One Year of Tweets

There are conversations that are so inciting that you are impelled by every muscle in your body to jump in and join. You join to learn more. You join to connect. You join to share and to contribute to the shape of the conversations.



Twitter can be absolutely anemic, devoid of any purpose or reason or even care for the presence of others.



But it can also be a maelstrom of issues and opinions, of arguments and discussions, of thoughts, of questions and suggestions, and of links and videos and images.

It can transform the very way you think and teach and learn. It can network you with colleagues and people of similar interest around the world. It can organize meetings both virtual and actual. It can rally movements and ideas. And it can make us better people.



How I began

One year ago last Friday I joined Twitter and tweeted my first tweet.

I don’t remember the content of that tweet. I lurked for about only ten minutes, then I leapt, eager to wet my feet, when a conversation that peaked my interest came along. My induction into Twitter began with conversation.

I joined Twitter because as a substitute teacher more than anything else I felt that I needed to relate more to my students. Since most of them spent much of their lives texting and instant messaging, I felt that social media was a good way to close at least some of the technological gap between my students and me.



Previously, I had been an ecologist. I spent most of my time outdoors, in a lab, in an office or in front of a university lab or classroom. Social media had not taken off yet. Internet Relay Chat, e-mails and websites existed, but Twitter, blogs, YouTube, Flickr, RSS and all the many many cloud and Web 2.0 applications were not yet developed or popular. Then came a twelve-year gap during which I dealt with severe health issues and I lost all connection with technology.

You can imagine my shock when I returned!

Building a PLN and developing professionally

Fortunately for me, George and Alec Couros offered a Using Social Media for Transformative Teaching & Learning webinar series at just the right time.

I was able to jump into social media with some support and guidance, so avoiding the shock many teachers who don’t get that support experience.



This is where Twitter surprised me. I joined expecting that anemic activity that most people not having sampled Twitter imagine. What I found could not be more opposite.

Twitter is professionally and personally empowering when used purposefully. It can help you:

  • connect, engage and network with like-minded people,
  • share what you know,
  • learn about professional and collaborative opportunities and resources,
  • learn from others, and
  • enhance your teaching, learning and thinking toolkits.

Its greatest benefit is building a personal learning network or community (PLN or PLC) and developing professionally (PD) with these colleagues. It is all about the networking and collaboration.

Teachers interconnect around the world to discuss issues, ask questions and help each other become better teachers.

When used correctly, it is an exemplar of professional development.



What I accomplished

But it doesn’t stop at tweets.

Along my journey this past year, I discovered uses of Twitter that further professional development and networking.

  • One of the first things I discovered were links in tweets to resources, courses, tools, and people who are experts in teaching and content areas.
  • I also discovered colleagues and experts who use Twitter through mentions, retweets, replies, and discussions.
  • From these I built a community of people I follow, most of whom are teachers, but many of whom are scientists, writers, artists, technology experts and other people of interest.
  • And in turn, as my tweets became more helpful to others, I gained followers.
  • I collaborated with many people on mutual or individual projects.
  • I accessed the perspectives and knowledge of colleagues through tweets, blogs, posts, comments, paper.lis, mashups, RSS feeds, Diigo or Delicious indices, images, videos, and media, all accessed through Twitter.
  • I built an identity, a brand or reputation, confidence in my relationships and opinions, and a staff — yes, it is a bit pompous to consider my PLC as a personal staff, but as a sub I lack one otherwise.
  • I welcomed those who are new to Twitter, paying forward what my PLN gives to me and looking forward to networking with new people.
  • I even connected with people who are just entertaining, such a Samuel Clemons, a ferret of all creatures who tweets just to entertain others. Such connections are important just to take a break.
  • And I developed a Twitter sense of humour that lightens some of my tweets.
  • I linked to formal professional development opportunities advertised in Twitter.
  • And I tweeted about myself and about beautiful things in the world to stretch beyond the professional and into a larger sphere.
  • But what I most value about Twitter are the impromptu and informal conversations and the formal and planned chats that I have participated in. Conversations and chats are where Twitter shines and professional development really happens. They are also what my students gain from texting and instant messaging. I regularly participate in #mathchat and, though I would like to do the same with #engchat, #scichat, #globio and #edchat, only occasionally participate in these.
  • I even informally hosted some sessions of #mathchat, suggested a few topics and just recently selected a popular one for discussion.



