I’ve written in the past about how the relationships I’ve developed on Twitter have transformed and energized my teaching (How Twitter Saved Me).
and how colleagues sometimes look at me with skepticism when I encourage them to take an hour out of their already crazy busy schedules to talk to teachers they’ve never met before.
But when they finally decide to try out a chat, that first step into the vast Twitter ocean can seem a bit daunting. While there are several great posts out there on diving into Twitter, I’ve yet to find a simple, straightforward guide to which I can direct my tentative friends.
So here goes:
Step 1: Find Twitter and create an account
We’ll discuss handy dandy tools like Tweetdeck later. For now, just go to twitter.com and sign up by entering your name and email address. There are a few steps to signing up, but don’t worry, the site is very user-friendly and walks you through the steps.
You’ll be asked to choose a password and a handle – which is Twitter talk for the way people will find you. Try to keep your handle short and professional – I chose to use my name to make it easier for others to find me, but you can use any handle that hasn’t already been taken.
You’ll want to go back later and add a picture of yourself and a brief bio, but for now, let’s just get you tweeting.
I found it easier to sign up on my laptop, but if you’d like to access Twitter on your phone, you’ll need to go to your app store and download the Twitter app for free.
Step 2: Find some people to follow
One of the great things about Twitter is that you get to create your own experience, depending on whom you choose to follow. You follow people or organizations by searching out their names in the search bar on the upper right-hand side of the screen next to the magnifying glass and clicking the blue “follow” button on the right-hand side of the screen. You’ll notice that handles are always preceded by an @ symbol.
As a teacher, just a few of the people and organizations I enjoy following are:
@theteachingchannel @susangbarber @ncte
The handles I follow are mostly authors, teachers, and organizations that I’ve found post about things I’m interested in. You can start with a few that are recommended for your interests by Googling “Who to follow for __________” and inserting your particular interest. The handles you follow are what will make up your Twitter experience whenever your open up and scroll through your feed (the ongoing stream of Twitter messages).
Occasionally, you’ll see people pop up on your Twitter feed that you do not follow. This is because someone you do follow retweeted them (reposted a message they liked and wanted to share with their followers). If you’re interested in what they have to say, go ahead and follow them, too.
Step 3: Join a chat:
This is the reason I joined Twitter in the first place. A Twitter chat gives you the opportunity to meet and chat with people that share your same interests. For me, it was AP Literature. I was the only AP Lit teacher at my school and desperately needed someone to collaborate with on my curriculum and teaching.
Luckily, Brian Sztabnik, a.k.a. Talks with Teachers, had started #aplitchat, a chat for AP Lit teachers (although it has since been joined by educators of other subjects, as it turns out that good teaching transcends grade level).
By typing in the hashtag #aplitchat into my search window on Twitter at the scheduled time of 9 pm EST Sunday nights, I was able to share ideas with educators all over the US and Canada, and I found myself coming away from the discussions not only with wonderful ideas for teaching my subject, but with a renewed passion for heading into my classroom on Monday morning.
If you Google “Twitter chats for __(insert interest here)___” you’ll find hundreds of chats out there, some just for educators, and more for other interests.
Tweetdeck – I discovered Tweetdeck, a social media dashboard app, after a few chats and it improved my chat experience quite a bit. Tweetdeck does many things, including organizing your chosen hashtag into a separate column, so it’s much easier to follow and participate in the conversation of a Twitter chat. It’s easy to get started by signing on to Tweetdeck.twitter.com with your Twitter handle.
Step 4: Relax and enjoy the conversation
To join a chat, type the hashtag for the chat into your Twitter or Tweetdeck search bar. Your Twitter feed will change to only messages that include that hashtag.
Part of the reason that people can be intimidated by Twitter is that it moves pretty fast. As people post comments, the message feed literally moves to show the newest posts. (There’s a way to stop this, by the way, but you probably won’t need to.) When you’re on a popular chat with several other people, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of comments streaming by.
The reason this no longer bothers me is that I look at the chat the way I would a cocktail party. It’s like moving through a room where everybody is mostly talking about the same topic, but a few groups have broken off into individual conversations of interest – sometimes they’re sharing resources, occasionally discussing different ways of teaching a particular lesson or skill. No one is expected to read and respond to every tweet on the chat and the great thing is everybody is welcome, even encouraged to join in any conversation they are interested in, as much or little as they want. Sharing ideas is what Twitter chats are all about.
During your chat, a moderator will post discussion questions every few minutes, usually preceded by Q1, Q2, and so forth, and if you answer these questions, it’s customary to precede your answer with A1, A2 . . . This is just the beginning of the conversation, though, so feel free to have side conversations about things in the discussion that grab your attention. To respond to a tweet, just hit the symbol that looks like a dialogue bubble right underneath the message. The person you respond to will be notified about your tweet. Make sure you include the chat hashtag in your tweet so that others on the chat can see what you say.
You also can lurk – just read the various conversations without responding, and no one will mind at all – but it’s much more fun to engage with others that have the same interests as you. Also, this is your opportunity to follow new people with your same interests.
Do yourself a favor and try out a few chats this week. At the least you’ll meet some great people and hear some interesting ideas. And, if you’re like me, you’ll find a brilliant, generous community of folks that make you look forward to Monday.
Jori Krulder is a veteran AP teacher who teaches in paradise – literally – Paradise, California. In addition to teaching, she enjoys long bike rides, a good cup of coffee, and spending time with her family.