What’s all that tweeting about?

This is the fifth post in the Professional Development 2.0 series. If you have not already, I would encourage you to start with the first four posts:

If they do not already know what they enter the profession, new teachers soon learn that students like to talk. There is a simple reason for this. Humans are, by nature, relational; because humans are relational, learning is, at least in part, a social process. Learning rarely occurs in isolation.

So, understanding the social nature of learning, many teachers are embracing social networks as a way that they themselves can increase their learning through social interaction with other.

There are several tools that will be discussed. The tool that most teachers seem to find most fruitful is Twitter. Twitter is considered a type of micro-blogging. If blogging is like an online journal, then micro-blogging is like online post-it notes. Twitter only lets you post 140 characters at a time: just enough room for a brilliant idea. This may sound facetious, but until you try it, you probably cannot realize how insightful some of our peers can be. Even more interesting, once you start participating, these insightful educators value what you have to say.

At first glance, Twitter does not sound very useful, or even intelligent. Why would anyone want to talk in 140 character increments? I have to admit to a slow learning curve; I sign up for Twitter, but did not start to really participate for another 2 months. The beauty of Twitter is that its value is directly proportional to how and how much it is used.

An analogy might help explain Twitter a little better. Having a Twitter account is similar to having your own TV station; you become an instant broadcaster. There is no FCC, but there normal rules of etiquette apply. You can say whatever you want. As people are browsing through the channels, if they come across something that you say that is valuable, they may decide to watch your TV station more regularly. In Twitter, this is referred to as “following” you.

The TV station analogy may start to break down a little bit here. You are not the only one with a TV station. Everyone on Twitter has a TV station. This can get a little overwhelming at first. That is why you flip through the channels and only watch those stations that you find interesting. In Twitter, this is referred to as “following.” This is kind of a revolutionary idea; the only things that ever show up on your TV are things that you find interesting.

If you follow someone, that person does not necessarily have to follow you in return. That is not what Twitter is about. You make up the network of people that you find interesting, helpful, insightful, or relevant to what to you do. Everyone else should be the same thing. If you do not have many tweets, or individual posts, people might be less likely to follow you in the beginning. Do not worry about that. As you use Twitter for a few weeks, you will gain followers as others see the quality of your contribution. It should be noted that if someone who follow stops writing messages that are valuable to you, can always easily unfollow him or her and no longer have to read what he or she is writing.

There are two types of messages on Twitter, public and direct. A public message, also called a tweet, is public even if it is written only to or for 1 person. Everything that you write normally on Twitter is public and permanent. So, if you are angry at your boss or district and feel the need to say something that could land you in hot water, go back to the teacher next door. This is not said to censor you, but to protect you. Schools and companies do not like being discussed poorly online so, if you need to, just refrain from specifically naming the person or institution that you have the problem with. You can still get feedback on your idea, but no one can take action against you if you do not formally associate yourself with a specific district in that manner.

Lastly, do not be afraid to personally interact with people. What I mean is fairly simple. For the first several months that I used Twitter, I only posted messages that were strictly professional and directly related to education. As I have found more people who I consider friends, many of whom I have actually met in person now, I started to feel more comfortable posting personal information. Occasionally, I will post pictures of my daughters or something that is going on in my own life. Instead of taking away from the experience as one might expect, it adds to it by strengthening the relationships. As with other friendships and relationships, you need to cultivate them and work to improve them. The closer I became with people personally, the more we wanted to mutually help each other professionally.

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