Small regrets

I encountered a few problems along my journey with Twitter.

  • I inadvertently insulted a few people for a short while, only later learning I had done so. This I suppose is a trap common to all social endeavours.
  • I stated things that were interpreted completely differently than I intended, only having to clarify my meaning with more than 140 characters.
  • I have even recently run into Twitter’s 2000 or 1.1% follower threshold, which I calculated I can never make up as more people I want to follow follow me. To this end, I have weeded out people I follow who no longer tweet, who do not fit into my matured PLN or who tweet only occasionally or in irritating chains or spurts. Such pruning is a hard lesson to learn.

Ending the year

I may not remember the content of my first tweet, but my final tweet of my first year on Twitter was short and sweet. I tweeted one simple word.


I did so in response to an unrelated context, but I think it encapsulates my experience this year with Twitter.

How I feel about this past year

Tweeting and lurking can be time-consuming. Let’s be honest. It takes time to build relationships, time to converse and chat, time to read or view or listen to others’ tweets and the resources they link to. Tweeting takes time. But any worthy professional development takes time. Any worthy professional development builds and grows. It gets richer, broader, deeper and more vital. But it takes time.

And it is time worth consuming.

In the end, it is our students who matter. In the end, all this tweeting and blogging and casting and photographing has to work with other things we do, including planning lessons and units, creating assignments, managing classes, assessing, coaching, caring, fretting and hoping, to help our students learn.

I have learned so much from my PLN that I am a better and more responsive teacher.

Would I recommend Twitter to other teachers?

You bet. Twitter rocks!




Using Twitter and Other Social Media for Professional Development

A week ago, I attended the Central East Alberta Teachers’ Convention. As usual, I enjoyed the networking and the convention sessions. It is nice to connect and share with colleagues.


CEATCA LogoCEATCA Logo © 2009 CEATCA | more info (via: ATA)
Reproduced without permission


This year, however, was additionally satisfying as I discovered I had learned a skill that I could share with other teachers. I noticed a push, or a pulse, toward online social networking at the Convention. Teachers were talking about it. And sessions were providing resources for it.

During the Convention, I had a great conversation with a vice principal of one of the schools where I substitute about social networking and how a few months ago I ventured into the land of tweets and blogs. I offered her a summary of resources that I used to learn how to digitally network. And she was interested. This was great; I was thrilled to be useful. But it got better. Since the Convention, another teacher asked me for more information; we had agreed to exchange session information beforehand, but this information was bonus. I combined the two requests and shared the resources with these two teachers.

I realized that others might also be interested, so I decided to post publicly about how I started social networking. This then is my first response to the 2011 Central East Alberta Teachers’ Convention. It is also a summary of much of my professional development this school year.

If you are just delving into social networking and want to know how to do so, the following information might help you. Even if you are a veteran, you might find these resources a strong way to enhance your portfolio.

Why social network?



Social technology is about mutual, and public, sharing. There are two general reasons it is used in education. In both cases, it is a tool only; it should never be an end onto itself.

  1. Broadly, technology is used to share, to network, to create Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) and to develop professionally. Social media activities, such as tweeting, blogging, commenting, social bookmarking and RSS feed reading, serve this purpose. Several secondary activities, such as video creation, slide sharing, imaging and audio creation, enhance these activities.
  2. Specifically, technology is used to create learning opportunities using specialized relevant tools. Any of thousands (and growing) of Web 2.0 and 3.0 tools serve this purpose. The tool should enrich and enhance learning, not distract from it. Best practices should be in effect.

To learn how to use Twitter and other social media



Study the webinar series, Using Social Media for Transformative Teaching & Learning, presented by George and Alec Couros. Each webinar is 1.5 hours long, plus there are several activities that you are asked to do on your own time. But it is worth it! (I have encountered many baffled teachers who just jumped into social media without any immersion.)

To learn how to blog and set up a blog



Participate in the Teacher Challenge Kick Start Your Blogging (KSYB). This Challenge consists of eight activities and is designed to take 30 heavy days to complete. There are several Challenges running throughout this year, but the “old” ones are still active. A new wave of teachers is just starting KSYB.

