Introduced to the public in 2006, Twitter is quickly moving to the forefront of all social media and is fast approaching the 1 billion user mark that is proudly held by Facebook. At every turn, we hear of celebrities who are “tweeting” to their fans and now see hashtags (#) on even the most credible of evening news programs. I was first introduced to Twitter at a professional workshop in 2007 and it was presented at the time as “the future” of how we could (and would) connect parents to our schools. Admittedly, I wasn’t impressed and didn’t see why anyone would feel compelled to visit a site in order to read 140 character messages. It all seemed like a silly novelty and I was convinced that it would soon fade away. So I politely nodded during the presentation, opened an obligatory account, and pretty much moved on with my business.
Fast forward five years and I once again found myself in a discussion with a colleague (@ski626) about the power of Twitter and how schools are using it to provide information to parents and community members in a quick and easy way. Always open-minded and on the lookout for new ways to connect with others, I created a new account (@johnfalino1) and started exploring the possibilities. That was around 18 months ago and I’m still going strong. I’ve learned a great deal over that time about the many uses of Twitter and have been truly transformed in some ways and left shaking my head (“smh”) in others. While there is no shortage of lists that provide the hundreds of ways that Twitter can be used (many of which are a stretch), there are four main ways that I have either used (or attempted to use) Twitter as a building principal. They are as follows…
1) Communicating with Parents: My primary reason for venturing into the world of Twitter was to find a new way to connect with parents and community members so that I might share school news and information in a quick and easy fashion. Ironically, this is one of the last things that I now use Twitter for and have turned to Facebook for such purposes. I made many attempts early on to attract parents to Twitter and found that while I was picking up many followers, few (if any) were parents or community members. In this sense, Twitter had been more “trendy” than anything else. Following my last post on the power of Facebook (7/26/13), David Hochheiser (@davidhochheiser) commented that it is important for schools to “go where our community is instead of asking them all to switch to something like Twitter or a district blog.” I found this to be especially true and have since opted to use Twitter for other purposes while sticking with Facebook for communication of school news and events.
2) Building a Professional Learning Network (PLN): While Twitter is merely “trendy” with regard to communication, it is undoubtedly “trending” in its ability to connect professionals from around the world. Since joining Twitter I have connected and interacted with thousands of teachers, researchers, advocates, and administrators in the field through “tweetchats,” “mentions,” and by reading others’ posts. The information comes from all directions and it is easy to get lost in articles and educational research for hours each night. Furthermore, Twitter provides an easy way for professionals to share resources with other members of their PLN and has quickly replaced the “hard-copy” journals from professional organizations that come in the mail each month. It is also an invaluable resource for sharing information and examples of best practice with the leaders in my school (@careim2, @meghalberg, @scottpatrillo). It is differentiated, far-reaching, “up to the minute,” and an absolute must for any educator who is serious about ongoing professional growth and improvement.
3) Engaging and Connecting Teachers: The “trendy” vs. “trending” debate gets a bit cloudy with regard to engaging and connecting teachers in a school setting. Since getting involved with Twitter, I have encouraged the teachers in my school to open an account and to “follow” some of the relevant educators and publications in the field. For some, this has worked beautifully and has allowed me to share links to resources and articles on a regular basis. For others, Twitter is viewed as an “extra” that is not part of the daily routine. I never fault anyone who feels this way and instead continue to model best practice by referring staff members to my Twitter page and by engaging teachers in “backchannel” discussions during both faculty meetings and professional development workshops. At this point, the majority of the staff members at my school are active on Twitter and it is not uncommon to overhear teachers saying that they will “tweet” a link to a professional article to one of their colleagues. In this respect, Twitter is fully “trending.” However, the question of whether it will continue to be the best and easiest way to share information with everyone will determine if it ultimately falls into the land of the “trendy.”
4) Engaging and Connecting Students: The degree to which many of the teachers at my school have used Twitter inside of the classroom has helped to keep it “trending” in every sense. Teachers such as @dobbsbiology, @mrcohn9, @mikemeagh, @ms_sardinia, and @sarahhmstern regularly use Twitter in class as a tool to engage and assess student knowledge and understanding. It is not uncommon to walk by any one of these teachers’ classrooms and see the students with their phones out and engaging in a “backchannel” discussion while viewing an educational film or a student-led presentation. These teachers also organize evening “tweetchat” review sessions as well as “backchannel” discussions around important evening programming. In this sense, these teachers are “meeting students where they are” (@davidhochheiser) while opening them up to new ways that Twitter can be used as an engaging and worthwhile educational tool.
Twitter is truly transforming the educational landscape in ways that were probably never intended when it was first created. While there is plenty of room for debate on the uses discussed above, it is clear that its ability to connect others will ensure that it is “trending” for quite some time. Please feel free to comment on this post by sharing your experiences about how Twitter has (or hasn’t) worked for you.