numbers. The account is free and you don't have to post anything right away if you would rather "lurk" for a bit. Take some time to get a feel for it before jumping in right away - you could even play with it before setting up an account. Remember, everything you post is public (or has the potential to be retweeted and made public) and is archived by the Library of Congress. If you want to remain anonymous, it helps to share at least your subject and/or grade level so those communicating with you have an idea of who you are since accounts with no information look like spam. You can also set your account to private, but it is hard to connect with new people that way.
Next, decide who to follow. Do any of your colleagues have accounts? How about professional organizations, experts in your field, and news outlets? Follow people that you want to learn from and see who they follow to grow your list even more. Follow a few for fun like your favorite sports team, author, musician, or celebrity chef. But wait - how will you know that the accounts are real? After all, there have been many imitation accounts that have made the news. Accounts that have been verified for companies or celebrities have a blue circle with a white check mark next to the name. Some people have rules that they will only follow 100 Twitter accounts, but I can't seem to pare my list down to that. A nice feature of Twitter is that you can create your own lists, so if I want to just see the latest posts from those I follow on my "Edtech/Library Stuff", "CookingNCrafts", or "Sports" lists, I can easily do that. You can also follow other people's lists.
Now that your account is set up, explore trending topics by searching for specific hashtags, which look like this: #edtech and are used to follow conversations on
topics. Anyone can make up a hashtag. I often use #tlchat (teacher
librarian chat), #libchat (library chat), #edchat (education chat),
#edtech (educational technology), #yalit (young adult literature),
#ebooks, #ereaders, #publishing, #childlit (children's literature), and
#books2movies in my tweets or retweets since the information is usually education, technology or library related.
Once you get comfortable with how Twitter works, participate in a Twitter chat, which will allow you to connect with others in real time. A chat is when a group meets online at a designated time and uses a specific hashtag to discuss issues that interest them. The hashtag for the conversation usually has "chat" in it. The Twitter chats can be as general as "education" as a whole or as specific as "fourth grade teachers". Many chats are archived and you can read the postings at a later time if you can't meet during the live discussion. There are tools to aid you during the discussions and to host a chat.
One tool that I have found to be useful is the BufferApp. It may appear that I am on Twitter 24/7, but I'm really not. I use the BufferApp to schedule when my tweets and retweets are posted. I usually check my email and Google+ in the morning and will "buffer" any tweets so that they show up every hour or so instead of all at once. This tool can also be used to spread out announcements from a club or sports team account. By running your tweets through a tool like this, you can also see retweet and click statistics.
There is some concern about teachers and social media. I have made the personal decision that Facebook is private and I don't friend students (K-12 or college). I will encourage my college students to connect with me on other forms of social media, such as Google+ or Twitter, because I want them to begin developing a PLN as we explore how to use social media in a professional manner as part of the coursework. I don't worry about my high school students because I figure they will quickly tire of my posts and everything I post there is either of a professional nature or something like "beautiful night at the ballpark". I am extremely careful about every post I make, even on my "private" Facebook page, since I do post a picture and identify where I work. I have also worked really hard to build a resume and professional reputation and don't want to do anything to throw it away.
Even if you do everything right, yes, there is still a potential for issues. My fiance is a high school English teacher who uses Twitter not for teaching, but for his side job as a sports writer. He connects with other writers, media outlets, athletes, teams, etc. and those connections have helped his column and podcasts. He has to keep his profile open for the sports writing and tells his high school students that find him that he will block any who follow him. Although he can't stop anyone from reading his tweets, he has made a decision that while his Twitter feed is public, that part of his life he doesn't want to include his students in. He had one incident where a student sent him a public message with profanity. We got the screen shot before the post was deleted and his administration was supportive in their handling of it. If are responsible with how you conduct yourself, it isn't your fault if a student harasses you online. Don't engage, just get the evidence and take it to the administrative team. Don't allow the chance that a student might do something stop you from using a powerful tool for connecting with other educators.
For more information check out the following videos hosted by Tom Murray (Quakertown SD):
Growing Your PLN - local and national educators discuss how and why they created a PLN, with Twitter being an important part of that.
The Power of Twitter Chats - local and national educators discuss what they have learned from Twitter chats