@thomascmurray: I learn more on Twitter in one week than I did in ANY grad course, which by the way, I paid for. Who's with me? #edtech #edchat #satchat

@sjunkins: Twitter is everything a teachers lounge should be... Inspiring educators with engaging ideas. #iaedchat

@21centuryteachr Jody & Shara At a PD conference I'm looking for one or two good ideas to bring to the classroom. You can get that on Twitter in five minutes. #edchat

Let us first say that, as of writing this article, we have 126 Twitter followers. Now, don’t get us wrong, we are really proud of this number, but by no means does this make us experts. In fact, we are still figuring out how to get the most out of Twitter as we possibly can. We consider ourselves newbies to the Tweet scene, and are only beginning to understand its implications for education. But, in this short time, one thing has been made very clear: Twitter is definitely the current “it” place for the most cutting-edge ideas in the education field.

At the teaching fellowship program we attended, we were told to make sure to visit another classroom teacher and observe because, “classroom teaching can be a very solitary profession.” Perhaps it was prior to now, but with the explosion of social media, web-based professional development communities, and online learning management systems there is no need for an opaque and solitary teaching existence. Teaching can now be, thanks to the Internet, a transparent and shared venture. In the past, teachers could hoard good lessons and live in the solipsistic world of the classroom all day; now, teachers can share their progress, their ideas, their lessons, their struggles, and most importantly, their successes.

One of the most significant (and rightly so) hurdles of this sharing on the Twitterverse is that it is so so very public. When teachers use online learning management systems or class websites they are usually only opening themselves up to the students, parents, teachers, and administrators at their school. But posting lessons, outlines, experiences, and opinions on Twitter is for the world to consume. This has implications for the teacher socially and professionally. Schools may prefer that their teachers not engage in social media as public as Twitter in the fear that the sharing may reflect poorly on the school, or, at the very least, wish that their teachers’ opinions be accompanied by the oft seen caveat of: “the opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the school.”

To indulge in these fears completely would be to miss a groundbreaking professional development opportunity. A recent blog post by educator Tony Sinanis recapping his year in Twitter waxed eloquent on the myriad of reasons why Twitter is so amazing, even asking the tongue-in-cheek question: “Do you want to watch an episode of Modern Family and participate in some PD at the same time? Twitter lets you do that!” (PD being the Twitter slang for professional development.) However witty Sinanis is being, he is completely correct. What Twitter offers is a twenty-four-hour, any subject/specialty course in professional development that you can do while living your personal and professional life. Administrators afraid of the publicness of Twitter need to see the flip side: because it’s so public, it is free, and allows a world of educators to share what is good and what is coming.

Educators are educated too. The two of us have favorited so many articles and blog posts with both theoretical and abstract education concepts, as well as straight-to-classroom use-this-minute ideas, that we have trouble keeping up. And while we are just getting the hang of moving from consumer to contributor in the incredible #edchat #edtech conversations, the amount of support, information, and cutting-edge practice out there is astounding.

It’s easy for a teacher to feel like the king of the classroom when you are there with your students, to feel like the education you received was sufficient, that the professional development conferences you attend keep you cutting edge enough-- but until you look at Twitter, you won’t realize the sheer volume of conversations that are happening without you. This was what the two of us experienced when we joined Twitter. It was kind of scary and awe-inspiring at the same time: the education world had been going on without us, and it was going really fast.

Just in January alone, Twitter educators have discussed textbook reform, classroom and school data analysis, and the engagement of parents in schools. Articles and blog posts were written on cutting edge education topics: flipped classrooms, iPad use, digital citizenship, project based learning, differentiation, and more. Teachers have their pick of topics that apply to their experience and their students’ needs, and have access to a vast resource of educators who have tried new approaches to teaching and can tell their stories. And these educators come from every place in the education sphere; there are principals, heads of school, classroom teachers, resource teachers, etc. from all types of schools, public and private--all sharing their knowledge together.

Twitter and other social media can’t (and shouldn’t) replace professional development conferences, retreats, forums, etc. Twitter, or whatever is next that replaces it (that’s inevitable, right?) should be made a part of professional development in schools; it is professional development that can happen every day, even every hour. That being said, many teachers already balk at the idea of incorporating technology they are less than comfortable with, and Twitter is not necessarily the easiest to use. While its interface is fine, the etiquette, the chats, and other minutiae could take some time to figure out how to navigate, especially if the user is reticent in the first place. However, educators will need to figure out how to clear these hurdles, because the conversation is too rich and valuable for any teacher in this century to miss.


Previously in this series:

Teachers and Administrators, Don’t Be Scared of Technology: It Won’t Replace the Classroom

Being a Digital Native Isn’t Enough