About a year and half ago, I was presenting at the PA Writing and Literature Project (PAWLP) fall conference on technology. At the end of the conference, one of the co-directors, Judy Jester, asked me to help her and others “tweet” for the project. “I actually don’t use Twitter,” I told her. I think she was surprised. I’d just given a presentation on blogging with my students, and I was fairly active on most social media sites… that is, except for Twitter.
I had a Twitter account, but until recently, I rarely used it. I didn’t really understand how Twitter worked. I think I was also so overwhelmed with other technologies and social media platforms that I drew an artificial line at Twitter. There was also the fact that, of all social media platforms, Twitter seemed to be most associated with giving generally uncouth, anonymous users a platform to complain, bash, or even harass others.
Still, I kept hearing about Twitter from other educators and at the NCTE conference last fall, everywhere I looked, teachers were tweeting their hearts out. At one session, the presenter told the audience that she often found her best professional development on Twitter. I mean, if Penny Kittle, Donalyn Brooks, and Kelly Gallagher were on Twitter, why was I still staying away?
So in the last few months, I’ve been on Twitter following educators, writers, and generally smart people. And it’s true, what the presenter at NCTE said about the wonderful professional development opportunities you can find on Twitter. As teachers, we know how busy the day-to-day grind can be. It’s hard to find the professional development opportunities we may need amidst all the managed chaos. But every time I check my Twitter feed, I come across a resource—a line, a quote, a visual, a piece of research, a website, a blog post, an article—that gives me pause, that makes me reconsider and reflect on what I do in the classroom.
Just this morning, for example, I came across several posts about the Michigan Reading Association Conference as well as the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Reunion. I didn’t even know that either event was happening. But in my Twitter news feed, I saw excited teachers share inspiration and insights from each gathering. Though I was hundreds of miles away, I could sit comfortably in my family room and hear the words of Kylene Beers, who reminded a crowd of more than 4K teachers (on a Saturday morning!) that “deep thinking always begins with questions,” and that “wantability is more important than readability” when it comes to student choice and reading development.
Other tweets I noted:
When I was in grad school, I heard more than one pre-service teacher in my cohort complain about the theory and methods classes we were required to take. Their complaints were grounded in a frustration that what was going on in their day-to-day student teaching was disconnected from what they were learning in their coursework. To be honest, I could never understand where they were coming from. I loved every one of my theory and methods courses. Being asked to reflect critically before stepping into the classroom full-time was incredibly valuable for me. But I also understand that reflection can sometimes feel like a luxury when you’re a pre-service teacher just trying to stay afloat.
It’s been 14 years since I completed my student teaching. But when I hear experienced teachers talk about professional development today, I still hear the same frustration I heard 14 years ago. With mandates handed down with little teacher input, training or time, the frustration is warranted. When professional development is neglected or heavy-handed, teachers may not feel like they can take the time to reflect; they’re just trying to stay afloat.
Which brings me back to Twitter. Now, granted, most of the tweets above are generally things I already know. But many of them are also things that I know I forget. And that’s why reflection is so important to teaching. Teaching is a recursive process.
So here’s my plan for professional development—to choose at least one meaningful or thought-provoking tweet each week and reflect on it in writing, blog it, make it public, enter the bigger conversation. Then to take that and make a positive change in my classroom. With all the intelligent and talented educators out there sharing what they know—freely, passionately—I feel grateful to have access to the leaders in our profession.
And I guess I have Twitter to thank for that.
This post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 250 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.