In addition, the Twitter hashtag #ksyb is used to network with others in the Challenge and to advertise your Challenge posts. Several of us who already took the KSYB Challenge still use that hashtag to keep in touch and advertise current posts we publish. In essence, we created a KSYB PLN. Anyone is welcome to join.

To learn how to create a professional education portfolio



A professional education portfolio is an extension of a blog. It is found in the pages part of the blog and illustrates throughout a student’s, teacher’s or administrator’s career how she or he meets the outcomes or quality standards for his or her position. In essence, it is a specialized illustrative resume that goes beyond standard or outcome descriptions, grades and bullet statements.

Participate in the short North Central Teachers’ Convention tutorial, Creating A WordPress Portfolio, again by George Couros. Pay particular attention to his answer to “What does the portfolio portion of our blog look like?” under Other Links. In his answer, he shows examples of student, teacher and administrator portfolios and explains how the portfolio can follow the individual rather than the institution. This portfolio can be used on an individual, class or school-wide basis.

A selection of (ever-growing) resources to jump start your social networking



Twitter: How to Navigate – Hash Tags, Chats, People and Lists




Tech in the Classroom

Twitter: @stefras, Blog: Digital Substitute, Web: Teaching Resources, Node: I Am Here

I further discuss Twitter and the building of a PLN in a previous post.

Why are you social networking? The power of a PLN

The power of a PLN

Whether a teacher, a student or some other person, two key things every person wants (socially), a personal learning network (PLN) can provide. At our most fundamental, we all want to be noticed or recognized and we all want to make a difference, leave a mark or share what we can offer. (Some of us do this negatively; most of us contribute positively.)

These needs are not entirely associated. We don’t necessarily want to be recognized or noticed for what we share, though perhaps we would like to know that out contribution was worth our effort. We do however want to be noticed.


Personal Learning NetworkPersonal Learning Network © 2011 Shawn Urban (via: Wordle)


A PLN can provide camaraderie, a medium to voice and debate opinions, a community to which we can offer help, or ask for help, including resources, and a forum with which we can develop professionally.

It is within the PLN’s active interaction that we draw personal and professional growth and we build sometimes lifelong friendships and learning.

The following conversation is a good example of a PLN being built and in action using Twitter.

The players:



First, here are some statistics to help you spatially and temporally place Lisa, Heidi and me. We have never met each other. I have been following both for some time and Heidi has followed me for a while. Lisa followed me on February 5, after this conversation. I do not know if they knew about each other prior to this conversation. Ralph followed Lisa and Heidi, I think, because of the conversation as well. So this one conversation built several relations.

Here is who we are and where we come from.

@InnovativeEdu: Lisa Nielsen, New York City, New York, USA, (+2hr, UTC-5)
@stefras: Shawn Urban, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, (0hr, UTC-7, tracked)
@HHG: Heidi Hass Gable, Coquitlam, BC, Canada, (-1hr, UTC-8)
@Langevin: Ralph Langevin, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, (+2hr, UTC-5)
@ExplodingBeaker: Sean Marchetto, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, (0hr, UTC-7)
@wfryer: Wesley Fryer, Location 3rd rock from the sun, (which is well beyond my ability to place in time and space; I used to be located Jumpin’ btw Janus and Epimetheus, which is even harder to place, though it only happens every four years)
hptrainingworks: Hugh Phillips, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, (0hr, UTC-7, who I have met in person, but who as far as I know does not have a Twitter account; good thing, given that I reversed his name in this conversation. Oy!)

The conversation:



Feb 3

10:31 pm @InnovativeEdu:
@wfryer – Is that new? Maybe the distractions just changed. Maybe we got worse at prioritizing. Maybe students don’t get to own learning.

10:46 pm @stefras:
Maybe just ask questions and let them learn on their own. RT @InnovativeEdu maybe students don’t get to own learning.

Feb 4

5:38 am @InnovativeEdu:
@stefras – maybe the students don’t need us to ask questions. maybe they need us to back off so they can learn how/what they want.

