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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Why Educators Should Join Twitter

By Peter DeWitt — November 21, 2011 6 min read
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In late July I decided to join Twitter. To be perfectly honest with you I had no idea what I was supposed to do when I got on there but I heard so much about it I thought it would be a worthwhile experience. The only concern was that we have so many distractions already in life that I wasn’t sure that I needed to add one more the list.

I consider myself fairly technological, and given the amount of time I spend checking e-mail I know that I am “connected.” I have a “Smart” phone, IPod, IPad, laptop and I created my own website. For a long time I thought Twitter was a venue for celebrities to Tweet their every move, so it wasn’t anything that interested me but I figured I would give it a try.

Lynn, the Director of Technology in the school district where I am a principal, kept telling me that Twitter is great because it streamlines the information you receive. She is a “techie” and knows about all of the latest 21st century tools and I trust her judgment. I did however, like the idea that Twitter offered “one stop shopping” for all of my educational needs.

Too many times in the 24/7 media we are hit with images we would rather not have to see. As I get older I have less of a need to hear most of the news that come on the television. She assured me that with Twitter, you choose to follow people that have your common interests and when they Tweet information, you will be exposed to articles, blogs, videos, quotations and information that you find valuable. She certainly made it sound interesting.

Every month I made new connections but wasn’t really into the whole experience. Then, in early November something amazing happened. I actually understood what Twitter was all about. All of Lynn’s advice came rushing at me when I found an elementary education chat session happening on a Saturday evening. I have to admit that I wasn’t sure what #elemchat meant but I saw a few of the people I was following add that phrase to what they were posting. I decided to click on #elemchat and I found educators from all over the world posting advice and resources for elementary education.

That was the moment I became hooked on Twitter. Connecting with people from around the world who have similar interests and understand your passion for education can be inspiring. Although educators get accused of accepting the status quo and not wanting to move forward, Twitter is a place where that accusation is proven wrong. Educators, who do not know each other and have never met, and may never meet, share their best practices, wisdom or advice.

Why Educators Should Join Twitter
We live in the 21st century where our students don’t just “do” social networking; it is a part of who they are as digital citizens. To us, it’s a big deal to get on Facebook or Twitter, and to our students it is something they cannot fathom living without. Understanding their connection with those sites will increase an educator’s connection with their students. Being able to talk their language may even provide an opportunity to breakthrough to a hard to reach student.

Many educators have students that they cannot seem to reach. Sometimes those educators do not feel comfortable reaching out to their immediate colleagues, so they reach out to people they follow or to the people who follow them on Twitter. Many times those colleagues on Twitter can provide really valuable resources that can help educators meet the needs of their hardest to reach students.

In addition, there are millions of people on Twitter, including organizations that have great resources around such issues as homelessness, bullying, special education and gifted education. Socially and emotionally many of our students are dealing with issues that many educators never had to deal with, and a social network like Twitter, and the organizations that are on there, can help educators help their students and parents by connecting them with many valuable resources.

Professional Development
Many educators are intrinsically motivated to find their own professional development. They read websites and blogs and are members of organizations that send them journals. They read more educational material than they read books for fun. Twitter is one resource they should add to their list because they will find blogs, articles and videos that they would never be able to find on their own. There is just too much out in cyberspace to be able to find these resources through regular search engines.

Many times, there are educators who ask for help from their followers and the people they follow. Those questions are quickly answered and resources are often provided as well. Other times, when visiting Twitter educators will find conversations and read thought- provoking quotations and blogs on topics that may become a new interest for them.

Many schools no longer have a great deal of money to pay for professional development, which is unfortunate because those experiences can be very educational. The budgets that those school districts do have are earmarked for the best possible professional opportunities that will tie into district goals. Although conferences and one day trainings are always beneficial if educators put into it what they get out of it, Twitter offers daily professional development in the privacy of your own home.

Connecting with colleagues from all over the world who have similar interests is really amazing. As much as we may think we have it difficult in our present circumstances, which we do, connecting with educators in other countries helps to put things into perspective. Sometimes those educators have it much harder and need our help, and other times there are educators who are in schools that we find inspiring and give us something to work toward.

The following are some suggestions regarding Twitter:
• Although there are privacy settings, be careful what you write. Everything you post has a way to be public. Keep it respectful, as if your students or your grandmother was reading it.
• Make sure you watch the amount of time you spend on it. Hours can pass by you rather quickly when you are on Twitter. Don’t forget to check in with your loved ones every once in a while!
• Twitter should never supplant professional development but it can supplement it during difficult financial times.

In the End
Connecting with likeminded educators from around the world can help lift us out of our present situations and give us something to strive for because some of these resources teach us how to live creatively within our parameters. Those likeminded educators can also help us meet the needs of our students. When we have exhausted all of our other resources that are within close proximity, Twitter provides us with resources that we may never knew existed.

Our students enter our classrooms coming from diverse backgrounds and they have been exposed to diverse experiences. Those experiences may have been helpful to their development, while other experiences may have been detrimental to their development. All of that diversity makes it hard to meet the needs of each and every student.

Although Twitter cannot solve all of the problems that our students have, it can provide educators with ways to help those students. In addition, it may help inspire educators to try new things in their classrooms. Who knows, it may even create a relationship where educators and their students can connect with other educators and students from across the globe, and open up new experiences for everyone involved.

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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.