George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Using Social Media to Build a Personal Learning Network

More and more teachers are taking to Twitter and Facebook to share ideas and strategies with peers throughout the country.

July 7, 2020
Fabio Principe / iStock

During this time of social distancing, I am reminded of the power of connection. As a teacher, I used to find refuge in hallway discussions or end-of-the-day impromptu conversations where I would recap my day with my colleagues. Huddled in the hallway, we shared classroom strategies, asked for advice, and celebrated successes. These informal gatherings were opportunities for reflection that pushed my practice and pedagogy; they were learning communities that organically occurred.

While we were isolated from our school buildings, I yearned for connection with other professionals digging into the work and turned to online resources to commune with my peers. Teacher communities are a source of support, and even though we’re geographically separated, this network can be expanded through virtual platforms.

For me personally, transitioning to remote learning required an entirely new skill set. I found myself filled with uncertainty and self-doubt and floundering—like how I felt as a first-year teacher. I was feeling depleted of energy and hope and looked to teacher communities to lift me up.

As I adjusted to remote work, I was reminded of guidance from my teacher mentor. She shared the “marigold effect” idea with me. It postulates that if you surround yourself with good people who are positive, supportive, and energetic, their vigor will help you flourish. Teacher communities are a place of hope where marigolds can multiply and build off each other’s positivity. They’re also a place to collaborate and learn from one another.

Teachers are better when they collaborate—in a 2009 survey, 90 percent of teachers agreed that “other teachers contribute to my success in the classroom.” Teaching is a challenging profession with many compounding factors outside of our control. We need a positive support system. This usually comes from fellow teachers who understand our shared experiences. When the coronavirus forced our school to close, I turned to virtual communities for this support. Below are some ways you can build teacher communities virtually.

Share Resources via Social Media

Social media is a great way to connect and share resources with other colleagues engaged in distance learning. Consider joining Facebook Groups such as Global Educator Collective, the Trauma Informed Educators Network, or Teachers Helping Teachers. You’ll find teachers just like you posting free resources such as worksheets, distance-learning activities, and more. It’s like a virtual grade team meeting where you can swap and share ideas.

Another way to connect with other teachers is through Twitter. Try following hashtags such as #QuaranTeaching, #RemoteLearning, #DistanceLearning, or #RemoteEd. You’ll find other educators engaging in real-time conversation and sharing stories of what’s working well in their own classrooms. It’s also a way to find like-minded educators, those who will push your thinking and your marigolds.

Participate in Twitter Education Chats

In addition to following hashtags, another way to connect with educators on Twitter is by participating in #EdChats. #EdChats typically occur the same time and day every week and are a virtual conversation about education. This is one way to form relationships with educators from all regions and learn best practices. Participating in #EdChats has been a helpful way to expand my thinking, stay abreast of what’s working, and further develop my own pedagogical approaches with support from other teachers. Plus, I look forward to talking to the same teachers every week. We have built relationships through our online dialogue.

Some things I learned (and borrowed!) from my peers during #EdChats include: hosting “coffee break” hours with families, ideas for virtual celebrations, ways teachers incorporated choice menus for K–3 students, using Flipgrid for SEL activities, and the Pear Deck extension for Google Slides (a lifesaver!).

I also picked up antiracism resources such as an article by Dena Simmons titled, “If we aren’t addressing racism, we aren’t addressing trauma”; a PDF of things you can say to interrupt racist comments, created by the Oregon Center for Educational Equity; and an amazing thread of diverse book recommendations tweeted by fellow educator Brittany Smith, just to name a few.

One #EdChat inspired me to purchase We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom, by Bettina Love, which I am reading alongside another teacher I connected with in an online chat.

Here are some #EdChats to check out:

Join (or Start) a Community of Practice

A community of practice is a group of people who share a common interest in a topic and learn about that topic from and with each other. You can join a community of practice on any topic—from incorporating tech into your classroom to social and emotional learning.

I participate in a literacy community of practice in which a group of literacy enthusiasts meets monthly to share our ideas, challenges, resources, and research about literacy. Each month a participant shares a problem of practice, and we collaboratively explore it using a protocol. We ask clarifying questions, explore the problem through a curated lens by breaking up into groups to look at research and resources, then come together to share learning and recommendations. It’s an opportunity to share, learn, and brainstorm with other educators.

If you’re interested in starting a community of practice, check out this consultancy protocol from the School Reform Initiative.

While there’s no true replacement for the in-person connection many of us are missing, online teacher communities can be a welcomed addition to our practice during this time of uncertainty. Through these communities, you can build a virtual teacher support system that not only enhances your professional development but also fosters connection with educators across the world. Because we all can use a few marigolds in our gardens.

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