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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Everyone is on Twitter these days, so why not your school district? Twitter provides an easy platform to keep your followers updated -- moment by moment, if necessary! -- about developing situations, sudden brainstorms and calls to action. Following are 12 reasons to get your school district tweeting this summer so that you can hit the ground running at the start of the next school year.

Reason #1: It's a perfect fit to your current mission statement and overall vision.

In our district, we have a fairly comprehensive mission statement that reads something like . . .

"Working collaboratively, our school district will provide an effective, innovative, student-focused community of teaching and learning where students will:
  • Become independent, adaptable, life-long learners who transfer understanding to new applications
  • exhibit creative and critical thinking
  • achieve at the proficient or greater level in all academic areas
  • adapt to a changing technological world
  • transition from competent student to productive, responsible citizen of the global society

The words in bold suggest the benefits of using social media tools like Twitter in education. The scope of this tool seems endless at times.

Reason #2: It's free.

Twitter is a free Web 2.0 social media service that allows users to send and receive messages, updates, resources and professional development in 140-character "tweets." With budget crises occurring in every district, harnessing the impactful teaching and learning tools that do not require a purchase order is a no-brainer.

Reason #3: Family And Community Engagement 2.0 (eFACE)

According to Twitter, 460,000 new signups occur daily, 80% from people between the ages of 18-40. What's the significance? These are the ages of most parents with school-aged children. Help your parents learn Twitter with this Parents' Guide to Twitter & Education. To strengthen the relationships necessary for best practice home-school partnerships, schools are adding electronic Family And Community Engagement (eFACE) efforts like blogs, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Two-way communication opportunities build those relationships.

Reason #4: The best organizations communicate and collaborate transparently to all stakeholders.

Using Twitter, schools and school districts can rapidly disseminate information. They can take down the walls in a traditional school structure built for traditional rows and desks. The teaching and learning opportunities for transparent collaboration among students, staff, families and the community are a lofty goal many of us have had for years. Now we have the tool to make it happen.

Reason #5: "Anytime, anywhere professional development"

These are the words of social media guru and high school principal Eric Sheninger as he stated them at the recent ASCD Conference in Philadelphia. Twitter offers more professional development than any conference, workshop or in-service we could ever offer our employees or families.

Reason #6: We all need to be globally competent.

Our classrooms are more diverse than ever. Developing a global perspective is of great importance in today's schools for connecting our classrooms with virtual field trips to other areas of the world. Students and families need to know their teachers understand them and can effectively meet their diverse needs. Tweeting is like being able to communicate via text with anyone in any country at any given time.

Reason #7: We're creating a Personal Learning Network (PLN).

Our schools and districts don't have all the answers. Connecting with others doing the same work for kids can help us develop a strong PLN, strengthen the skills of any administrative team, stay current with the latest research and publications, and keep the conversation going from conferences, in-services and informal dialogue. For example, a colleague recently wondered how principals in Finland evaluated teachers. The answer and multiple resources came moments after this person tweeted a question with the #finnedchat hashtag attached.

Reason #8: School and classroom Twitterfeeds

Updating a website takes away from your teaching time. You must log in and go through a series of commands just to make one small adjustment. Sending a tweet is instantaneous. Educating students effectively takes a great deal of time, and the logistics of keeping a website up to date can be done much more efficiently by embedding a Twitterfeed on the front of a website.

Reason #9: Professional learning should be differentiated and collaborative.

Clicking on the hashtags listed below (and you don't need a Twitter account to do this) provides a quick look at the range of professional development happening right now on Twitter.

#edchat: General Educators Chat
#cpchat: Connected Principals Chat
#suptchat: Superintendents Chat
#elemchat: Elementary Educators Chat
#ptchat: Parent-Teacher Chat
#ntchat: New Teacher Chat
#kinderchat: Kindergarten Teacher Chat
#flipclass: Flipped Classroom Chat
#edcamp: Education Camp Chat
#edtech - Educational Technology Chat

Entering hashtags is how many educators search the Twittersphere. Want to learn more about a flipped classroom or an EdCamp professional development? What are the best ways to engage Kindergartners? Looking for the right technology tool to support teaching and learning? How can you engage the most school parents for an upcoming event? Using the right hashtag can help you answer these questions and more while getting to know others, including some leaders in the field I count on daily such as Josh Stumpenhorst, Larry Ferlazzo, Todd Whitaker and Steven Anderson.

Reason #10: Bring your school district together with a shared hashtag.

In our district, there are over 2,000 teachers. We're in 18 buildings and only see one another at the occasional in-service. Wouldn't it be nice to see what others are teaching and learning throughout the school year? For parents, teachers, administrators and community members to have a quick, easy and instantaneous way of collaborating with each other, we can move mountains. One of the only places we see all of those stakeholders on the same page is on a professionally designed district strategic plan trifold. (As an example of a district hashtag #hs4, Alberta, Canada Superintendent Christopher Smeaton of Holy Spirit School District (K-12) collaborates transparently.)

Reason #11: We're attending fewer conferences.

Let's be honest. Today's school and school district budgets do not allow for conference attendance like they used to. However, it's our responsibility as leaders to keep up with the latest and greatest around the field. Just because we can't attend or send folks physically doesn't mean they can't participate using the conference hashtag. Remember, using Twitter is free, so following a conference hashtag like #ASCD12 or #ISTE12 allows you to get instant quotes, resources and perspectives from presenters and attendees. Watching a conference on Twitter is always an exciting experience, and you get to meet other "lurkers" that were unable to attend the conference for various reasons. Imagine getting only the very best from 400 different sessions. It's much better than being there to attend only six sessions in person!

Reason #12: We need others to inspire and push our thinking.

Last year, Eric Sheninger inspired me to jump into the Twitter pool. And everyday teachers, parents, principals, superintendents, retired educators, school board members and others are also changing the world and pushing us to work harder and smarter. Their students made a connection. They've nailed a presentation. They've found just the right resource for their sixth graders. They've read a fantastic book or article. With each 140-character tweet, a new internal idea is created, shaped or passed along for others to digest. Instead of relying on a single assigned mentor who may or may not be the master teacher all new teachers hope to get, we now have a million other mentors to learn from, whatever our position or experience level.

For support on providing Twitter training for your school district, a sample presentation and agenda is included in Planning Your School District Admin Twitter 101. Feel free to customize for your setting's needs.

Have another idea? Without a doubt, there are more than 12 reasons for school districts to harness the power of Twitter. I just listed the ones that come to mind from my perspective as an elementary principal. I encourage you to add your own lens, and continue this list on why Twitter is a no-brainer for every contributing member of our field of education. Together we are better.

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