Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach writes in her book, The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age, "We can reach out to our network, harvest the collective wisdom found there, and then bring it back to the school." Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach is right. There is a great deal of collective wisdom on the web, and those in a position to tap into that network of wisdom and expertise are those who know how to engage effectively in 21st century social networking tools. School leaders who continue to ignore or dismiss this powerful microblogging tool, are literally missing out on an excellent opportunity to join in the collective wisdom of thousands of educators who are already connected. Setting up a Twitter account is rather easy to do, but using it as a networking tool is a complicated process that takes time and effort.
To administrators who have added getting their Twitter account established to their 2012 Things to Get Done Resolution List, I offer these 5 Common Sense Tips to help in that endeavor.
Establish separate Twitter accounts for your personal-professional use and for your school or district. I realize many administrators and educators establish Twitter accounts using their school name or district affiliation, and that is the only account they use. This practice is not an issue as long as the Tweets generated using this account represent the business and interests of the organization. I prefer having separate accounts for my school and for myself, and I try to make it clear that any Tweeting done with my personal-professional account is not as an agent of my school. I might refer to my school or colleagues occasionally, but my @21stprincipal account is not the official account for my school. My school has its own account, and all communication that issues from that account is official school business. For me, at least, it is an important distinction. Having separate accounts is a way for me use Twitter more effectively.
Establish very clear purposes for each of your Twitter accounts. Once your Twitter accounts are established, it is important to make sure each has its own clear purpose. To be honest, my personal-professional Twitter account, @21stprincipal, came about as I began experimenting with Twitter. I’ve had the account as far back as 2008, and my purpose in setting it up was not to serve as a way communicate in my school role. It was established, at least initially, as a way to experiment with the medium. Its purpose has evolved over the subsequent years to become a way to engage other educators in a professional learning network, and to engage individuals elsewhere in a discussion about education and other issues of interest. My school Twitter account has two main purposes. One is to share events and happenings at the school. It is a communication tool that allows me and my teachers to communicate quickly and easily with the community. Secondly, it is a promotional tool as well. It allows me to promote our school to an ever growing and wider community. My two Twitter accounts serve two entirely different purposes based on my role either as an agent of the school or as an interested educator and individual engaging with others outside of the school.
Engage in meaningful conversations through thought-provoking Tweets. Once you have establish a Twitter account, you have to use it. I would suggest posting more than your current location or what you’re eating for lunch though. Often, being thought-provoking just means posting an interesting quote from a book you’re reading, or a statement made by a public figure. These kinds of statements, or questions, often engage others who comment back. In a short time, it is easy to get caught in a two, three or many-way conversation with other Tweeters. Engaging, thoughtful tweets go a long way in getting you connected with others on Twitter.
Participate in Twitter chats such as #edchat or #leadershipchat. There are actually a large number of events called “Twitter Chats” happening throughout the week, and at different times. To participate in these events, you need only include that chat’s hashtag with your tweet and those in the chat can follow your contributions too. (Here’s a description of hashtags and how they work for those who’ve never used them.) Many Twitter chat events, like the weekly #edchat that occurs every Tuesday at 12 noon and 7 pm, engage a sometimes rather dizzying number of participants, but the fun is in engaging in the conversation, not to mention that once the chat is over, you can obtain a copy of the entire conversation to review later. Twitter chats are opportunities to engage others in conversations that matter to you.
Share your thoughts, resources, and reading with your followers. As I mentioned earlier, thought-provoking tweets are important. But engaging others using Twitter is rather simple. You can use it to share your thinking on the latest reform efforts. You can share some web resources you’ve found. You can share favorite quotes from a book you’re reading. You can even retweet (which means to resend) those tweets that you find useful or otherwise worth sharing. The truth is you have to share a bit of yourself with others to grow a professional learning network. That means sharing more than what you had for lunch.