12:57 pm @stefras:
@InnovativeEdu Letting them learn what they want: But they might not learn beyond what they want or what they don’t know exists.

12:58 pm @stefras:
@InnovativeEdu Teachers open doors and windows, knock down walls and disturb universes.

1:00 pm @stefras:
@InnovativeEdu They show students what is out there, teach them convention and dare them to leave their comfort zones. Teachers ask.

1:01 pm @stefras:
@InnovativeEdu In short, teaching does not exist until a question is asked. Learning does not exist until a question is considered.

1:01 pm @HHG:
@InnovativeEdu @stefras Maybe students need both. Does it have to be either/or?

1:02 pm @stefras:
@HHG I think variety is the best way to teach. Send them out to find their own learning and ask them questions to introduce them to others.

1:05 pm @stefras:
@InnovativeEdu Variety best. Send them out to find their own learning and ask them questions to introduce them to others. @HHG

1:06 pm @HHG:
@stefras @InnovativeEdu Yes – sometimes they don’t know what they don’t know. Other times, we need to step back & let them lead.

1:09 pm @stefras:
@InnovativeEdu @HHG RT @Langevin: Design all activites, exercises, reviews, etc., so learners will be successful but also challenged.

1:09 pm @stefras:
@HHG Teach the arbitrary; allow kids to figure out the necessary (Hewitt @InnovativeEdu otherwise u enable dependancy

1:21 pm @stefras:
@HHG @InnovativeEdu It doesn’t matter who asks the question, even the student. re: teaching (and learning) starts with a question.

1:26 pm @HHG:
@stefras @InnovativeEdu What about the foundational stuff in elem? Alphabet. Numbers. Writing. Reading.

1:54 pm @stefras:
Having a great discussion with @HHG and @InnovativeEdu about what teachers should teach and what should let discover

1:54 pm @Langevin:
@stefras thanks for the RT and the intro to @InnovativeEdu @HHG. glad you found my tip helpful…there’s more to come…have a great wkend!

2:03 pm @HHG:
@stefras Like that! Reminds me of talk by director of NotSchool in UK. Engage kids thru their passion – let that lead to the need for basics

2:15 pm @stefras:
@Langevin you are welcome.

2:18 pm @stefras:
@HHG Hewitt is from UK as well. His idea: some info can be worked out; no teacher needed. Others: can’t learn unless taught: e.g.terminology

2:25 pm @stefras::
@HHG Phillip Hughs: one set of kids: taught paddling, let in canoes, bored; second set: let in canoes first, begged to learn paddling.

2:26 pm @stefras:
@InnovativeEdu @HHG Let them drown. Then teach them how to swim.

3:19 pm @InnovativeEdu:
@stefras – Agree. Show students what is out there, but I don’t think we need to force students to learn things they’re not interested in?

3:20 pm @InnovativeEdu:
@HHG @stefras – My issue is not giving students choice & authentic learning opps. Teachers can open doors, but shouldn’t force em through

3:21 pm @InnovativeEdu:
@stefras @HHG – Socratic method is fine, but often students don’t need to depend on teacher for learning. They can find their own questions

3:22 pm @InnovativeEdu:
@stefras @HHG @Langevin – It’s more powerful if we let students design /own the learning with our support. Independent learners is key

3:22 pm @InnovativeEdu:
@stefras @HHG – learning can start with a question. doesn’t have to start with a question.

3:23 pm @InnovativeEdu:
@HHG @stefras – re: foundational stuff…I recently wrote about that on my blog & they didn’t need teachers…just support / exposure

3:25 pm @InnovativeEdu:
@stefras @HHG – I don’t think they need to drown b4 learning to swim. They need to want to learn to swim then get support in doing so

7:29 pm @InnovativeEdu:
@Langevin @stefras @HHG -My latest post addresses our convo -have faith. Kids will learn w/support

10:31 pm @ExplodingBeaker:
RT @stefras: @InnovativeEdu In short, teaching does not exist until a question is asked. Learning does not exist until a question is considered.

Feb 5

5:24 pm @stefras:
I am doing the same. Great conversation. RT @InnovativeEdu: @Langevin @stefras @HHG -My latest post addresses our convo

5:28 pm @stefras:
@InnovativeEdu I actually believe learning begins with noticing. It is the teachers job to set up the opportunity for them to notice.

