Twitter 101: The Home-School Connection
Educational technology has revolutionized nearly every aspect of classroom teaching. Students now use technology to do research, collaborate, and share their work, while educators turn to tech tools for assessment, tracking progress, and even their own professional development. Social media has proven useful for students and educators alike, giving both a new platform to interact and collaborate online. In particular, Twitter has become a popular platform for educators intent on growing their personal learning networks (PLNs) and gathering ideas from colleagues around the world.
Twitter is also a valuable tool when it comes to strengthening bonds close to home. With more than 100 million daily users—80% of whom use Twitter via a mobile app—this widely used platform allows busy professionals and families to connect at a moment’s notice. Educators who join the platform for their own professional development will quickly find that Twitter also offers an effective way to connect with their students and communities. By sharing information and achievements, supporting community events, engaging with community partners, and demonstrating proper "netiquette," educators can share the positive influence of social media in education.
Share classwork and achievements
What happened in class today? Instead of relying on a printed calendar, syllabus, or newsletter to share classroom activities, use Twitter to disseminate up-to-the-minute details about class assignments and special projects. As Common Sense Education noted, Twitter can be used as a one-way communication system, even if parents and students prefer not to reply online. Consider posting the daily homework assignment, reminders of upcoming class activities, and photos from the day’s lesson to keep families up to date.
Your Twitter feed is also a great space for celebrating accomplishments and promoting student work. While you certainly need to consider privacy and safety whenever sharing information online, there are great benefits for students who see their classwork in a broader context. Mari Jones, co-founder of the national Share Your Learning campaign, knows firsthand how students are positively impacted by seeing their work out in the community. As Jones said of her experience watching student exhibitions be attended by large audiences while working as an elementary school teacher in San Diego, "Those connections with the community tell students, ‘Yes, your work matters. Yes, we see you.'"
If you or your students prefer not to post direct links to work online, use Twitter to boost engagement for in-person opportunities. For instance, you might live-tweet pictures of the crowd lining up outside a science fair or share public images of a student theater production interspersed with behind-the-scenes photos of the props, costumes, and script. Don’t forget to use appropriate Twitter handles and hashtags in your tweets; for example, the Share Your Learning campaign asks participating teachers to share stories and photos from their school events on Twitter using the #ShareYourLearning hashtag.
Show support for community events
Go beyond retweeting or liking information shared by other educators and start promoting local community efforts. As Social Media Today noted, the importance of promoting others before yourself is crucial to build community engagement online. Rather than broadcasting only school events or class activities, look for opportunities to spotlight local news, upcoming activities, and community events on your Twitter feed. For example, if a job fair is coming up at the local community center, be sure to share that tweet with your followers. Your students (and their families!) might appreciate knowing about the fair, and the community center will surely appreciate you sharing the details. If a local event relates to a topic your class is currently studying, be sure to draw attention to that as well. How cool would it be to see a group of students turn up for a local speaker series or essay-reading contest?
Engage with community partners
Don’t stop at retweeting or sharing content from local agencies—strengthen community bonds even further by conversing with other members of the community on Twitter. Stumped for topics? Start by bringing conversations you would have in-person into the online space. If you would normally stop by the help desk of the public library to comment on the historical artifacts display, why not take a picture and tag the library on Twitter? If your students will be volunteering for a local charity, count down to the big day on Twitter and tag the charity in your tweets. Think of your Twitter account as one more way to lend support to your community partners.
In his article 4 Ways to Use Twitter for Schools to Increase Engagement, Steve Williams wrote, “Schools need support from the surrounding community now more than ever.” Just as students need to feel included in their communities, communities need to feel support from schools, too. Williams went on to offer suggestions that move beyond giving community partners a one-time shout-out, exemplifying how ongoing conversations or threads help tweets gain traction online by drawing attention to both your school and local organizations. Williams also suggested live-tweeting a field trip using a specified hashtag, which could be especially beneficial if you’re visiting a local business or park. Look for ways to engage with your community partners, and chances are they’ll look for ways to engage with you.
Demonstrate positive, community-focused netiquette
Students learn by example, so watching educators use Twitter in a positive way can be a great influence in the classroom—and a recent Edutopia article suggested taking this lesson a step further by making your Twitter account into a classroom collaboration. Before you post on the platform, ask students to help decide what to share on Twitter about the day’s lesson. Discussing what photos to use and how to summarize important takeaways not only gives students an opportunity to review what they’ve learned but serves as a teachable moment about appropriate sharing and connecting in an online space.
The Edutopia article also recommended hosting an event at school to help interested parents and students learn more about your chosen social media platform. Do you find parents are keeping up with your tweets but shy away from responding to questions? What about your students; are they able to decide what to post about their work on social media, or do they feel too self-conscious? Taking the time to meet and learn together—in person—can help parents and students cultivate meaningful interactions online.
The digital age may have changed the landscape of education, but the heart of teaching remains the same. Educators are leveraging all aspects of technology—even social media—to grow their networks; increase their professional development; and engage students, families, and communities. There’s no doubt that technology will continue to revolutionize the classroom, and teachers who use Twitter will be uniquely positioned to learn, grow, and connect as they explore everything the digital age has to offer.
Twitter 101: The Home-School Connection is the fifth and final installment in our five-post Twitter 101 series. Miss the first four installments? Get caught up here:
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