How Twitter Changed My Professional Life

The Importance of Personal Learning Networks to Professional Sustainability

Teaching can be lonely.

And when you change jobs, change regions, and feel like you’re starting over again, teaching can feel even lonelier.

When I left the 8th grade classroom to become a teacher educator, I felt a huge loss of community. My colleagues had also been my friends and I was fortunate to be involved in professional networks throughout the region that I had lived in, through organizations like the Bay Area Writing Project, California Tomorrow and Project IMPACT. These networks challenged the norms of isolationism that keep us in our classrooms, focused only on our work with our students. Although that work is, of course, central to our professional lives, it can often feel like you’re the only one on your school site advocating for underperforming students or staying on campus until 10pm 3 nights a week (wait, did I mention I have poor boundary setting skills?) or struggling with what grades actually measure. Without a network, it is so easy to burnout.

That is why I am grateful for Twitter.

Little did I know, when I stumbled upon Meenoo Rami, doing an introduction to Twitter at a booth at the National Council of Teachers of English annual meeting, and she convinced me to check out Twitter, how important Twitter would become to my professional practice.

I was skeptical. Twitter, land of trolls and celebrities? What could it possibly have for me? Then again, what did I have to lose? (Aside from a little pride…)

At the time, I had moved from Northern to Southern California, leaving behind friends and an extensive professional network. I was the main secondary literacy person on my campus and one of the few teacher educators interested in 21st century learning. So, I was kinda desperate for professional friends in those areas. Luckily for me, when I started engaging with Twitter, I realized that, not only was it a great place to share and collect resources and to make my practice more public, it was also, more importantly, a place to connect.

I began participating in regular Twitter chats, facilitated chats around particular topics which users follow and participate in using a designated hashtag (e.g. #engchat; #teacheredchat; #edtechchat; #educolor). Through those 1-hour chats, I began to form connections, my own personal learning network of teachers, teacher educators, thinkers and writers throughout the country (and the world) committed to similar issues and facing similar challenges to those I was facing. I began connecting with them regularly, in some cases, and collaborating with them virtually and in person.

Through Twitter, I have been invited to contribute to a piece in the Atlantic and to a collected book; I was invited to chair a session at a large national research conference; and I’ve been invited to facilitate several chats of my own. I’ve made friends, met colleagues from across the country, been retweeted and had tweets liked by people I respect and admire. It’s been a place of professional connection, professional growth and new professional opportunities.

Twitter has changed my professional identity by expanding my professional horizons. It has helped me to establish networks that continue to push my thinking in ways that extend beyond my classroom and my campus. It allows me to stay connected to my students as they begin their professional careers. It promotes my classroom practices in ways that allow me to engage with others.

While you may or may not follow me (@ProfHsieh), I hope you’ll follow my lead and explore what Twitter has to offer to educators. There’s a world of opportunities to learn and connect in whatever way best fits your personal and professional goals.

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