There’s a lot of talk these days about how worthwhile it is to be a connected educator. I’m one of those people doing that talking. I’m trying me best to be out there doing what I can to help people get connected. Odds are, you are, too. I might even be a nuisance to some people about it, but there’s good reason for that. Here’s why—There’s nothing that I’ve done that has had a bigger impact on me as a professional than getting connected online.
It’s not hard to find these crusaders for the professional growth online. The “Why get on Twitter?” message is pretty powerful, but the “How to get on Twitter” conversation is often oversimplified (or nearly neglected). Jump on Twitter, find a few educators, and let the magic happen, right?
Well, sometimes it’s not that simple.
The truth is that I jumped on Twitter in 2009 and proceeded to do nothing with it for 5 years.
5 wasted years.
Don’t get me wrong; I learned a ton where I was planted. My story is not one of those where I am the lone educator wanting to reimagine our current reality, struggling against all odds, and so on. As a matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite. I’m surrounded by an incredible group of educators in my school district who want to do what’s right for students whether that looks familiar or new. They’re amazing educators and even better people, and they push me to get better all the time.
I know that’s the exception to the rule, and I’m thankful for that each and every day.
In a certain sense, though, part of those 5 years was wasted.
Every educator has his or her own reasons for being on Twitter. For me, the really short version of why I engage in professional conversation on social media is that Twitter is a space where educators reject isolation, celebrate together, and continue professional growth.
When I first jumped into the Twitterverse, I wanted those things (I probably couldn’t have articulated it that way, but I think that was all in there somewhere). But when I got into in, I didn’t know what to do. I looked at tweets from famous people, tweeted 30 something times, and then gave up. For 5 years.
This post is what I wish I would have known then. If someone had stepped in and provided a little direction in any one of these areas (or their 2009 equivalents), I think it’s pretty likely I would have stayed.
I Knew I Should Be On Twitter, But I Didn’t Know What To Do When I Got There
My first issue was that I had no idea what to do once I got to the app. I’d share a bit about something foolish I’d seen or about the Astros or about Texas A&M football, and none of it ever seemed to matter much to me or to anyone else out there—especially educators. Nobody had ever told me there was a better way. What I wish I had known—there were educators gathering together for chats (in growing numbers) to discuss ideas that would push my thinking and challenge me to consider new perspectives as I grew professionally.
Initially this change came from who I followed. My process wasn’t exactly scientific. If I saw people saying something I liked (meaning it was encouraging or challenging), I followed them. I think it really is this simple. Pretty quickly you begin to trust a few voices out there, and when you do, look at who they follow. They might not all be a good fit, but there’s likely to be an educator or an organization that will push you, too.
The other thing to check out is people’s lists.
I have one that includes a bunch of people who push my own thinking (here’s the link), but there are tons of them out there. You can also find tons of great educators on Fridays by looking at the #FF posts of those you follow and trust.
I also love the advice from Ryan McLane and Eric Lowe at a conference this summer. Whether you’re sharing for your school of for yourself, with each post, do your best to engage, inform, and inspire others. It’s about as succinct a summary as I can find for what we as educators should be about online. If we accomplish that, we’re heading in the right direction.
Once I was following some folks who challenged, encouraged, inspired, and grew me, it didn’t take long to notice that Twitter chats were going to be pivotal in my online learning experience.
A Twitter chat is a conversation that happens around a particular hashtag at an agreed upon time. They often happen weekly, and they’re usually an hour long (though more 30 minute chats are starting up). More than anything, they’re my favorite place to connect with new educators and try on new ideas.
Here’s Cybraryman’s list of more chats than you can hope to every participate in. Check it out. There’s something for everyone. While you’re there, check out Jerry Blumengarten’s other great resources like this page on how to actually engage in a Twitter chat. I also put together a short (really rough) video on how to use TweetDeck when chatting (it’s a must). Check out that video here.
Now that I’ve dumped a good bit of information on you, here’s a bit about my journey into the Twitter chat world.
My first interactions with Twitter chats weren’t really interactions at all. I was there, but I didn’t say anything. An avid twitter chat lurker, I was there looking at the questions, seeing the responses, and—on the rare occasion I was feeling especially bold—marking a few as favorites (now rebranded as “likes”).
