Author's Note: Thanks to Joe Manko, Liberty Elementary School principal, for inspiring this blog post during an impromptu edcamp at #SXSWEdu this year. For an example of a school trying to create a connected culture through Twitter, follow Liberty Elementary's hashtag and jump into the conversation.
Twitter is one of the most powerful tools that you can use for your professional development -- 24/7. It's estimated that hundreds of thousands of educators around the world are currently using Twitter to connect, share, and collaborate.
While it's fantastic that educators are flocking to Twitter, many of them still feel even more alone and isolated within their own school and district. There's an unfortunate inverse trend I've noticed in education: the more connected you are on Twitter, the less support and collaboration you tend to have within your school.
So I ask -- why can't we have both? Why can't we be connected virtually and face-to-face? What's stopping us from using Twitter to support and collaborate with our colleagues? Although many of you may teach in rooms with closed doors, there is no reason not to connect with your colleagues through Twitter. Here's how administrators can help move this needle.
Creating a More Connected Culture
1. Model First
First and foremost, you need to model the change you want to see in your school. It never works to just tell people to do something that you don't even want to or are too scared to do. Here is my favorite collection of getting-started resources out there. And remember, you're going to make mistakes. Don't get down on yourself -- embrace the mistakes and tweet on.
2. Display Your Twitter Handle
It may sound simple, but make sure you add your @name on Twitter to your email signature, your voicemail, and your school website. As a good rule of thumb, wherever you list your phone number or email, display that handle.
3. Offer Real-Time Encouragement
Take a minute or two out of your day and scan your staff's tweets. Favorite, reply to, and retweet them to show public encouragement.
4. Transform Your Faculty Lounge
Display the real-time flow of tweets from your staff or school hashtag on a screen. If this is a hit, consider doing it in other places within your school. Note: There are many cool (and somewhat free) services that display hashtags. Check out Tweetbeam, Visible Tweets, or Twitterfall.
5. Encourage Backchannels
During meetings and professional-development sessions, encourage your staff to use Twitter as a backchannel. Not sure what a backchannel is? Read this post. And remember -- model this, and be an active participant in the backchannel.
6. Create a Speaker Series
Invite guest speakers (in person or virtually) to talk about the power of Twitter. Sometimes, the adoption of new technology can only work when people hear it from others in their role or people that they admire.
7. Conduct a Twitter Chat for Staff to Participate
Twitter chats are a great way to get your staff to collaborate in real-time around specific themes or questions. Pick a day of the week and time, and let your staff know about that chat. Here’s some helpful information on how to create a school-wide Twitter chat. Tip: Make sure your staff gets to pick the weekly topic.
8. Create a Twitter Team
You can't do all of this alone. Recruit a team and meet with them regularly to do things like:
- Survey staff: Information is powerful. As a first step, you may want to create a quick survey to see how many people in your building are either currently using Twitter or have interest in using Twitter. Then ask about their specific challenges or concerns. Make sure to read their answers, provide support, and address those concerns.
- Create goals: Here's a Google doc listing some sample goals that you can customize for your school. Feel free to edit the doc and add your specific goals, too. Start brainstorming questions like: What does success look like? In the short or long term?
- Provide incentives: This is the fun part. Some ideas:
- Highlight the most improved Twitter user at an assembly or school gathering.
- Have a friendly competition with Klout scores or for the person who collaborates and helps others in your school or district the most (this can be measured by replies and your school hashtag).
- Simply tweet a "Follow Friday" (a tweet using the #FF hashtag) that recognizes specific staff on Twitter, or highlight staff in your internal newsletter or your website.
- Work with local businesses to donate products. The more staff members tweet using a specific school hashtag, the more eligible they become to win the prize. This can be weekly, monthly, or quarterly.
These are not by any means all of the things you can to do to create a more connected culture in your school. Try some, try all of them, or do your own thing -- just make sure to share what you're up to in the comments below -- and on Twitter, of course! My friend Adam Bellow once reminded me, "Not sharing is selfish." Make sure you tell your story -- it might just inspire others to do the same.