Sarah Parmeland
a teachers looks at her phone smiling while holding a cup of coffee

I don't know about you, but social media helps me stay current with events in my town, the actions of political organizations, my friends' life events and the status of my favorite nonprofits. The immediate nature of social media keeps me advised of the content that matters to me. So, wouldn't it also be a good tool for staying up to date on education topics?

I bet that many of you have social media accounts for personal use. But have you ever considered using those same sites to get just-in-time professional development? Popular platforms like Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram are full of great teaching resources as well as experts you can collaborate with. Consider building your online professional learning network by following experts in your field and interacting with like-minded people.

Educators as learners

As educators, it’s important that we are also lifelong learners, which is a hallmark of the ISTE Standards for Educators 2.1.b, which encourages educators to continually improve their practice by learning from and with others and exploring proven and promising practices that leverage technology to improve student learning.

Specifically, the ISTE Standards urge educators to pursue professional interests by creating and actively participating in local and global learning networks. Engaging in Twitter as a community of practice is one way that educators can meet this ISTE standard.

Twitter as a community of practice

Social media sites like Twitter offer an opportunity to engage with colleagues from around the country and worldwide as the internet breaks geographical barriers to collaboration.

Twitter has the potential to create global communities of practice (CoP) groups that share a common passion and become better at their practice as they interact regularly. Most CoPs are not formal online groups but arise organically from natural interaction around a common purpose.

Twitter provides a unique opportunity to join or create a community of practice. Twitter hashtags make it easy to find like-minded members to share ideas and support and inspiration each other. Here are my suggested steps for using Twitter for professional development and engaging in a community of practice.

1. Consider creating a separate Twitter account

Worried about mixing your personal and professional lives? A second Twitter account specifically for engaging in content relevant to your field of interest will allow you to create a profile focused on your role and practice. A profile defining your role, areas of expertise and your interests will make it easier to connect with others in the field. Consider using a handle and bio that describe your role professionally.

2. Follow experts in your field of interest

The next step is to find like-minded people to follow on Twitter. I began with professionals in the field and professional organizations. Once I found people, it was like a domino effect each new follow added more potential connections. I could follow people based on shared posts and comments. Here is a sample of accounts I follow on Twitter that relate to my area of interest in middle school mathematics. Each name is paired with their Twitter bios.

  • @JoBoaler – "Stanford Professor, Author: Limitless Mind, Online course experimenter, co-founder: YouCubed & avid Baggies Fan! Equity advocate."
  • @robertkaplinsky – "Math educator. Love helping teachers. @openmiddle co-founder. #OpenMiddleBook author. #ObserveMe creator. @GrassrootsWS" Pres. Lessons & ideas:
  • @AngelaTorr3s – "Math educator working for social justice, avid traveler; tweets are my own"
  • @AWMmath (AssocForWomenInMath) – "Encouraging women and girls to study and to have active careers in the mathematical sciences."
  • @youcubed – "Youcubed is a Stanford Center providing free and affordable K-12 mathematics resources and professional development for educators and parents".
  • @NCTM – "#NCTM is the public voice of #MathEd that supports teachers to ensure equitable math learning."

3. Find relevant hashtags

Using hangtags is a great way to find relevant sources and new people to interact with on Twitter. Hashtags on social media or microblogs allow users to cross-reference content of a similar topic. For my field of interest, some useful hashtags include #middleschoolmath, #mathteacher and #matheducation.

When you find relevant Twitter posts, check the hashtags for ones you can follow and use. In the past, communities of practice have sprung up around relevant hashtags. One example is the #MFLtwitterat hashtag, where foreign language teachers interact in a global community of practice.

4. Interact and share

A community of practice requires interaction; it’s not just about reading and consuming information. To truly be part of a CoP, you must engage. Consider sharing your ideas or words of encouragement using your professional Twitter account. Use hashtags so others can easily find your content. Comment and share the posts of others. Respond to the comments on your posts. By engaging with others, you can improve your practice while helping others.

Follow these steps, and you are well on your way to becoming part of a community of practice on Twitter. Remember, a key goal of a CoP is to improve your practice. Be sure to engage in interactions valuable to your or others' practice. Use what you learn in your professional context to improve your work as an educator.

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Sarah Parmeland, a mathematics teacher in northern New Jersey, has over 17 years of experience teaching grades 6-8. Sarah's passion for the ways technology can transform teaching and learning inspired her to pursue a doctorate in instructional technology from American College of Education.