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Online Professional Development: A Guide to Social Media for Educators

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Jul 29, 2013 - by WeAreTeachers Staff
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A Guide to Social Media for EducatorsThis is a guest post contributed by Samantha Cleaver.

A few years ago, when Angie Miller, middle school ELA teacher, was invited to join Twitter, she refused. “I was anti-social media,” remembers Miller, who was concerned about safety. After some convincing, Miller created a Twitter account that, says Miller, “has become my greatest professional development resource, period.”

Miller is not alone. Thousands of teachers are using social media tools for idea sharing, professional development and even to make extra money. In fact, a 2012 EdWeb and MMS Education survey found that more than 82% of teachers, librarians, and administrators are members of social networks, a 34 percent increase since 2009. 

Whether you're new to using social media as a professional development tool or you're looking for more places to plug in, here's everything you need to know about connecting with other educators online.

Twitter Is Tops

Despite the short, snappy micro-blog format, Twitter has become a must for educators. “Nobody ever expected teachers to adopt Twitter as the backbone of the professional learning network, but it happened,” says Thomas Whitby, founder of the EducatorPLN and avid Tweet-er.

Joining Twitter can feel like opening the nozzle on a firehose, says Jessie Arora, founder of TeacherSquare. The trick is to build a core list of educators that you want to follow. (Check out Whitby’s list of must-follows for a starting point.)

Even if you don’t feel like you have a lot to say, there is power in retweeting. “If we all retweet good things,” says Vicki Davis (@CoolCatTeacher), teacher and IT director at Westwood School in Camilla, GA, “that’s going to spread.” 

Once you’ve mastered the tweet and want to expand into networking, you’ll come across EducatorPLN. Whitby established EducatorPLN to organize the information he was finding on Twitter. Today, EducatorPLN is a Ning community of educators who participate in discussions, and share videos and resources. EducatorPLN, says Whitby, “immerses people quickly into the collaborative world of educators and gives them the background to do more.”

Just for Teachers

Educator PLN is just the beginning of social media communities that specifically focus on education. Here are six other must-know sites for teachers:

  1. Classroom 2.0 is a community of 75,000 that, says Steve Hargadon, “creates opportunities for teachers to learn from and with each other.” Educators engage through web casts, conversations, online forums, and posts on topics from the future of education to digital storytelling. When teachers connect, their awareness increases and they reengage as learners.
  2. Joining an education-focused network, says Lisa Schmucki, Founder and CEO of EdWeb, eliminates the static that you’ll find on mainstream sites. At EdWeb.net you’ll connect with 50,000 members in 600 communities and engage in chats and webinars on topics from the Common Core to school gardens.
  3. Since its start in 2008, Edmodo has grown to more than 20 million users around the world. Edmodo is focused on connecting, not only teachers, but students. Teachers post and monitor student work, engage students in conversation and discussion. The benefit of Edmodo is its expansive reach and the differentiated platforms for students, teachers, and parents. 
  4. The goal of Discovery Educator Network is to create a teacher-driven community. “Everything that we do,” says Lance Rougeux, Discovery Education Vice President of Learning Communities, “is driven by the teachers in the community.” If you’re interested in becoming a teacher-leader, the DEN is a good place to connect with other influencers. (The community is available to any teacher who uses Discovery Education.)
  5. Arora founded TeacherSquare to bring teacher’s voices into education. Teachers who connect through TeacherSquare come together in the San Francisco area, or online at Google Hangouts. TeacherSquare, says Arora, is great for teachers are have ideas and want to connect with like-minded people.
  6. The focus of Tioki is to connect educators to each other and experts in ways that will change education. Sign in to one of their AMA (Ask Me Anything) virtual chats to hear from experts from Michelle Rhee to Doug Lemov. 
The Best Teacher Social Media SitesThe Best Site to...

Do you ever find yourself wondering which social media tool you should use for what purpose? So do we! That's why we've gathered this handy list for meeting many of your professional goals.

  • Best for Fundraising: Facebook Whether it’s a student in need of help, or a class project about awareness, Facebook is the site where social initiatives gain momentum and raise funds.
  • Best for Finding New Teachers: Tumblr New teachers are connecting with each other on the blogging and connecting site, Tumblr.
  • Best for Finding Ideas: Pinterest Pinterest is a great source for project ideas big and small, and classroom management ideas, too. Follow WeAreTeachers' boards here
  • Best for Connecting With Parents: Facebook Kids are leaving, but parents are still using Facebook, making it the stalwart social networking site for teachers that want to set up class pages. 
  • Best for Following Favorites: Facebook Most organizations have a Facebook page. Connect to, like, and participate in pages that you value. The WeAreTeachers page contains a constant stream of questions, information, and expert advice. 
  • Best for Direct Instruction: Edmodo Teachers on Edmodo have created accounts for historical figures and used that avatar to discuss and post about discussions about historical events so students can “talk” with the avatar during the unit. 
  • Best for Asking Questions: Twitter Angie Miller, middle school English teacher, connects with other teachers and experts who can help her solve a problem by putting out a question on Twitter. A recent Twitter collaboration involved getting help revising the school’s research policies. 
  • Best for Distilling Information: Twitter The 140-character format of Twitter is good for crystallizing ideas. Have students write the main idea about what they learned and send it out on a classroom Twitter account. The added bonus: parents can check it.
  • Best for Flipping Your Classroom: Edmodo Miller flipped her grammar unit by putting resources, video podcasts, and quizzes on EdModo. The students reviewed for homework and practiced during the day, which freed Miller’s time to reteach and reinforce skills. It also makes the grammar unit into a student favorite. 
What do you think, teachers? What are your favorite social media tools? How do you use the various tools in different aspects of your teaching life? Please share in the comments!

Samantha Cleaver has worked as a special education teacher and instructional coach, as well as an education writer and middle grade author. She is passionate about reading and literacy instruction, using technology in education, and connecting educators who are doing great things.

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Report Inappropriate Content jdulaney

08/12/2013 17:51:52

Great List. I too love Edmodo. I find that Twitter seems less responsive than Edmodo. Google handouts and Project Share are alos great. I would use Facebook more, but our district still discourages it. I like to organize my resources on SymbalooEDU and use TedEd and Discovery Education for some flipping and Edmodo for flattening.
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