George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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.

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Connected Educators
Connected Educator Month is here! This blog series highlights some tips and ideas for educators to consider during and after this month.

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Katie Evans's picture
Katie Evans
Social Media Marketing Manager

Great tips Elana! I love your first suggestion of being the model first. Your current/future social media digesters will be able to pick up on whether or not you have practiced what you're preaching. I'd also encourage folks to share how they've determined their tips or strategies successful as it will help readers immensely in the long run. #TweetOn #OnWard

Casey's picture

These are all great tips! During my undergraduate twitter is how we collaborated with our classmates and professor during and after class. It was a great way for all of us to stay connected and share our ideas with one another. We would use the same hashtag as our course title so we could all stay connected. Some of you said that twitter is blocked in your school, they actually make different sites that preform the same as twitter but you have to join the group in order to participate in the conversation. I've actually used this in my classroom so that all my students can share their ideas and I can see their thoughts. My district just recently went one-to-one meaning each child has an iPad they can use and it is a great way to incorporate our new technology in the classroom!

KMcCullough's picture

This is definitely great information. I think it is also important to start something like this with a group of teachers who share the same vision for your school. I think it increases the likelihood that the staff will support the initiative and use it as a tool regularly to communicate and learn from each other.

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Edcamper, Former @Edutopia, Founder of Social Media Marketing Consultancy aimed at helping educational orgs.

That's a great point KMcCullough -- sometimes it's important to start small with people that can run with the idea and then, as I like to say, you can almost peer pressure people to adopt the new culture. I casually drop, "Did you see what so and so tweeted last night on ipads in the classroom?" etc. The more you can make it part of your day to day and have other people do the same, culture will start to change.

On another note, I found this GREAT resource by educator AJ Juliani where he shares: 10 Ways for New School Leaders to Use Twitter: There are some easy and practical ways to get started.

S_A_Smith's picture

Nice article! We don't have a twitter friendly environment in my district and we don't like change very much! I remember that we had a session on it years ago, but then there was never any encouragement for us to continue using it among ourselves or in our classroom. I like what KMcCullough said about starting out with a small group. Perhaps it's time to get the ball rolling!

Swetha Baskaran's picture

Educators taking up twitter as a way of collaborating and encouraging each other is a great idea. Building dialogues among educators will have a positive impact on the social capital of the learning community. The article is an interesting read and comprehensively describes various ideas to promote tweeting.
I think moving forward, the next step could be to extend these ideas to include the student community. This can be used as a way to create a space for dialogue and establish parity between students and teachers. I liked Casey's idea of naming hash-tags after the course titles. This is a way to get students interested in topics beyond the classroom curriculum.

Anirudh Seshagirisa's picture

Integrating twitter into the class room environment is a great step to improve collaboration among the students. This article suggests some good tips to follow to achieve this. I completed agree with you Swetha on how Twitter helps to establish parity between students and teachers and also among students. The main advantage of having Twitter in classroom is that it provides a great platform for non-context discussions which improves the rapport between people.

And also, another great advantage from Twitter is that it is real-time. We can make good use of this feature and make the classroom more lively even in virtual world. Another tip which I could think of was making use of Twitter lists for classrooms. This restricts you to see only tweets from a specific group you wish to create for the classroom. On the whole, the idea of integrating Twitter in the classroom is really great for achieving collaboration among peers as well as between students and teachers.

Mallikarjun Patil's picture

Great points Elana, especially building a Twitter team, to create goals, ask brainstorming questions will help build knowledge in a unique way. To add to that point, a group can connect with a Professional who is practicing the related field of study to give his/her insights. Professional here may be author,etc. This will help student to build his network also. Not to forget the insights or suggestions given by the professionals will act as an motivation factor for the student to work more on that topic and thus enhancing the understanding of the course.

Sachit Dhal's picture

@Swetha. Thats a good point about extending these ideas into a learning community. I think its a very creative and fun way to enhance knowledge of students. Its also a way of increasing interaction between students and instructors.
I'd like to mention a course that I had taken in my university where this technique was followed. Students were encouraged to tweet their doubts or anything interesting they found out related to the course on twitter using a specified hashtag. The professor did the same. Both students and instructors would answer the doubts. In class we would have a running stream of posts about the class on twitter. The instructor kept 10 to 15 min to further discuss those tweets and would retweet the best replies and posts.
The best part about this was after a few weeks we saw people who had not taken the class were also participating in the discussion using same hashtags. Another good thing was that the students and the instructor too were always engaged in the course. Learning was not just confined by the course syllabus.

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