I am a novice at social media. It’s not that I’m opposed to it—quite the contrary—social media, even for all of its perceived negatives, can open up an exciting world to our students and provide them with experiences that some of them only dream of.
As educators, we are encouraged to use social media in our classroom. Students might write blog posts about what they’re learning, or they might use YouTube to create a podcast, or they might create Twitter accounts for special interest projects.
Just as teachers are encouraged to write when our students write or read when our students read, are we using social media to expand our own repertoire of learning? Are we becoming involved in experiences we ourselves once only dreamed of?
Selfishly, I began tweeting as a way to gain a following for my website. I thought all those who followed me on Twitter would naturally follow my website. I began following nearly 1,000 people, assuming they would return the favor.
However, I soon realized it was nearly impossible to be a mindful follower or an inspirational communicator if one is following too many people. I soon narrowed my following and, as a result, noticed the same educators joining Twitter chats I joined.
One name that kept popping up in various educational twitter chats was Robert Ward, a middle school ELA teacher from Los Angeles, CA. During mutual chats, I noticed that his comments were similar to mine and that we often agreed on various educational best practices.
In addition, I would often receive a “like” or a retweet on my specific comments, most often from Robert. Eventually, when I noticed Robert joining a Twitter chat, I would join that chat, too.
Recently, Robert published two books: The Firm, Fair, Fascinating Facilitator: Inspire your Students, Engage your Class, Transform your Teaching and its companion workbook, The Teacher Tune-Up. Robert shared this exciting news on Twitter, and I offered him hearty congratulations.
I have tried for three years to earn a publishing contract and have been turned down more times than I can count. However, when I saw Robert’s good news, I wasn’t bitter or resentful. I was truly happy for him.
I direct messaged (or DMed) him via Twitter and asked if he could give me some writing tips. What could I do to help move toward that elusive publishing opportunity? What pointers could he suggest that would help make my writing more publishing worthy?
He messaged back and gave me some great ideas, but his response wasn’t enough. My next question was: Can we set up a phone appointment to discuss, in depth, what I could do to get my book published?
Robert responded, and next thing I knew, we were on the phone, for more than an hour, sharing writing tips and publishing ideas. But the best part was that talking to Robert was like talking to a work colleague, a mentor, a cheerleader, and a really honest evaluator all at the same time. There was no competitive spirit, just an opportunity to grow together to become the best teachers and learners we could be.
We have traded blog sources, and Robert graciously offered to publish one of my original pieces on his site. To reciprocate, I’ve invited him to jointly moderate a Twitter chat with me in March. We have built a social media relationship and, although one might think that a relationship launched on social media site is nothing more than two people trying to “one-up” each other, it is far more.
Social media has given me the opportunity to meet someone who I would never have met. It is that profound gratitude that encourages me to build my professional network. I don’t follow every educator just to increase my Twitter numbers; I am drawn to a select few who have the same question I do: What can we learn from each other that will help us to support our students?
I have no doubt that Robert and I will meet someday, maybe at a conference in Milwaukee, a workshop in Los Angeles, or a vacation to the west coast or Midwest. We’ll laugh, listen, learn, and lead, remembering that it all began with a “like”!
Please share your positive experiences using social media to form a personal learning network (PLN) in the Comments section below. Feel free to also include the Twitter handles of supportive, insightful, passionate educators, as well as the hashtags of great educational Twitter chats. In the comments, you will see tweets from a Twitter chat that Robert moderated. EduChats are a great way to network and learn along with educators from all over the globe!