5:31 pm @stefras:
RT @InnovativeEdu: @stefras @HHG – They need to want to learn to swim then get support in doing so < this was Phillip's point, and mine!

5:35 pm @stefras:
@InnovativeEdu @HHG I just wrote a post,, on @InnovativeEdu point re student need/want should precede teacher support.

5:36 pm @stefras:
@HHG You missed: I actually believe learning begins with noticing. It is the teachers job to set up the opportunity for them to notice.

5:39 pm @stefras:
@InnovativeEdu @HHG working on post re our conversation; @InnovativeEdu’s post

5:52 pm @HHG:
@stefras Did u see my earlier twts re 12yo’s cigarette questions? Exemplified that – we walked past a group smoking outside the mall…

Feb 6

9:29 pm @stefras:
@HHG Sorry Heidi. I missed your tweets about the 12yo’s cigaratte questions. What was the gist?

9:35 pm @HHG:
@stefras On way into mall, walked past smokers – she started asking about why cigarettes aren’t illegal, if they’re bad for your health?

9:36 pm @stefras:
@HHG That would turn into a sticky conversation. I wonder if she was sassing or actually confused? re smoker

9:36 pm @HHG:
@stefras Led to “well why are drugs illegal then?” Which led to disc. of political system, making laws, human nature, power, money, etc…

9:37 pm @stefras:
@HHG That is what I thought. re drugs and politics. Nice that learning can occur outside of the classroom.

9:38 pm @HHG:
@stefras Next came discussion of social norms, expectations, west coast vs east coast culture…

9:38 pm @stefras:
Wow! RT @HHG: @stefras Next came discussion of social norms, expectations, west coast vs east coast culture…

9:38 pm @HHG:
@stefras All starting from her curiosity – then letting her lead… 🙂

9:39 pm @stefras:
@HHG Nice example of our previous conversation in action.

9:47 pm @stefras:
@HHG So how can we consistently extend such an encounter to the classroom? I would do it via teachable moments, but those are reactive.

The conversation still continues.

The analysis (of the conversation):



  1. Notice that this conversation is asynchronous.
    • There are bouts of intense conversation and at other times of rapid monologues.
    • This asynchronicity leads to some threads of the topic bumping into and weaving around each other.
    • It also leads to long periods when nothing is said.
  2. Also notice that Heidi and I both jump into the conversation.
    • This is a gamble.
    • Sometimes it backfires; usually when this happens you are just ignored.
    • But often it can lead to a richer, deeper conversation as each person brings in his own point of view.
    • Everyone wins and exits feeling enriched.
  3. Ralph on the other hand is implicitly invited into the conversation.
    • His comment on another thread bears some weight in what Lisa, Heidi and I are talking about.
    • I RT (retweet) him while mentioning Heidi and Lisa to bring in his point of view.
  4. Sean also touches the conversation when he RTs my comment.
    • This illustrates that others other than the participants are also interested in the conversation.
    • Lurking is another way (though passive) to develop professionally.
    • Retweeting is a great means to recognize a well written comment – that is, a comment that makes a good point.
    • By retweeting my comment, Sean exposed my comment to people who follow him and not me.
    • Any of his followers could also retweet the comment and so on; the best comments might go viral.
    • He could also have favorited my comment, saving the tweet in his profile.
    • Both these actions compliment your tweet and give you exposure.
    • Thanking retweeters and favoriters is good etiquette and builds relationships.
  5. The conversation is still active.
    • I stopped mirroring it here at 9:47 tonight (Feb 6), even though more has already been said.
    • I did thank Sean for his retweet, just as Ralph thanked me.
    • I think I stopped on a great prompt that you can reflect and perhaps even comment on (both here and on Twitter).
  6. Some conversations, such as the #edchat and #ksyb conversations, are planned.
    • Lisa, Heidi and I could have planned this conversation.
    • We could have created and used a searchable hashtag, such as #studentslead.
    • The hashtag allows any tweets that use that hashtag to be isolated from all other tweets.
    • This allows conversations, such as the one above to be isolated and specifically followed and contributed to.
    • We could do that now.
    • It certainly would have made collecting the tweets, the times and the sender usernames for this conversation much easier.
    • To record the conversation above in this post, I had to open the Twitter profiles of each of the involved people to get all the information I needed.
    • With a hashtag I would have opened only one window.
    • In fact I could have cut and pasted with minimal formatting.
  7. Conversations are probably the strongest power of Twitter and PLNs.
    • PLNs allow you to develop professionally,
    • sometimes such as here without needing to plan for it,
    • other times through formal PD opportunities.
    • You often don’t know what you might stumble on or be invited into.
    • And you don’t know what you can contribute.
    • Simply, if you can type or talk you can contribute.
    • And you (do) have something unique to contribute.
    • So jump in. Say something. Let others respond.
    • You don’t exist if no one knows you are there.
  8. Jump to Lisa’s post on the conversation.

