Stepping Through the Looking Glass: Twitter for Educators

When I joined Twitter in 2009 I signed up because someone suggested that I sign up. I created my username, set up my account, and continued to frequent Facebook because that’s what I knew and that’s where my friends and family posted information about their daily lives and celebrated with me as I posted random thoughts and milestones.

When I reclaimed my Twitter account in 2015 while reading What Connected Educators Do Differently by Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, and Jimmy Casas, I changed my professional practice.  I am a lifelong learner.  I love to learn and I love learning in all categories: literature, music, crafts, politics, education, faith, etc.  I understand Faust in his desire to know all things… but since I can learn from his story, I can forgo that fate. But Twitter! Twitter connected me instantly to motivational quotes, best practices, and incredible educators.

No joke. My experience was akin to Alice’s steps through the looking glass. Whereas Facebook resurrected childhood friendships and provided me with opportunities to keep up with friends and colleagues in their personal lives, Twitter connected me to educators across the country and out into the world.  On Facebook I shared posts celebrating milestones but through Twitter I engaged with educators and authors who caused me to reflect on my professional practice.  Even the global connections of our state’s evaluation instrument immediately assumed greater relevancy as I saw evidence of teachers connecting their classrooms to those in other states and countries. Twitter isn’t just a technology tool. It is a vehicle to meet the professional development needs of 21st century educators:

  • Standard 1: Teachers Demonstrate Leadership There are opportunities for leadership as teachers moderate and participate in real-time chats, interacting with a larger audience than just those on their hall or in their building, to positively impact another’s professional practice. Discussion topics focus on all areas of professional practice, theory, lesson-planning, safety, school design, etc.
  • Standard 2: Teachers Establish a Respectful Environment for a Diverse Population of Students Teachers, new and seasoned, can comfortably ask for help, share ideas, and learn about topics that are timely and of interest to them. The educational Twitter community celebrates diversity and fosters relationships that value the contributions of all participants for the success of students and their families.
  • Standard 3: Teachers Know the Content They Teach There is a twitter chat for your curriculum and several up-to-date calendars to help you find out when that chat is taking place to provide you a chance to add your voice to the conversation. Educator and author Jerry Blumengarten’s website includes an extensive list of current twitter chats available at
  • Standard 4: Teachers Facilitate Learning for Their Students Twitter provides access to relevant and engaging practices that cross disciplines without attending a conference. While seated in your favorite chair you can stay abreast of educational research and see best practices modeled to address various learning styles. Learn how to assess students to improve their performance and which feedback methods are helping other teachers coach their students toward mastery.
  • Standard 5: Teachers Reflect on Their Practice  Responding to questions posed in Twitter chats like #satchat on Saturday mornings, educators share their reflections about student needs in relation to their practice. They consider new ideas in front of a global audience that will improve their teaching and learning for the benefit of their students.

Like Alice, my first steps have led me on new adventures. Last month I helped organize and lead our district’s first edcamp with an amazing team of educators at West Johnston High School. We exceeded our participation goal with 119 educators joining us for the day-long “unconference.”  The event’s success reinforced our belief that teachers are looking to connect with others who share a passion for students and their subjects.

#edcampjoco March 4, 2017 — West Johnston High School —  Paula Coates, Jennifer Swartz, Melissa Finch, Anthony Whitaker, Amy Stanley, (front) TJ Parrish
I have grown my professional learning network (PLN) by meeting and working with amazing educators in surrounding districts and states. Not only have I messaged and tweeted back and forth with educational leaders from Chapel Hill and Wake County, they supported our edcamp with their attendance and participation as they connected with other passionate educators in our district. Even our morning greeting at Edcamp JoCo included an introduction to the day that resulted from a Twitter connection as educational blogger and BAMMY award-nominee Steven Weber greeted our participants in a videotaped message from Arkansas.

Meet my mentors: Debby Atwater, Kyle Hamstra, Brendan Fetters, Nathan Stevens, Jennifer Swartz, and Christine Tuttle provided inspiration and support for #edcampjoco
Another professional development experience that I have learned about since being introduced to Twitter is the podcast. It’s not always possible to participate in a Twitter chat or attend an edcamp, but I enjoy listening to podcasts in my car or while folding clothes to hear teachers, administrators, and authors share their best practices and even their mistakes.  Like Twitter chats and edcamp experiences, podcasts provide me with questions and book titles to push my thinking about my practice.

Unlike Alice, I know I am alert as I participate in and drive my own professional development.  Currently I am reading a second title with a book study group using the Voxer app.  We began as a group of five assistant principals who wanted to read Simon Sinek’s Start with Why together.  Very quickly our shared enthusiasm encouraged others to join us and provided us with perspectives outside our roles as school administrators.  This time our enthusiasm caught the attention of the Hacking PBL authors, Erin Murphy and Ross Cooper, as we tweeted out that we were going to read their book. They are participating in our Voxer chat.  How cool is that!! We are reading a book with the book’s authors and a few other educators across the nation because we are connected through Twitter. It’s a great experience with conversations that provide us with the opportunity to learn together on our way to school or during the drive home.

