Twitter 101: Grow Your Personal Learning Network
This is the second installment in Lexia's five-post Twitter 101 series. Read the first installement: Twitter 101: Start Your Own Teacher Twitter Account
The digital age is rapidly changing the education world by revolutionizing everything from classroom materials to assessments and grading, so it’s no wonder that educators are venturing online themselves in search of professional development. With the education landscape undergoing a daily evolution, social media has become an essential resource for educators looking to keep abreast of the latest education news and grow their own professional learning networks (PLNs).
Over the past few years, Twitter has emerged as the social media platform of choice for educators, administrators, and thought leaders to share their knowledge and build professional relationships. Indeed, a 2013 survey of 755 U.S. K-16 educators found that Twitter had facilitated a positive, collaborative online education community due to its personalized, immediate nature (and for educators just getting started with self-directed professional networking, setting up a Twitter account dedicated to their teaching career is a must.)
Once your account is all set up, you’re ready to join the online education conversation and grow your professional network. Read on for our top tips on following other accounts and composing your first tweets.
Follow colleagues and meet new friends
Finding people you already know on Twitter is a piece of cake! School districts, administrators, and other educators will often include their Twitter handles on web pages and business cards, and if all else fails, you might be able to find people you know personally by searching for their phone numbers or email addresses. Including your location in your Twitter bio is another way you can get connected, as clicking on it will bring up a list of Twitter users in your area. Including your co-workers, district reps, and administrators in your PLN will ensure you’re in step with your local school community.
That said, adding influencers from outside your district is important as well. If you're not sure where to start, think of some education blogs and teaching-focused websites you particularly enjoy reading. In this day and age, they likely have some sort of social presence, so check their websites for their handles or type their names directly into the Twitter search bar. You might also consider the following: the publisher of your current curriculum, the edtech companies whose products you use in class, and any news sources that frequently report on education policy.
After you’ve put in the work to find and follow colleagues and influencers, you'll notice account suggestions appearing on your Twitter feed. The site uses a variety of criteria to both recommend accounts that align with your interests and promote your account to others, so when you see a suggested account, take a few minutes to determine whether you’d like to add it to your PLN.
As you become more active on Twitter, accounts may begin to follow you, too! In some instances, you'll appreciate the user reaching out and will be happy to add them to your PLN, but keep in mind that you're not obligated to follow everyone back—especially if you suspect that the account is automated (otherwise known as a “bot”), the content is offensive, or the user's tweets are simply unrelated to your education focus.
Create and share content
By far the best way to grow your personal learning network is through engagement. In other words, it’s time to start tweeting. As you compose your first tweets, stay focused on building your professional presence: What do you want to share about life in your classroom? What questions do you have about education?
Since tweets have a 280-character limit, you’ll need to be brief in sharing your questions and insights. This is not the platform to share a long-winded analysis of technological advances in the classroom! It may be helpful for you to think of Twitter as the venue for a brief meeting with co-workers and specialists within your field—although you only have a short window within which to engage in conversation, there are still plenty of opportunities to learn and interact with each other.
Just as with face-to-face networking opportunities, social media-based interactions tend to go a lot more smoothly when you strike a balance between listening to other people and voicing your own perspective. On Twitter, responding to others can take the form of liking, replying, or retweeting. But how often should you compose original tweets versus sharing and responding to the thoughts of others? The 411 rule, coined by Brandscaping author Andrew Davis, contends that the following ratio of personal content vs. shared content is most beneficial for the purposes of network-building:
Four ideas or resources that inspire and interest you. These should be relevant to members of the audience you hope to reach; for example, if you're a hands-on art teacher interested in meeting other educators who are exploring edtech options, you might link to an article about digital art programs, share a quote from a favorite artist, or retweet information about an art museum’s virtual reality program.
One thing you’d like to promote. In the education world, this might mean posting a press release for a new edtech product you can’t wait to try, linking to an announcement about upcoming events in your school district, or sharing a call to action for educators in your area.
One original thought, piece of advice, or opinion. Can't wait to post a picture of your classroom organization system, share a memorable event that occurred in class, or ask a question of other educators? Now's your chance! Our Lexia educators often post pictures of students celebrating their certificates when they complete a level!
While you certainly don’t have to stick to the exact 4:1:1 ratio, maintaining a balance between inspiration, promotion, and opinion will set you up for some healthy online conversations. As you continue to converse with other Twitter users, you'll undoubtedly connect with people who give you new ideas, share your interests, and challenge your perspective. Don’t be shy about following users you're excited to hear from again!
Use and follow hashtags
Simply put, hashtags are a helpful tool to make your tweets easy to find. Directly preceded by the pound sign, these words become clickable links to other tweets that include the same hashtag. For example, if you include the hashtag #edtech in a tweet about using artificial intelligence in the classroom, other Twitter users searching for that hashtag will see what you posted. The Global Digital Citizen Foundation's list of The Best 100 Education Hashtags for Every Educator on Twitter is a great resource to find popular hashtags for every education topic, from instructional practice and education policy to grade levels and subject areas.
Keeping your hashtags relevant and education-focused will help you connect with your PLN online. Note that although you can include as many hashtags in your tweets as you like—or as many as you can fit into your allotted 280 characters, at least—you might want to limit yourself to the most relevant. Twitter recommends using no more than two hashtags to keep your tweets easy to read and facilitate meaningful engagement. As you grow your audience over time, using hashtags in every tweet will become less important, but in the beginning, this is one of the best ways to add your thoughts to online conversations.
Pro tip: Look up the hashtag #Lexia to see what teachers in our network are posting.
Create a posting schedule
If you’re new to Twitter, you might want to take things slow as you get the hang of posting, replying, and retweeting, but once you’re comfortable on the platform, it's a good idea to build time into your schedule for connecting with your PLN. For instance, you might find that you like tweeting over your morning coffee as you organize your thoughts for the day.
Some people choose to use a scheduling tool to manage their tweets or even schedule pre-written tweets to post at certain times. Leading members of the Forbes Agency Council have recommended an array of approaches to this, from making a content calendar on a simple spreadsheet to using online schedulers such as Hootsuite or Buffer. Planning and scheduling your tweets is helpful if you want to share your thoughts regularly but have difficulty carving out time each day for Twitter.
If you do use a service to schedule and post tweets for you, understand that other users will not be able to tell that they are pre-written and auto-posted, not composed and published in real time. If your online scheduler posts a tweet during a time when you are actually teaching a class, this could lead others to believe that you are tweeting instead of teaching! Similarly, if you use a scheduler to post your own tweets but don’t take the time to interact with others through replies and retweets, this may hurt your engagement with your online PLN. Simply put, although scheduling your tweets can be useful, it's important to use these services thoughtfully.
Growing your PLN allows you to exchange ideas with education stakeholders near and far. Whether your ultimate goal for using Twitter involves learning new strategies to apply in your own classroom or getting involved in the latest developments and education policies, connecting and conversing on Twitter will help you meet like-minded professionals.
Twitter 101: Grow Your Personal Learning Network is the second installment in our five-post Twitter 101 series. Miss the first installment? Get caught up here: Twitter 101: Start Your Own Teacher Twitter Account. Ready to start tweeting? Check back in for the next post in the series.
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