Twitter Tips for Teachers

16 Sep

As I speak with my colleagues and friends about what I'm doing online, they often look confused when I mention Twitter. The idea is so simple as to seem silly. The fascination with the minutiae of others' daily lives should wear off rather quickly. One hundred and forty characters seems too short for any really meaningful interaction. Twitter turns that assumption on its head, and its users have taken it to a level that (to most people) was completely unexpected. Twitter is an amazing professional development/learning resource for teachers.

Twitter has allowed me to expand my network of colleagues and associates beyond my school and community, across the globe. I interact with people from countries I have never visited and listen to points-of-view I might not have considered. Many of the relationships initiated on Twitter have evolved into genuine friendships and professional relationships that extend far beyond that medium. I have Skyped, emailed, shared and collaborated with a much larger network of people who are just as passionate as I am about teaching and learning. 

If you're a teacher, student or involved in education and are new to Twitter, here are some things I have learned in the last few years:

Take some time to set up your profile. 

People are going to be suspicious of what's inside that little egg. If you're uncomfortable putting a picture of yourself online, then use another image that says something about you. First impressions count, and people feel more comfortable sharing with you if they know something about who you are and why you're there. Make sure to include relevant information in your bio. Let colleagues know what you're interested in and what you're likely to tweet about. You'll get more follows that way.

Make your tweets relevant and interesting.

If you want to connect with a specific community, they'll want to know you have something to offer. Teachers are busy and don't want to have to scroll through tweet after tweet about the type of coffee you drink or how bad traffic was on the way to work. If you use Twitter as a social network, you will likely be followed by friends and loved ones, which is great. It is a very different experience than you will have if you use Twitter in a professional capacity. Busy professionals will quickly "unfollow" accounts that do not contribute to their Twitter stream in a meaningful way. Of course, an occasional tweet now and then about your life is fine, even in a professional network, others want to get to know you. However, it is best to tweet primarily about topics and resources that are of interest to you and your professional network.

Shorten links and add descriptions.

If you find an article, image, video or other media that you'd like to share, be sure to shorten the link. People will be more likely to click on it and retweet if you add a description of what you are sharing. I use bit.ly to shorten mine because the service tracks how many people have clicked on each link. When I review my links, I can then note which are most useful or interesting to the people in my network, valuable feedback!

Use hashtags.

Hashtags (the # symbol) are a useful way to organize content on Twitter. There are many wonderful education-related hashtags, which allow teachers to find relevant content. Hashtags are also used for events and chats on Twitter, and some teachers use them to collect tweets for a specific project or classroom. Cybraryman has an excellent education hashtag page

Reply, Retweet and Chat!

The best way for you to maximize your Twitter experience is to join the conversation and interact with others. If you see a tweet that you like, that is useful to you or that you wish you had tweeted, use the retweet button. Others will likely retweet your great tweets for the same reason. Reply to a tweet that asks a question, or if you have something to add. I have seen and participated in many wonderful conversations that began with a simple question posed on Twitter. Chats are another great way to communicate with teachers and have a conversation about specific topics in education. Once again, Cybraryman has a wonderful directory of education-related chats. There are grade-specific chats, subject-specific chats and general chats. Chats are conducted at specific times using specific hashtags. See Cybraryman's chat page for more details and some great resources on how to participate in an "Edchat".

Have fun.

Do you have any other suggestions or questions for people involved in education who are new to Twitter? If so, please share them in the comments below.

Image by bertop.