Signing up for a Twitter account is a first step. For others who have created the account and still don’t know what to do with it, I suggest reading What Connected Educators Do Differently as well as 140 Twitter Tips for Educators by Brad Currie, Billy Krakower, and Scott Rocco to get you started.  As with most adventures, the only thing holding us back is ourselves. I can still recall feeling my blood pressure rise the first time I hit “send” in my first Twitter chat and I like to think of myself as someone who is fairly comfortable with taking a risk.  Driving your own professional development through Twitter is a risk worth taking.  Someone in your school or on your hall can help you but there are also chats on Twitter like #NT2t, hosted by educator Julie Szaj, to provide you with the ins and outs of utilizing this social media tool for your professional development.  I encourage you to get started so you, too, will know the supportive community and rich resources available to you through Twitter as you strive to be a better educator for your students and your school community.


Emerging Leaders: Relationships, Relevance, and Innovation through Voxer

59276.jpgFollowing a Twitter chat this fall a small group of assistant principals created a Voxer group to explore the app as a tech tool. We each downloaded the app. We created the online group.  Now what?  We are busy people and needed some structure to make it purposeful so we used it as a tool to share our favorite podcast episodes, insights on educational articles, daily struggles, and best practices. Once we realized how much our daily chats were benefiting us, our group quickly moved from articles and podcast reflections to reading Simon Sinek’s Start with Why.

Participation has been completely voluntary and our only accountability is to the membership as we have grown professionally through our conversations. We have picked up new Voxers along the way, even adding members to the group as we bring our first book to a close because we keep sharing our enthusiasm about this experience with others. It has become mobile PD for me. I check in to Voxer after dropping off my daughter for school each morning. Most threads begin with “good morning, I am on my way to school and…” and end with “have a great day, guys.”  Others pick up later with “good afternoon, folks, I’ve got a question for you. How do you handle…” Since most of our group are school administrators, we each serve as a sounding board for students, staff, and parents throughout the day. While I give time to others, I’m not good at giving time to myself. Many days when I eat my lunch, it’s over my desk while probing students for information related to a discipline issue. Connecting with my Voxer group is time I dedicate to myself.

Due to the responsibilities of a school administrator there’s not a lot of time left for me to reflect on my day at school while I make myself available for the needs of others. Still, reflection is vitally important to growth. We understand this as educators. We provide time and structure for our students to reflect on their learning. We know it’s necessary to improve our practice. It is even a part of our state’s evaluation instrument.  Because of the frenetic pace of my daily school life, my drive to and from school or my drive to an off-campus meeting are my best opportunities for reflection. In many ways my drive time has become my “white space.”

We created the group to reflect together on our daily roles and responsibilities because being a school administrator is tough and we need the support of our fellow school leaders who know the job.  We respond to each other’s questions and challenge one another’s perceptions. Sharing our joys and struggles, we have built new relationships with members who are a part the chat. Recently I had an immediate connection with another administrator when we met face-to-face because we have been participating in the Voxer chat together for several weeks. The familiarity we experienced with one another reminds me of the relationships we built inside our cohort while enrolled in classes to obtain our master’s degrees. My Voxer group is a supportive community where I am encouraged and mentored by other educators. It’s a lifeline.

Serving as a school administrator can be lonely. I knew that going into the role and understand why it is difficult to stay connected to others when there are so many tasks to attend to and so few hours in the day.  We put ourselves last because our priority is our students and our school community but it takes a toll on us… it takes a toll on me.   I am currently serving as a middle school administrator with one other assistant principal in a school of 850+ students. By the end of the day we are splitting up to attend school events, cover games, or carve out time to spend with our families. All that leaves little time to sit down across from one another and just debrief the little things, little things that provide us a chance to check in with one another. Sometimes the planets align and we can spend 20-30 minutes engaged in a relaxed conversation in the visitor chairs in the main office while we wait for a bus to finish a route or a student to be picked up by a parent who is running late. Unfortunately those opportunities don’t occur very often. In the meantime, I can get into my car and can check in with my Voxer group for inspiration, affirmation, support, and an overall sense of community that fills my bucket and helps me to be a better leader for those I serve.








Writing for Reflection

At two recent edcamps I attended sessions on blogging and decided that I would like to practice writing to help promote my need to reflect in a more concrete way. Moving from crafting a 140-character statement on Twitter to a focused post appeals to me–as a former English teacher, a reader, and as a constant learner. After listening to the advice of seasoned bloggers and the questions posed by those of us who are interested in getting started in the two edcamp sessions, I am jumping in to explore professional reflection in the 21st century.