I taught English in LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District) — the country’s second largest school district — for nine years. At two schools, I taught a wide variety of students, from those who read far below grade level to gifted readers and writers. My classroom was rich with differences: various academic levels, backgrounds, and home languages. I needed to learn how to best build upon these differences and teach well. It wasn’t enough for me to try and just figure it out on my own, so I became a collaborative teacher. Aside from connecting with my co-workers, I went to weekend PDs and conferences and spent hundreds of hours poring over the Internet to find fresh strategies and ideas that other teachers out in the world had shared.
There was one thing, though, that I refused to do for years: use social media to collaborate. LAUSD has a code of conduct like many districts do, and teachers are prohibited from interacting with students on social media. Teacher scandals had rocked the district the past couple of years, and principals urged all of us to be very careful about social media. Most teachers I knew wanted to stay far, far away from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, in order to protect themselves. Besides, I thought, who cares about pictures of people’s brunches or quips about celebrities?
I never would have guessed that I would completely change mind about using social media. In fact, it has become my favorite way to grow as an educator.
Twitter Is a Teacher’s Friend
My Edcite co-worker Talia (@taliaarbit) encouraged me to check out Twitter as way to connect with teachers. I didn’t realize that so many educators used Twitter professionally. I started perusing Edcite’s Twitter feed (@EdciteTeam) and Edcite team members’ feeds. From there, I found English teachers and middle school teachers. I discovered that educators aren’t posting about their meals or pop culture; they post articles and blogs about education, pictures of hands-on classroom projects, videos about technology, and a lot of positive messages. I realized that I had been missing out on a huge opportunity to better serve my students. Twitter was not something to be afraid of or turn away from. It was something that could help me take charge of my development as an educator!
To my surprise, I started “meeting” educators from not only California but from around the world. I connected with teachers across the U.S., Europe, and even Australia. It was amazing to see what these teachers were doing in their classrooms and to hear their perspectives on education.
What I had created, by following others on Twitter and gaining followers in return, was a Personal Learning Network (PLN). This was exactly what I had been seeking when I spent all those hours on the Internet searching for other teachers’ new ideas. Now I have instant, constant access to new ideas, whether they are related to innovative pedagogical practices or curricular suggestions.
I chose to write this blog post and share my own journey in the hopes that it might inspire educators and administrators who fear using social media as a tool, like I once did. Our students use social media constantly, and it’s time we as educators embrace the power of sites like Twitter and use them to our advantage with students. Let’s model what it looks like to use social media tools responsibly; to build an intentional community you can learn from and with. I’ll be hopping on #engsschat (English & Social Studies Chat) Monday at 7pm EST and would love to see some of you there!
Also, I heard through the grapevine that the Edcite Team will be starting a Twitter chat next month. Follow @EdciteTeam to be on the lookout for more details!
Nicole Bixler taught middle school in Los Angeles for nine years. She taught English, Theater Production, Creative Writing, and World History. Nicole used sites like Edcite often in her classroom to incorporate standards-based assignments and help students practice for the end-of-year exams. Now, Nicole works on both content development and outreach for Edcite in the Southern California region. Feel free to connect with her anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org or @nicolebix on Twitter!