Twitter for Teachers (and Parents)

Okay, you have certainly heard of “The Twitter” even if you have absolutely no idea what it means. Well, Twitter is nothing to be afraid of! Imagine it as sitting around chatting with friends, only in this case, your friends may be sitting in India, South Africa, or Iowa. And, that’s the wonderful things about the world wide web… it takes our relationships to a global scale!

Now, before you stop reading because I just intimidated you with that “global scale” line, Twitter is very safe and easy as long as you use some common sense… so here’s your guide to understanding and beginning to use Twitter.

First of all, why should teachers use Twitter?

  • Have a wealth of information at your finger tips–articles on teaching, shared tips, new ideas, lesson plans, etc. are being tweeted all the time!
  • Ask other teachers for feedback–maybe you’re stuck not knowing how to proceed. Somebody out there has been in your position before and can help out with first-hand experience.
  • Join group chats where the brainstorming just flies!
  • Make connections! Chat with the authors of the books your students are reading, the artists they are studying, the creator of a new math program. Studying the Great Pyramids? Chat with a teacher who lives in Egypt and can tell you all about them!
  • Develop friendships. (Really, it does happen!)

How do I get on Twitter?

  • Go to http://twitter.com and follow the directions to sign up for an account. Yes, it is okay to use your real name or to choose a name that keeps your identity hidden.
  • Don’t feel like you need to “follow” anyone yet… there’s always time to do that later. Just get the account set up.
  • Unlike Facebook, where you have to request to be a friend, for Twitter you can just click “Follow” and you will get that person or organization’s updates.
  • You can choose to have your account “private,” which means you have to approve anybody that follows you; however, I don’t recommend this. I assume you will always be tweeting professional, appropriate information, so you shouldn’t worry about who reads it, whether it is your principal, a student’s parent, your spouse, or even a total stranger.

How do I decide who to follow?

  • Develop your own Personal Follow Policy. For example, my PFP is anyone in Florida who appears to be an authentic and engaged Tweeter. I unfollow anyone who appears to be an automated tweeter (meaning a robot tweets for them), anyone who uses profanity or vulgarity, and anyone who tweets meaningless tweets like what they are buying at the grocery store.
  • Go to organizations’ websites, look for the Twitter symbol and then click to follow them.
  • Search by keyword – such as “education” or “teaching.”
  • Click on a Twitter account of somebody you know is related to education, for example the U.S. Department of Education, and see not only who they are following, but who is following them. You can click right then and there to follow several relevant accounts.
  • Don’t be afraid to follow lots of people. I follow almost 2,000 people and it is very manageable. If you only follow a few people, it’s like only having 3 friends on Facebook who never post anything. Remember, you can always unfollow later.

Do I have to tweet?

  • Nope, not ever. Unless you decide you are comfortable doing so. Then, remember, you only have 160 characters to write something, so be concise.
  • You are welcome to simply sit back and read other people’s tweets and get information from them.

What does RT  and @ mean?

  • RT stands for “retweet” and it means that somebody is copying and sending out somebody else’s tweet. It’s polite to give other people credit for the message, so simply type RT before the original tweet.
  • @ is how Twitter identifies user names. For example, I am @Bess_Auer on Twitter. If you want to send me a tweet, be sure to put @Bess_Auer  in your 160 characters, or else I may not see it.  If you put @username in your tweet, then that user will see your tweet even if they are not following you.

For example, Lance Armstrong does not follow me (Sadly!) but if I tweet “Hey @LanceArmstrong I love the work you do for @Livestrong. You are such an inspiration!” then both Lance and the Livestrong Foundation will see my tweet and possibly respond to me. And this is what makes Twitter so amazing! Celebrities, professional athletes, Olympians, speakers, etc. do actually respond to what we, the masses, tweet at them. Pretty cool, huh?

To further illustrate the power of Twitter, my school’s art classes were studying the artwork of George Rodrigue and tweeted about it. Guess what? The actual artist responded via Twitter that he loved what we were doing! Now imagine setting up the ability for students to tweet the artist (or author or politician) questions and have that person actually answer them!

Learning in action via a social network! And that’s why you should be on Twitter, my friends.

(Follow me @Bess_Auer and I’ll follow you back!)