In this last Teacher Challenge of 30 Days to Kick Start Your Blog, we are asked to reflect on the importance of networking and creating personal learning networks (PLNs).

Professional Development: Where I Am Now and the Reason I’m Here

The Need for Professional Development

When I began teaching as a substitute teacher, I discovered three things. First, I belong to no staff, which means I have no staff to discuss my profession or develop with. Second, I have limited access to formal professional development (PD) activities (my school district provides PD only to contract teachers), which means I have to look outside of my district for PD. And third, I am only seeing certain aspects of my students’ learning, mainly the “Yea, a substitute teacher. Party. Party. Party.” aspect, so I rarely see their successes and final products.

Substitute teacher
Classroom by Sarah Beise (2007).
Posted with permission.

Finding PD Online

To alleviate the first two problems, I participated in a PD webinar, Using Social Media for Transformative Teaching & Learning, facilitated by Alec and George Couros. I now microblog and read RSS feeds to passively gather information on education and socially bookmark and blog to actively create and share information. These activities allow me to build a personal learning network (PLN) as well, which means now I have a “staff” to develop with.

To alleviate the third problem about my tunnelled interaction with students, I mark, which to me is my favorite part of teaching because I get to see just how great my students are.

Refocus: Blogging for a Reason

I began this blog nearly a month ago to provide myself with reliable and tailored professional development with the intent of using specific empirical events and examples, mostly experienced by a substitute teacher, to share and discuss my observations and reflections about teaching and learning. I hoped, albeit ostensibly, this goal would provide enough fuel to sustain a blog indefinitely. The offshoot is that in the last three weeks I wrote only two posts in each of my blogs, including David Wees’ Educational Comics.

My experience so far has taught me two things. One, as Phillip Dews states, Blogging is Hard Work! It Really is! I find that each post I write takes me a few days rather than the one to three hours I thought it would to publish. Two, waiting for events or inspiration to happen, even if gathered through Twitter, alerts and RSS feed, fails to produce consistent enough fuel to sustain a viable blog.

So, I am adjusting my course. I realize that my professional blog needs a more focussed and active purpose. I was saying that my blog is for PD, but I was not PDing with it. I am therefore planning what I blog and focussing my blog to be a vehicle for me to continue to actively develop my professional teaching skills and style, to learn content more in-depth and to share teaching resources and my thoughts with other teachers. Furthermore, since I am trained in Biology, Mathematics and ELA, and I am interested in exploring learning using educational games; open problems; and modern, Web 2.0+, blended and social technology, this blog will alternate weekly between these topics. I hope not only to share resources I create or discover, but also to share PD research.

The progress here from what I was doing before is that I am blogging through PDing instead of PDing through blogging. The change should make this a tighter, stronger blog.

Getting Help

In addition to revising my premise for blogging, I decided to recruit some help, in the form of blogging PD. To this end I have simultaneously joined Anne Mirtschin, Ronnie Burt, Sue Waters and Sue Wyatt in their 30 Days to Kick Start Your Blogging Teacher Challenge, and Scott Berkun in his Want to blog more often? 2011 Challenge hosted on WordPress DailyPost.

Already these challenges have produced results, for I finally found focus to write my About page. Feel free to take a look.

And drop by to see how I am doing and to cheer me on. (I think I’m going to need it. 😉 ).