Staying Connected with Twitter

The following piece will appear in the next issue of Principal Communicator. 

Twitter is a significant and critical professional tool that, as a principal, I use daily, though not as I had originally envisioned. Admittedly, at first, I wasn’t impressed with Twitter as a platform for communication and didn’t see why anyone would feel compelled to visit a website in order to read 140 character messages. But in 2007 Twitter was “the future” for how educators could (and would) connect parents to their schools, so I followed the “trend,” opened an account, and pretty much forgot about it until 2011 when the conversation resurfaced during my first year as the principal of Dobbs Ferry High School. Once again, Twitter was presented as a vehicle for connecting parents and community members to our school and I was open and excited about the possibility given the explosion of social media at that time.

In Dobbs Ferry, we are guided by the belief that communication must be differentiated so that we can best reach parents, students, and community members. We thought at the time that Twitter was “taking off” and that this would be an easy way to share school-wide information in a quick and ongoing way. We were actually wrong. As it turned out, most parents were not on Twitter and in the end I found that our high school Facebook page was a much better tool for communicating information about our school. In fact, of the over 3,000 Twitter followers that I currently have, I’d say that only around 75 are parents and/or community members.

Despite the limited impact that Twitter has had on parental communication, however, Twitter did take on a much different role than I had originally expected. Instead, Twitter has served as a tool that has truly transformed the way I think about professional development and professional networking. Specifically, I use Twitter in the following two ways:

  • As a Professional Learning Network (PLN): Twitter has provided me with the opportunity to connect and interact 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 happily 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 teachers and leaders in my school. As a principal, supporting this level of differentiated, far-reaching, “up to the minute” communication is an absolute must for any educator who is serious about ongoing professional growth and improvement.
  • Engaging and Connecting Teachers: I encourage the teachers in my school to open a Twitter account and to “follow” some of the relevant educators and publications in the field. For most, 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 thing to do” 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 “back-channel” 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 sense, Twitter is the “norm” and is not far different from teachers’ communicating via email or text message.

Twitter is truly transforming the educational landscape in ways that were probably never intended when it was first created. In addition, teachers at our school are using Twitter inside of the classroom in much the same way and it has truly enhanced instruction and overall student engagement. While there is plenty of room for debate on the future of Twitter, it is clear that its ability to connect principals, school leaders, and teachers will ensure that it continues to “trend” for years to come.

Please feel free to contact me on Twitter @johnfalino1 if you have questions and/or would like to share your experiences about how Twitter has (or hasn’t) worked for you.

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