Twitter NE1?

By: Rick Wormeli


In her Click Here column, Brenda Dyck does a beautiful job of helping us incorporate and navigate technology, but I want to add my voice to hers in support of a particularly powerful tool: Twitter.

To be honest, I’m a relatively late convert to its usefulness. Initially, I thought it was major “time suckage” I could not afford. Today, I marvel at the insight and practicality gained through participation in the “Twitterverse,” and I wonder how much goes unachieved in classrooms because teachers don’t use Twitter’s easily accessible resources.

Let’s learn the basics and make the case for classroom teachers (and their principals) to incorporate Twitter into their professional lives.

Getting Started

Twitter is free and easy to use—it took me fewer than 30 seconds to be up and running.

At www.twitter.com, type in your name, e-mail, and a password. That’s it. You can enhance your account by uploading a picture or logo , and posting a short descriptor of yourself that will display any time someone wants to find out more about you or verify you are the Amy Smith they are looking for.

You can be as humorous or as straightforward as you want to be in these descriptors. You can include professional certifications, interests, favorite quotes--anything you want others to know about you. This information also helps people decide whether they want to follow your posted comments. Here’s an example of a profile:

“Blogger and Nationally Board Certified middle school science teacher at Niels DeGrasse Tyson Middle School, Herndon, VA. Father, husband, ‘Trekker,’ member of Middletalk listserve, AMLE, and deft guacamole connoisseur”

Make your profile your own!

Whom to Follow

Many of your favorite authors, education leaders, and celebrities are on Twitter. Type anyone’s name in the search box and see. If the searched name comes up, click on it, and it will take you to the brief Twitter profile. If this is the person you are seeking, click on the “Follow” box, and you will now receive postings from them. And just as cool: You can read through all of their earlier postings, too. This is a gold mine of great information from our education thinkers and shakers!

Through Twitter, you can feel a connection to people in a wide variety of fields. Many influential educators and organizations post commentary daily or weekly, and their insights inform our own corners of the world as they invite personal contributions to the larger profession. Reading the short 140 character comments is helpful enough, but entering into conversation with these people takes it to a whole new level. We progress thoughtfully in ways we never imagined we would.

Figure 1 offers a sampling of the inspiring, education-focused thinkers and doers on Twitter that are worth following. Figure 2 suggests organizations worth following.

So Why Participate?

Because we are allowed 140 characters for each message, spaces included, we must be focused and get to the point right away. To be that efficient, we try to get clever in our wording and abbreviations; we clarify and condense what we’re really thinking. Creativity loves constraint!

Twitter is very organic. We can re-tweet (pass along) any message we receive to all our followers, and in turn, they re-tweet what they find interesting or valuable to their followers. Quickly, teachers and leaders from around the world are aware of our inquiries and insights, and they can build on them and send helpful responses.

We can even place a hashtag (#) in our messages with a word or few words indicating the topic, and now everyone can use the hashtag to follow the string of conversation among all the Tweeters. The point-counterpoint chain of thought in these conversations is invaluable. Rodd Lucier’s @Educhat is the place to start exploring education conversations on Twitter.

We get “push back” on our ideas, too, as Tweeters respond to comments, present conflicting research, pose “What if…?” questions, and connect us to colleagues with alternative viewpoints. It’s done constructively, and for many, it’s cultivated professional relationships outside Twitter.

With the click of a button, we can attach links to useful articles, inspired projects, photos, websites, videos, and anything else of common interest that the 140 characters limitation prohibit. When we hear or see good ideas in education while teaching, talking in the teacher’s lounge, surfing the web, or reading professional material, we can easily pass these more in-depth descriptions and graphics to others. As a result, we are more likely to share ideas in the spur of the moment. Teachers become more creative and resourceful as their toolkits grow.

This immediacy is dramatic. In a given minute on Twitter, educators post the links to live streaming video of Venus passing across the Sun, a famous author’s keynote address, an orchestra’s riveting performance of Edvard Grieg’s work, a tour guide’s explanation of sculpture in Florence, Italy, a surprise discovery under ice in the Antarctic, or the final moments of World Cup soccer.

When we witness the actions and thoughts of education colleagues across the nation and around the world, we see the larger picture of what we do, and we realize we are not alone. Sometimes our egos get in the way of good teaching, and we think we’re teaching in the most effective manner possible. Then someone opens our minds to other possibilities, and we get humble and inspired at the same time.

Teachers who interact with the larger profession have healthier responses to new program initiatives. With the perspective of how others are handling the same issues in their communities, we find camaraderie and solutions. Twitter is a powerful blowtorch against the clanging walls of echo chambers we have so carefully built around ourselves. As we begin this new school year, let’s take a moment—a lot of them—to connect with one another and become something more than we can achieve alone. It's natural for modern students; it can be the same for their teachers.

Figure 1

Educators and Thinkers on Twitter
  • Tom Whitby–Blogger, technology guru, conduit, professor of education (@tomwhitby)
  • John Norton–The ultimate connector and thinker (@middleweb)
  • Todd Whitaker–Education leader, author, motivator (@ToddWhitaker)
  • Valerie Strauss–Provocative and helpful education writer for The Washington Post (@valeriestrauss)
  • Diane Ravitch–Queen of education reform, particularly when it comes to high stakes testing (@DianeRavitch)
  • Larry Ferlazzo–Author, teacher, and among the most prolific and useful Twitterers for educators on the Internet–really! (@Larryferlazzo)
  • Stephen Krashen–Author, reformer, researcher, literacy expert (@skrashen)
  • Carol Jago–Prolific and thoughtful writer, English teacher (@CarolJago)
  • Donalyn Miller–Blogger and the book whisperer (@donalynbooks)
  • Brenda Dyck–Teacher instructor, technology integrator, writer (@bdyck)
  • Will Richardson–Author, blogger regarding social web tools effect on learning (@willrich45)
  • Paul Thomas–Provocative thinker, education professor (@plthomasEdD)
  • Pasi Sahlberg–Author, education change activist (@pasi_sahlberg)
  • Jill Spencer–Author, leader, consultant (@JillSpencer)
  • Chris Toy–Author, leader, consultant (@cmtoy)
  • Patti Kinney–NASSP Middle Level Director, author (@kinney_nassp)
  • Steven W. Anderson–blogger, Edublogs Twitterer of the Year, #Edchat co-creator (@web20classroom)
  • Alan November–Author on technology (@globalearner)
  • Daniel Pink–Author, speaker (@DanielPink)
  • Andrew Rotherham–Writer of School of Thought for TIME, blogger, analyst (@arotherham)
  • Steven Johnson–Author of Where Good Ideas Come From, among others (@stevenbjohnson)
  • Deborah Meier–Writer, activist (@DebMeier)
  • Bill Ferriter–Teacher, PLCs, technology integration (@plugusin)
  • Jen Robinson–One of the most helpful bloggers about children’s books, including young adult, you’ll ever find (@JensBookPage)
  • Sir Ken Robinson–Author, creativity focused, thinker, (TED Talks speaker) (@SirKenRobinson)
  • Alfie Kohn–Author, speaker (@alfiekohn)
  • Teri Lesesne–It doesn’t get better than Teri for young adult literature, (@ProfessorNana)

Figure 2

A Few Organizations That Are Worth Following

Previously published in Middle Ground magazine, August 2012


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