Using the Power of Twitter to Learn and Lead

Samantha thought she was doing everything she needed for her own professional development—until she discovered the power of Twitter. She now uses the platform not only for professional learning but to connect with and lead other teachers in her district.

Time. That ever-elusive entity of which we think we never have enough. As a teacher, it seems like there is never enough time to plan lessons, grade papers, have conferences, collaborate with teams, attend meetings, AND have a personal life!  But two things this year have completely changed my life as an educator, and I can proudly say that the Time Monster isn’t controlling my life anymore.

In the past, I went with the flow, squeezing tasks in here and there and juggling all the hats teachers wear, hoping one of them wouldn’t fall. Does this scene sound familiar?  Picture a work planner and a home planner, both highlighted and written in with various colors, an Outlook calendar on the work and home computers, and sticky notes everywhere. Five minutes left before it’s time to pick up the kids, shove it all into a bag, and hope you have everything that you’ll need to work tonight after the kids go to bed. Something had to give.

The first thing that saved me was the Bullet Journal. Recommended by a friend from the business world, this tool helped me organize all the parts of my life into one place. It’s a super easy, low-tech way to keep all the facets of life organized and at your fingertips. Who knew a composition book could revolutionize time management?

After I started paying attention to what was in my journal, I could see where my priorities should lie each day, complete more important things, and work to achieve a balance. I’m now referred to as the crazy lady who runs around with way too much energy—and have even been accused of never sleeping! Thanks to my laser focused life, I get a ton done and actually get seven hours of sleep most nights.

The problem is, time has become a four-letter word in the education community, and I believe it holds many teachers back from their goal of being lifelong learners. I used to be one of those teachers. For 10 years, I did all the normal things teachers do to grow, like attending workshops and changing job roles. But when I got my master’s in 2010, I realized none of that was enough. One day I finally understood the phrase: “If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse/” I realized that growing myself as an educator and sharing ideas with others was very important to me. So the second game changer for me this year was Twitter—which makes it SO easy to achieve this goal.

I didn’t have a Twitter account until August 2012, when I wanted to see what all the buzz was about with Shark Week. My account sat pretty dormant after that until the summer of 2014 when I participated in Volusia County’s ECET2 convening. Little did I know I that it would become the perfect vehicle for sharing my passion for our profession.

I sat in a room with hundreds of excited educators, many of whom worked in the same district as me, and yet most of us never knew the others existed. Breakfast conversations became a catalyst for sharing a wealth of ideas before the day even started. Then, Dr. Irvin Scott spoke and challenged each of us to join Twitter and start tweeting about the day. Previously, I’d really only used Twitter to follow the hashtags from my favorite TV shows. So when Dr. Scott asked me to use it professionally, I remember thinking, “Can you even do that?”

I soon found out you sure can, and it was a profession-changing day for me. From quoting teachers seated in my Colleague Circle to tweeting “Let’s do it!” about getting more Volusia educators on Twitter, I started to see the power of Twitter as a way for teachers to connect. I tweeted all throughout the summer when I went to workshops or did professional reading. But in the beginning, it was still just me putting information out into the world.

Fast forward to November 2014. I was excited and ready to head out to the first meeting of a newly established “Volusia Reads!” book study group. Thirty minutes before it was time to leave, one of my children got sick and I couldn’t attend. But thanks to Twitter, it was like I was attending the meeting anyway. I could participate because teachers were tweeting about it.

One aspect that was so different about this book study group was the incorporation of weekly Twitter chats about the assigned reading. Talk about taking professional growth, collaboration, and idea sharing to the next level!  Through the medium of Twitter, teachers from all disciplines could discuss key points from the book, which sparked many other thoughtful conversations about ways to improve education. With the push of a button, I could connect with like-minded educators who shared my viewpoints or engage in a conversation with someone from another perspective. After that, I just couldn’t stop. I now use Twitter regularly to consume information and seek out new ideas and relationships.

Being connected via Twitter made me suddenly feel like I was no longer alone in education. Through my short time on the platform, I’ve realized that the real magic happens outside of your comfort zone, and many teachers, like me, were afraid to take that leap.

I felt like the next big step for me was to grab the bull by the horns and take some ownership for growing Twitter use in our district.  If it was so life changing for me, didn’t I have a responsibility to share this tool with others?

Thanks to an opportunity provided by Volusia’s professional development office, I was given the chance to moderate a Twitter chat, and I was also able to choose the topic. I’d just given a session at my school on Twitter 101, so I knew a Twitter Challenge chat was the perfect idea to connect the two opportunities.

After collaborating with some amazing educators around the country, my Twitter Challenge came to life and was unveiled earlier this month. I asked participants to do one small task each day, allowing them to ease their way into the world of Twitter. Many teachers want support, assurance that they aren’t going to be judged, and time-saving steps that help change occur. The Twitter Challenge gave them exactly that.

The other day, a colleague told me that I was a force to be reckoned with. I couldn’t have been prouder. But with tools like Twitter, any teacher—any day, any TIME—can make an important impact in their district, community, school, or classroom.

So how will you use your time to make a difference in your life and the lives of others?

Here’s one idea: Commit to trying my Twitter Challenge. See if you can take time each day to enter the world outside your classroom. Developing a presence on Twitter takes some time and effort, but when you invest in the adventure, the professional learning payoff comes back to you tenfold!

Joining the challenge with others also makes the adventure even more thrilling. I guarantee that after two weeks, you will want to keep growing, connecting, learning, changing, and inspiring others. But you don’t have to join my Twitter Challenge to get started. Try following all the teachers at your school. Is there a Twitter guru at your site that can help you face to face?  Search Twitter for “educators” and a host of websites, tips, and tricks will come up. You should also check out @cybraryman01’s resource pages. His site is a great starting point.

Just remember: Twitter can be whatever you want it to be. Teachers like me (@srhulsman) are here to support you every step of the way!  Taking the time to invest in Twitter has a powerful payoff, with personalized professional development potential that is only limited by your imagination. Just start and watch the magic happen!

Samantha Hulsman (@srhulsman) is a fourth-grade teacher in Volusia County, Florida. Having worked as an academic coach, second-grade, third-grade, and intervention teacher previously, she sees the value in collaboration, adopting a growth mindset, and being open to change that challenges us. As a graduate from the University of Florida’s Teacher Leadership for School Improvement master’s program, Samantha champions concepts like Lesson Study, being a connected educator, and #ECET2, which allow teachers to work together to improve outcomes for our students.