I watched what must have been months of #TXeduchat before jumping in. It was great (and a little scary), but mostly great! If you’ve not been in a chat before, this is a great place to shift your online learning into the next gear.
Two pieces of advice here: You have more to say than you likely give yourself credit for, and your work is worth sharing. Nothing sums this up better than this video from Derek Sivers:
I love what Dave Burgess says about this: “If what you know or have can help educators, you have a moral imperative to get good at sharing it.”
When educators share like we’re talking about here, we all get better. The snowball picks up the best sort of momentum as it rolls, and each time we’re online we find new educators to push us as we grow.
Until it starts to feel like too much.
The Blessings and Curses of So Much Good Content
At first, you can read most of what is in your timeline, but soon enough, the great ideas are going to become overwhelming in number.
Twitter isn’t designed to be a “read everything that’s posted” experience. If you try to treat it as such, you’re going to drive yourself a little crazy. Still, there’s all this great content that’s out there that could be just the sort of tweet you need. Maybe it’s the article you’ve been looking for or the blog post that everyone’s reading. You wouldn’t want to miss it, but you can’t read everything. What do you do?
Nuzzel is an app that aggregates all the blogs and articles shared by the people you are following. It’s like a best of list that’s automatically updated daily with what’s new and notable for you. And it’s awesome.
I use it every signle day. Zero exaggeration. It’s the first place I go when I have a few minutes to engage, especially when I come across a surprise gap in my day (like when you finish up something and have 8 minutes before afternoon duty).
The app is slick, the posts are customized to me, and it’s easy to share what I like right from the app. You can even check out the feeds of other Nuzzel users. I like that opportunity to see what my friends are seeing as well as those who are far away from me.
I promise I’m not getting anything from them; it’s just a great tool to keep in the know when time is at a premium (which is nearly every weekday of the school year, right?).
So Many Tweets, So Little Time
It happened again last week. I got asked if I ever sleep because of my Tweets.
It doesn’t bother me at all. Really it’s a conversation starter.
As I look through my feed, I often came across people who would binge post—you know, post all 25 ideas they had in about a 10 minute time period. While that certainly shares your thoughts, it does so in a way that concentrates all of your contributions to a single time period (and, at times, can annoy some of the people who follow you). You can definitely overdo it on the worrying about what others think of your Twitter posts end (really quickly in fact), but this is where I come back to a previous idea—you have so much good stuff to share that I hate it when little things get in the way of sharing great ideas.
So, take it or leave it, here’s an idea for sharing content at different times of the day. What I, and many others, do is schedule out much of the content (i.e. blog posts, articles, info about upcoming chats) beforehand when I have time. It helps me find time away from my phone and social media while still sharing ideas that stretch and refine me. I use an app called Buffer to do this for me. It integrates seamlessly with Nuzzel, and it allows you to push posts into a queue to be shared at scheduled times in the future. It’s another app I use daily, and it helps me manage being a connected educator while giving me time to be a fully engaged husband, dad, and friend.
My “Internet Friends”
My wife thinks it’s hilarious that I have what she calls “internet friends.” You see, at some point, my connections online reached a point where it was far more appropriate to call these folks my friends than someone I followed on Twitter. Even as I type it, I know it sounds a little ridiculous. The internet isn’t supposed to be a place where you strike up friendships, but I can truly say I have found a group of friends there. I’ve asked their advice, heard their struggles, shared in victories and in hardships, and I’ve even had them and their families over for dinner. It’s great, but none of it would have happened if I only used Twitter.
One last app suggestion for you—Voxer.
Voxer is a push to talk, walkie talkie app that many educators are using to find deeper connections than communication in 140 characters allows. Even if you could send longer text, there’s something different about hearing the passion in someone’s voice or their heartbreak as they share their heart about how they want to make a difference in the lives of students and teachers. For me, Voxer provides me a space for that. It’s how I start and end each and every day at work. As a result, I’m connected to people across the country and across my district in ways that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.
The real value of pursuing professional growth on social media is the people you will meet.
They will challenge you, know you, push you, support you, encourage you, and inspire you.
There are educators who will be better after interacting with you, and you will be better after interacting with them.
More than anything, I hope that educators find what they’re looking for and more as they jump online. My challenge to you is to find someone in your building as the year starts to join us as we all get better together! There’s a decent chance they’ve heard they should get online, but they just don’t know how yet. Learn from my mistakes; start sharing today!