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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

How Twitter is Changing Professional Development for Educators

By Peter DeWitt — December 04, 2011 6 min read
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“I naively assumed that Twitter was a place for people to narcissistically blab their every move, and after reading “Why Educators Should Join Twitter,” my mind was changed and I joined. My life is changed! I finally feel like I have others whose lives revolve around education the way mine does”. Jaime Mendelis, Binghamton, NY

A couple of my friends have the availability to work from home a few days a week. I have this image of waking up, putting on a pair of sweats, grabbing a cup of coffee and sitting at my laptop to begin my day. No one running in to tell me there is an emergency. No bad hair days. Perhaps I could even play some classical music in the background as I begin my day.

The reality is that most of us who work in education definitely do not have quiet lives. Depending on the level you teach, you may have a group of students following you down the hallway at any given time. Being an educator is a great way to live life but we are surrounded by students and colleagues during every part of our day.

Most people outside of education do not know what it is like to look at the clock in the morning and hope that you get a chance to run to the bathroom before the bell rings, because if you don’t, you’re just not sure when you’ll make it there. But it’s ok, these are all the issues that come with being an educator and most of us accept it with a positive attitude because this is our chosen profession.

What if we could find professional development where we don’t have to leave the house? No worries about driving directions or meeting our colleagues on time. The biggest traffic issue is when too many people are on the computer at the same time. With all of our daily distractions we do have access to professional development within the comfort of our own homes, and that is through Twitter.

Recently I have been focusing on Twitter in a couple of blogs for Finding Common Ground. The first post I wrote about the social network was “Why Educators Should Join Twitter,” and I received the above e-mail by Jaime, a teacher in Binghamton who read it. I thought she perfectly encapsulated what I tried to convey in the blog.

When we are not in school, or sometimes when we are in school, we can get on Twitter and find great resources. Our followers or those that we follow send out great videos, blogs and articles. They introduce us to resources we may never have found on our own because the internet is vast and wide. Things have certainly changed, because only a few years ago many of us were not allowed on Youtube during the school day and some districts banned their teachers from using Facebook.

Over the past month I have created relationships with people I may never meet but we do have one very important bond. We are all educators who do not accept the status quo in our classrooms, buildings and districts. We want to change the present educational conversation in the media and in politics. We want to get a better understanding of our students and we are going to the experts we find on Twitter to get the resources we need.

Twitter is a place that allows everyone to have a voice. I understand that sometimes that may be a bad thing, but I feel that it is important for everyone to have an opportunity to talk. Even our detractors! If we don’t like what they have to say, we just need to choose not to read their words or follow them.

Not a Place for the Longwinded
What makes Twitter unique is the fact that people have to say more with less. With less than 140 characters to use to get a thought or idea out, it minimizes the amount of time readers spend looking at a resource. We have turned into a quick fix society where we want our ideas quick and Twitter is a place for that. Fortunately, we are surrounded by our own Professional Learning Network that support us in our quest to quickly find the most innovative and research-based ideas.

When reading articles or books, we always look at the synopsis to see if that particular document will be interesting to us. We can tell within a few sentences whether we would want to read the whole book or article. On Twitter, Tweets are limited to 140 characters which means the people sending out the Tweet have to make sure they use the most engaging words. It forces writers to make sure they are concise and not longwinded. Many educators find it a place to Tweet out their big ideas without the concern of having those ideas get shot down.

At any time on any given day we can sign on to Twitter and find some of our colleagues who are Tweeting out new information. It used to be that New York was the city that never sleeps, but Twitter is the social network that never stops. The benefit of Twitter is that those educators on the social network are from every part of the world. It’s exciting to talk with people who may share our same concerns and our same passions and yet they are thousands of miles away. It is truly changing the face of professional development because it is connecting learners on a daily basis.

What Does This Say About Us?
As more and more educators join Twitter, the conversation will grow and become more enriching. I am a fan of #elemchat and #edchat. The moderators of the discussions post questions and everyone can respond but sometimes people just sit back and read the answers. If we are diving head first into these discussions in this social network format, how will our students benefit? In the end, what we do during professional development should be beneficial to our students and ourselves.

What we learn through professional development are tools that we can use with our students. If we use Twitter as professional development we are already on the road to discovering why our students love to use the internet and technological tools. We find those tools engaging for the very same reasons our students find them engaging.

There are always times when we make mistakes, and many adults are concerned about making mistakes on the internet because it might damage the computer or send off missiles. The reality is that signing onto a computer and logging into Twitter will not send off any missiles, so adults need to relax and enjoy the ride.

We should always make sure we follow people who give us the information we need. There are companies that believe we will use their product if they follow us, and sometimes that may be true, and there are people who pontificate about this and that. Isn’t that just like life?

There are far too many voices that should be heard on Twitter and your voice should be one of them.
When we talk about Twitter our students understand that we are not trapped in the past century. They understand that we have a need to connect with others just like they have a need to connect with others and we are using a medium that they love to make that connection. If we follow the appropriate people, those that will give us good information, and use our media literacy to negotiate our way through the resources, then we are truly in a position to have a great experience on-line.

Twitter is not just about celebrities who want to tell you what kind of coffee they are buying. Twitter is a place where educators get together to talk about important topics. Give it a try, you may get hooked and find the valuable resources you were looking for to change the way you teach.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.