Back in my first year as a middle school science teacher, I asked experienced colleagues, “When will I know what I am doing as a teacher?” One said it would be at least three years. Another forecasted five. Well, I am approaching the end of my fifth year, and I have come to know what I am doing as a teacher – I am learning.
Now, if you’re a new teacher, that has got to be a frustrating answer to a meaning-of-life type of question, but please hear me out. Maybe some of the “growth mindset” preaching to students has finally started to rub off on me. It is clear as day that if you’re not learning as a teacher, you are stagnating and you will either lose steam or lose heart. In learning from students and colleagues, we can stay prepared and motivated for tomorrow. Toward this end, I dipped my toes into Twitter, looking for ways to boost my professional learning network (PLN).
Every day as teachers, we learn from our students. There is a constant push and pull, a give and take, an ebb and flow, which, at worst, feels like pulling teeth, and, at best, feels like cooperation. When students know we are doing our best, they know we care about them, so they do their best, and everybody learns and grows. I tell students that they are “growing up and growing out” like a tree. As they grow their own self identity (tree trunk), ideas and skills (branches, leaves, flowers and fruit), their roots are also growing to support them and connect them with their community and others outside of their community.
As teachers, we refresh, expand and improve our practice when we collaborate with each other. In the tree analogy, PLNs are like nutrient exchange in plant-fungal symbioses. The people we work with everyday are part of our support system (our roots) and we can expand that system through connections outside of our communities through online PLNs (network of mycelia). Through the PLN we can gain invaluable resources and share our strengths with others.
Why Twitter as a PLN tool?
Twitter is a far-reaching, flexible, and focused tool to boost your PLN. Forte, Humphreys and Park (2012) argue that, “through twitter, teachers forge and maintain professional ties outside their local schools and, in doing so, become conduits for new practices and ideas to move in and out of their local communities.” (Discussion, paragraph 1) If that doesn’t sound like the role of a fungal symbiont, then I don’t know what does.
Twitter is far-reaching in that you can expand your PLN beyond your department, school and district to enrich the diversity of your PLN. Krutka, Carpenter and Trust (2017) designed a PLN enrichment framework, in which they ask questions about the people, spaces and tools involved in our PLNs. Here are examples from each category of questions:
• Which people might I add to my PLN – including those with different perspectives or backgrounds – to enrich my learning?
• What new spaces should I seek out to advance my learning and that of my students?
• How do these tools contribute to students’ learning? (p. 249)
In practice, Krutka et al. (2017) suggest we begin by individually considering such questions (branches), then share initial thoughts and answers with trusted colleagues (roots) and then share emergent ideas with our extended PLNs (fungal symbionts). (p. 250)
In case we need a reminder, Larson Jr. (2007) explains why diversity of ideas is helpful for problem solving:
“When different members possess different types of knowledge, skills, and abilities germane to performing the task, the group as a whole has more to work with – and so greater potential to perform well – than when every member possesses essentially the same knowledge, skills and abilities.” (p. 414)
For example, in my department of science teachers, we are all male and would benefit from the addition of ideas and perspectives from teachers of other genders.
Twitter is flexible in that there are many different ways to use it, from lurking, to learning to sharing, synchronously and asynchronously. I had always known hashtags as way to connect people and ideas asynchronously, which is great in times when synchronous communication is not possible. Then, a conversation with a colleague got me thinking about how to use Twitter synchronously and I found a few resources for Twitter chats.
- Education Chats – (Blumgarten, Hamilton, Murray, Evans, & Rochelle) a collaborative list of education chats on Twitter
- 40 education Twitter chats worth your time (Fingal, 2018)
- TweetDeck – dashboard and management tool for your twitter account, allows you to organize information from Twitter and follow specific hashtags and chats with ease.
Lastly, Twitter is focused because you can leave behind the social distractions of other social media platforms. By starting a teacher account and mindfully choosing who you follow, you can keep your home page or “feed” focused on the learning goals you have for yourself and for your students.
Behie, S. W., & Bidochka, M. J. (2014). Nutrient transfer in plant-fungal symbioses. Trends in plant science, 19(11), 734-740.
Blumengarten, J., Hamilton, C., Murray, T., Evans, C., Rochelle, J., Education Chats. Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/site/twittereducationchats/education-chat-official-list
Fingal, D. (2018) . 40 education Twitter chats worth your time. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=7
Forte, A., Humphreys, M., & Park, T. (2012). Grassroots professional development: How teachers use Twitter. Proceedings of the AAAI International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (ICWSM). Dublin, Ireland.
Krutka, D., Carpenter, J., & Trust, T. (2017). Enriching Professional Learning Networks: A Framework for Identification, Reflection, and Intention. Techtrends: Linking Research & Practice To Improve Learning, 61(3), 246-252. doi:10.1007/s11528-016-0141-5
Larson Jr., J. R. (2007). Deep Diversity and Strong Synergy. Small Group Research, 38(3), 413-436.
Moon, T. (2010). Organizational Cultural Intelligence: Dynamic Capability Perspective. Group & Organization Management, 35(4), 456-493. doi:10.1177/1059601110378295