Teacher-oriented events and conferences can help you learn and collaborate with other educators in a ton of ways, but there isn't always enough time to attend them. Good news, though: social media is making these opportunities easier to jump on.
With education Twitter chats, you can gain expert advice, learn about innovative practices, and interact with peers without having to leave your classroom—or your living room, for that matter. Your colleagues are hashtagging #edchat, #edtechchat, #edmodochat, #hseduchat, #kidsdeserveit, #teacherprepchat, #educoach, and many other conversations and live events that focus broadly on education or specifically on certain subject areas, grade levels, and strategies. Check out #hiphoped, for example.
Twitter chats are "like going to a conference or having a personal-development day where you hear about others' experiences and advice, and you can relate and share yours," Edward Steinhauser, an AP teacher and ed tech coordinator at Woodrow Wilson Classical High School in Long Beach, California, told me via email. "By using the hashtag, you can continue to follow the chat long after the 'actual' chat occurred," he added, "so there is always a conversation going regarding your chosen topic."
The Value of Your Peers' Perspectives
It's hard to be a "department of one," as Dr. David D. Timony was in his past position as a learning specialist in a small Philadelphia-area middle and high school. Fortunately, Twitter also can help when educators find themselves in somewhat lonely roles like this. For Timony, who is now an assistant professor and chair of the Department of Education at Delaware Valley University, edchat or other discussions online helped him at the time, connecting him to peers facing similar issues, such as haphazard and incomplete live interactions with colleagues. Leveraging Twitter to "access a broad base of similarly engaged educators helped to support creativity, personal growth/reflection, and problem-solving," he said.
Peers on Twitter helped former elementary school teacher Barry Saide work through some past struggles, too, when he was challenged by a significantly revised fifth-grade curriculum. The revision "was a lot to digest, and the person leading our professional development around the new curriculum was spread thin," he told me in an email. Saide, who's since moved on to become supervisor for curriculum and instruction for Frelinghuysen Township School District in New Jersey, used Twitter to ask if anyone with deep understanding on hybrid nonfiction text would reach out to him. A staff developer at Columbia University's Teachers College and former language arts teacher in Red Hook, Brooklyn, shared his files with Saide.
"Pretty soon," Saide said, "not only was I secure in my understanding of what hybrid nonfiction was and how to teach it, but [he] and I were going to Columbia Lions basketball games together." A friendship was born!
Your Source for Growth
Rejuvenation was a goal for Lisa Stutts when she started using Twitter chats three years ago. A fourth-grade special-education teacher at Northern Parkway Elementary School in Uniondale, New York, Stutts wrote to me in an email that she can't express how much these engagements have changed her.
"I was opened to a whole new world of ideas and professionals," Stutts wrote. After her assistant principal introduced her to Twitter chats, they connected her to helpful links, professional book suggestions, and lesson ideas.
Fresh thoughts and different perspectives from educators around the world are "very motivating, and the perfect solution to complacency," she says. "Twitter has the most up-to-date information and trends, and sometimes our school does not. The information we seek out is on our terms, and that is freeing." She also was exposed to in-person events she otherwise never would have heard of, like nErDcamp. At this literacy-focused Edcamp, she learned about the importance of the "read-aloud" in upper-elementary education.
And if you can't make it to a conference, no matter how badly you want to go? No worries. "You can follow #edcamp on Twitter without going and still get all the links and information," she points out.
An Education Resource
How can you use education Twitter chats to grow as a professional and enjoy benefits that can impact yourself, your students, and your school? First, create a Twitter account if you haven't already. Then, suggests Steinhauser, follow people at your school or district and check out hashtags related to topics you're passionate about. Forums like Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers (ECET2) create these critical conversations online and at in-person events across 27 states.
You can start just by viewing commentary, but "the big thing with Twitter is to join the conversation," Steinhauser says. "There are so many talented and inspiring teachers out there sharing their educational experience with the world, and your engagement with them not only makes you better, but also helps them grow, too."
Chats are easy to dive into; they generally occur at regular times, are based on a certain theme, and follow a moderated question-and-answer format.
Heck, you can even moderate or co-moderate, as Saide does for #ECET2 chat, which takes place on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. EST. "We're in our third year and are going strong. We average 70 participants and almost 1,000 tweets an hour!" Saide says.
So get out there, and start chatting—it may be the easiest and most rewarding professional-development exercise you've ever done.