Social networks have become an integral part of our lives. Still have a doubt? Just grab your phone, google it and done. Looking at the world through my kid’s eyes, it is even more obvious. I will say: “I don’t know, son”. Son goes: “Well, mum, look it up on your phone.” In fact, that was exactly what I was thinking of doing myself, except that at the back of my brain something was telling me that perhaps I should encourage my kids to seek answers some other way. But that is another matter.
Just as everyone else, I have witnessed the amazing transformation that the digital media and social networks have brought about. But still, I had not realized how much I could gain from a professional point of view. Whenever I heard a teacher explaining how powerful it was, I must admit, I was quite sceptical. I actually thought that it could not be more than merely informative.
But I was wrong. Very soon I realized that Twitter is much more than a noticeboard. In fact, it opened my eyes to dozens of new ideas that were being put into practice somewhere near or far from me. Connected, social, or blended learning. OEDs, apps, blogging…you name it. There were schools and educators who had been for more than a decade integrating these new ways of teaching with technology in their classrooms and seeking strategies to do so effectively.
At that point I saw myself in black and white.
Get on That Train
So there I was. Convinced that the world is moving fast, my students are rapidly changing from one year to the next, so I’d better get on that train.
At the beginning I really enjoyed connecting with like-minded people and reading their brilliant articles. I was learning on the very spot. Wherever I was I could read something inspiring to me. I engaged in chats where I could connect with teachers who were tackling issues I was concerned about, both as a teacher and as a parent. There are some amazing people out there! In record time I became aware of a lot things happening in education, language learning and where these two meet technology.
On top of that, the time was right. It made a lot of sense at that precise moment of my teaching career because I had been instictively driven to change and incorporate new tools to engage learners in a more social and connected environment. Just that I did not know exactly how to do it.
But there was a downside to all this euphoria. It was a bit of a frenzy. Just too overwhelming and exhausting sometimes. There came a moment I lost track of what I had gone there for in the first place. What was it all about? Creating a personal brand? A quest for followers?
Too Fast to Handle?
Twitter had become an essential part of my personal learning network, but all the value it had was at times withering due to the lack of time and focus. I got very easily distracted by almost anything.
I am a mother of two. I can’t spend the time I have just sifting through endless streams of resources if it won’t get me anywhere. Obvious as it might sound, as a teacher there is no point in paying the same attention to everything, basically because not everything is necessary for my students. At least, not now. It’s like when you know you should take up a sport. You can’t possibly do all sports just because you like them.
It also dawned on me that maybe I was becoming nothing but a noticeboard -maybe spam?- to all of those who were following me. I would tweet and retweet great ideas and information about web 2.0 tools, for instance, which sounded just fine. But what is the value of informing people of things that exist if I haven’t had the chance to test it myself? Then my profile would be nothing but an echo, while my learning isn’t taking place either.
The time had come to tame twitter.
Seeking the Balance
Here are a few things I learned about using twitter for professional development.
- Try to stay focused on what is genuinely meaningful in my context for me and my students.
- I have to learn to use time wisely. And just as with other social media apps, try to make the most of content curation sites to keep resources organised.
- I mustn’t neglect the power of hashtags. Following the tweets on a stream of educational hashtags helps me optimize my time on twitter and also find other teachers with similar interests. I’ve also found it helpful to follow hashtags and lists on twitter apps like tweetdeck.
- Create and suscribe to lists where I can follow people that tweet about specefic areas I am interested in.
- Engage in chats. Meeting new people and learning what others are doing by communicating with them in real time is a wonderful opportunity.
- If I am keen on social learning and all its benefits, maybe I should take advantage of it myself and interact with the people I connect with. That single action usually makes me reflect and think about many topics, just as writing does.
- And last, but not least, enjoy!
Twitter, which, in the end, are the people and organizations that bring it to life, have so much to offer to help me grow professionally and personally.