My first year as a public school teacher in first grade was in 1996. It seems like yesterday, but how the world of education has changed since then. I was hired to fill a half year position to replace a teacher on maternity leave. During this time the first-grade team began a book study, Guided Reading: Good First Teaching for All Children by Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. This first edition was hot off the presses. It was a shift in educational instruction. At that time the school district was using a basal series that categorized students into three groups, with very little consideration in the differentiation of instruction beyond that point.
This became my professional learning network. This was the first professional book club that I had participated in since leaving college. We met weekly, practiced strategies presented and shared our successes. Having the opportunity to discuss instruction and student outcomes was exciting. This was the extent of PLN for that year. After being hired permanently, I was allowed to attend one conference per year of my choice as it related to district goals and initiatives. A one day conference shared with like-minded colleagues became my PLN for that year. Often I chose to read professional texts on my own but had very few colleagues that wanted to have a conversation about the new learning, and certainly, I did not have a network that extended beyond my district.
Flash forward over twenty years. Currently, I belong to multiple professional book clubs, Voxer groups, online learning, listen to Webinars and podcasts almost daily, attend multiple conferences and workshops, participate in a literacy think tank, check Facebook and Twitter for professional learning and the list continues. Phew, my PLN has certainly grown!
One way that I have connected with like-minded educators was through Twitter chats. I had heard colleagues and friends mention Twitter chats and I wanted to explore the possibilities. So as I stalked Twitter I noticed #, Q1, A1 @. I was unsure where to begin?!? Where did people learn of times and topics of chats? Can anyone join in? Did I need to sign up? So many questions.
After talking with a friend I learned that many chats occur on a regular basis, weekly, biweekly or perhaps monthly and educators can access many of the recurring chats on an official Google site that manages education chats.
Overwhelmed with the number of chats that occurred each day, sometimes over 50, I began to look more closely at the descriptions and decided on one that I would try. I went to Twitter at the appropriate time but could not find anything from the group of educators. I then learned I needed to put in the name of the chat with a hashtag in front of the name, example #TCRWP. When I entered in the hashtag I was able to find the trail of Q & A from the chat. I was getting closer but still unable to participate. Then I noticed an advertisement for a chat with a list of questions, the date and time and the hashtag that I needed to include. So I was on a roll. I grabbed my phone, cleared my schedule and I was ready to join in. The questions popped up at the scheduled time, I paused, drafted my answer and posted. By the time I had completed that process they were already onto the next question and I had missed the conversation. I didn’t understand how this was going to support my learning and connect me with other educators. I shared my disappointment with friends and learned there was a tool that could make this whole process much easier – Tweetdeck. It changed my perspective on connecting with educators through Twitter chats!
Tweetdeck allows the participant to prepare their response ahead of time, schedule a tweet to post at the exact time, insert images and direct message anyone in the chat. This allowed me to not only have time to respond to the questions but also be present as the conversation continued. If you would like to explore Tweetdeck visit the Twitter help center.
Next, users are able to begin the process of scheduling tweets prior to the chat. After clicking the blue Tweet button another window will open. First, put the answer and number in the box and respond to the question. (A1:) After drafting your answer make sure that you place the # and name of the chat at the end of the response. This allows the response to become part of the feed so others may see your contribution. Next, click “Schedule Tweet.” The option will open, so a day and time may be selected for a post to show up in the chat. This will then appear in another column marked “Scheduled Tweets.”
After completing all responses to the questions it is time to sit back and enjoy the conversation. Resources are shared and educators are able to connect.
Another tool that you may want to explore is Participate. This tool not only allows a user to schedule tweets it shows the trending Twitter chats. Filters also are available by a question along with the archive of previous chats. There are chats available for multiple disciplines, topics, and instructional conversations. So now is the time to expand your PLN by exploring Twitter chats!