Teaching the Teachers: The Role of Twitter in Professional Development

Image (Given this blog post is all about Twitter, you can choose to follow me by clicking: )

Over the last twelve months I have been forced to eat humble pie. For so long I’ve rejected “social media” as a frivolous waste of time and something I was not going to engage with in any meaningful way, let alone for work related purposes. Whilst I still feel that way around many of the most popular social media platforms out there, I have come to recognise the valuable role that Twitter can play in professional development for teachers.

I attended ULearn 2012 and admit that I was well off the pace in terms of utilising Twitter to engage in discussion amongst the attendees about the various speakers, but it proved a turning point for me to investigate further how this tool could allow me to create my own Professional Learning Network (PLN). Also at ULearn 2012 were Matt Nicoll and Tam Yuill Proctor (an early adopter with Twitter – see ULearn 2010 video), both teachers from St Andrew’s and both more conversant in Twitter than I, who showed me the various ins and outs of using hashtags and aliases. I made two blunders initially:

  • Trying to read every tweet that showed up on my timeline!
    • I quickly realised that with Twitter there is no point in seeing what has passed you by whilst you’re not watching – the flow of tweets is too rapid for that.
  • Not following people unless I thought they were absolutely awesome and were only going to tweet about stuff I was always interested in.
    • I’ve since realised that to pick up new followers yourself, you need to be following others and you can always “mute” the most prolific tweeters you follow if they tend to stray off topics of interest or relevance to you.

twitterSince I committed to exploring the use of Twitter further in my professional development, I’ve connected with top educators around the world who routinely post links to excellent articles, resources and reflections on their teaching practices and new and innovative things being tried in their classrooms.

For the uninitiated, it is tough to describe the immediacy with which Twitter delivers fresh new content – at times it really does feel like you’re on the ‘cutting edge’ of developments in teaching and learning, with educators all over the world tweeting thoughts and images of what is happening in their classrooms. Consequently, there is a need to filter some of the content and ideas before wholeheartedly embracing them.

However, in terms of building a focused, personalised Professional Learning Network that is completely free, it is hard to look past. Craig Kemp, a senior teacher and ICT specialist at Avondale Grammar International School in Singapore, wrote an excellent blog post comparing Twitter with alternative forms of paid professional development and he writes:

Thanks to Twitter I am now more up to date with Education than ever before …  as a professional development tool [it] has helped me connect with like-minded learning professionals around the world and every day I learn a lot from them through the things that they “tweet” and through the links that they share. Staying in daily contact with these people, whose opinions that I value, is powerful to me as an educator.

He has also blogged about using Twitter in the classroom with his students.

Closer to home, Matt Nicoll (Chemistry teacher at St Andrew’s College) has partnered with Philippa Nicoll (who has herself blogged about the merits of Twitter) at Samuel Marsden Collegiate School to create an inter-school Professional Learning Network connected by the Twitter hashtag edSMAC. Together, they’re showing 6-8 staff at each school how to use Twitter, introducing them to other Twitter users at the school and then showing them how to “follow” the tweets shared using the hashtag edSMAC.

In my capacity as Director of ICT at St Andrew’s, I was thrilled to see staff using technology in effective ways to further their own teaching and learning, whilst simultaneously growing their confidence and competence with Web 2.0 tools such as Twitter. Below I’ve embedded the recent tweets from the #edSMAC PLN discussion:

#edSMAC is just one of the many hashtags that exist with an educational focus – one of the most popular is #edChatNZ which allows New Zealand educators to share resources and ideas. Every second Thursday night at 8:30pm teachers meet virtually to discuss a number of educational questions. The “conversation” is often fast with a huge amount of ideas being shared and robust exchanges of opinion. I find it inspiring that teachers are using their evenings to voluntarily seek out professional development and Steve Mouldey has shared some tips for teachers new to Twitter on how to get the best out of an #edChatNZ discussion.

Teachers have long recognised the need for “personalised learning pathways” for their students in their classrooms, and increasingly schools are moving away from staff-wide, “one size fits all” professional development too. It strikes me that for those teachers that may complain about “boring staff training” sessions, they should be looking to Twitter to grow their own Professional Learning Network so they can be inspired and challenged by educators in their curriculum area and leaders in education in general.

By embracing Twitter, and slowly building up my own Professional Learning Network, I am disproving the idiom that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. By learning a new trick and eating some humble pie, I believe I am becoming a better educator.

You can follow me on Twitter by clicking: 

UPDATE: I checked the status on this blog and since I launched it in late 2013, there have been 839 referrals from Twitter to the various blog posts here. A perfect example of how Twitter is connecting people with educational content on the internet.

6 thoughts on “Teaching the Teachers: The Role of Twitter in Professional Development

  1. Me too. I thought Twitter was celebs posting what they had for lunch and had no interest. After school sent me off to ICOT I discovered a different world of tweeting and became hooked. @Tameey set me up with Tweetdeck, then via a bit of hit and miss and some support from tweeps (some I’ve never met in real like) I got so much from #edchat, #edchatnz and others around the globe I couldn’t imagine not using it.

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