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I began tweeting a little over a year ago at the 2011 NCSS conference in Denver, CO. I used the hashtag #ncss2011 to see what I was missing in other sessions and to see how others were experiencing the conference. From there, I began to follow fellow social studies teachers and learned about the Monday night #sschat. I was hooked after the first chat. In Twitter, I found a tribe of teachers who, like me, think about work too much and naively aim for (and miss) perfection in every lesson. I grew my tribe each day by following those who tweeted resources, teaching ideas, challenging questions, and words of comfort.
My Twitter tribe is now an essential part of my daily learning community and many of those I met online have become both virtual and face-to-face friends. At first, I took far more than I gave (Twitter elders assume this to be the natural first step of entering the tribe) but now I hope I have gained the confidence that true community offers and I give at least as much as I get.
I've learned to turn to my Twitter tribe for four things:
One—Resources: This is perhaps the best use of Twitter for a teacher. Resources are shared through weekly chats (on a specific content or pedagogical topic) or by tweeting out a question during the week and seeing what comes back. (The most famous list compiled by #sschat participants is the “Cold War resources” list found here.)
Besides historical resources, Twitter also offers real-time reports from both reporters and laymen who are direct witnesses to the history-making events of today. The best example I know if is Andy Carvin (@acarvin) from NPR who often serves as a conduit for the voices of the Arab Spring and Occupy movements.
Two—Teaching Ideas: Often resource sharing leads to the sharing of ideas. Twitter is a 24/7 brainstorming session that generates rather than saps energy. I am always amazed at the creativity and purposefulness of my Twitter colleagues who are mindful of the tension between entertainment and education. One recent #sschat joined with #engchat (English) to discuss teaching of argumentative writing.
Three—Challenge and Compassion: Every day someone on my timeline tweets out a question about creating a safe space in the classroom or honoring student voice that serves as a reminder to me to keep focused on what is important, the students. A few examples are @joe_bower and @dianeravitch who are powerful advocates for purposeful education reform.
At the same time, another person might tweet about losing their cool with their class or teaching too much through lecture and I am grateful for their courageous vulnerability to let me know that I am not alone in my struggles. Teaching can be a lonely job; we need a compassionate tribe. I recommend @mrsebiology to start because of her transparency through the process of switching to standards-based grading but you will find the whole Twitter community offers challenge and compassion consistently.
Four—Teacher Citizenship: So many schools turn Sisyphusian when faced with the rock of student-owned technology. Perhaps we should better spend our energy learning how to make the momentum work for us and helping students navigate the complex world of social media. I see my job on Twitter as to model good digital citizenship for my students.
For more information
Learn more about hashtags like #sschat in Twitter's official FAQs.
The New York Times's Learning Network gives clear directions for following and joining chats like #sschat.
Twitter can be a learning tool for students, as well as teachers! High school teacher Joe Jelen uses Twitter to deepen his classes through backchannel discussion.