Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Harnessing the TeacherTwitter Brain

I am not the first person in line to sing the praises of The Twitterz from the rooftops. I don't have to be, plenty of teachers have made their entire accounts towards that end. That does not mean, however, that I am anti-twitter. I like twitter quite a bit. It's a powerful, valuable tool. It's not the alpha and the omega of PD, but it sure is nifty when harnessed correctly.

I am not, and this will come as not surprise to anyone paying attention, shy. I'm not shy about my opinions, my methods, or my attitude. If you had 150 words to describe me you would never approach shy. Your fingers would never hover doubtingly over the s and h keys.

What Twitter can be very good for is most easily used by teachers who are not shy. Creators who have no problems with putting something out there in the world to be read, commented upon, shared, and potentially laughed at, mocked, and held up as an example of why you're not such hot stuff. This doesn't mean we don't worry about those things happening, we just don't let those worries stop us.

Twitter is the perfect place for Hey, check out my stuff people. There's a bunch of people right there, a click away from checking out your stuff. Be it rubbish or not, people will click on your stuff. They like clicking on stuff. Clicking is like breathing. It fills a hole. It must. Why else would Buzzfeed still exist?

Yesterday I wrote a project for my class about the California Gold Rush. We are fourth graders, we read a story about it that was pretty good but didn't delve as deeply as I would have liked, and we had a four-day week coming up. This is the Perfect Project Storm. I stretch a one week story into a two week story and use the second week to let my kids dig deep into gold mining. (Get it?)

Once the project was written I thought to myself, "I bet there are interesting ideas I haven't thought of for this project all over twitter. I should ask." So I made the Doc sharable with commenting rights through a link, wrote several drafts of the perfect tweet, and put it into the world.

Immediately the Doc was populated with Anonymous Capybaras, Anonymous Mice, Anonymous Nyan Cats, and Anonymous Chupacabras. Feedback flooded in, all of it wonderful and helpful. All of it making my project better for my kids. I added parts, clarified sections, tweaked, massaged, and finessed wording. I got ideas for bonus portions, next level thinking strategies,and ways to make it friendlier to my lower and ELD kids (those are not the same populations, just to clarify).

The collective Twitter TeacherBrain improved the learning my students will be doing this week. You made my project better.

But what a risk!

Yes, I'm confident. Yes, I know I'm a good teacher and I knew the project as I had written it was solid. Still, I'm not The Best and there are some amazing teachers on twitter. What if I shared it and people started poking holes in it? Pointing out flaws. Making the Impostor Syndrome that many, if not all, of us feel come into the light. What if I ended up curled up on my couch clutching my two week old, sobbing, and looking for jobs in a warehouse somewhere so as to limit my human interaction as much as possible? What if I'm wrong about how strong this assignment feels and everyone finds out?

Obviously that didn't happen. But I think those thoughts go through the minds of many teachers when they think about sharing drafts and ideas of student projects. Some of you right now have a small pit in the middle of your stomach just imagining sharing a project.

Share it anyway! Teachers are amazing. Here's what really happened because I shared my Gold Rush Project (Holy crap, a list right after I mocked lists! Oh, cruel irony!):

  • It got better, which means possible student learning got better
  • I got to meet more teachers and learn how wonderfully smart you are
  • Some teachers will steal my project and make it their own
  • I feel better about the project and about the world of education
  • Some teachers were inspired by my sharing and will share their own work, which means learning will ripple and we will all learn more
Be brave and share more than your successes and failures and thoughts. Share your actual work so that we may steal it and be better for it. Share it so we may help you and be better for it. Did I take everyone's suggestions? No. Even though I got a lot of good ideas and comments some did not fit my overall goal or my class. I still have those ideas in my back pocket for next time. For another lesson.

Share. Sharing is caring. Sharing makes us better. Sharing makes us stronger. Sharing builds up the profession. Trust your instincts and ideas, be you a brand new baby teacher or an experienced teacher who remembers when social media was finding a note in a glass bottle on the beach. Because remember,


  1. Funny, but the old twitter network used to have more activities like this going on where teachers were sharing and asking for community input. They seem to be few and far between these days. :( I used to post my lessons using gdocs and asked for comments or editing. I found that few wanted to read lesson plans though.

  2. I need to do this more often! It was great to help you man and I need to share more!! Great idea and post

  3. I think there are likely two components as to why this ended up working the way it did:

    1. You have created a community as your audience. The people reading your blog or following you on twitter, genuinely care about you and your work. They want to see good ideas, but they also see you as a human being and not some faceless teacher imposing assignments on kids. This community is a support structure just as much as it is a learning one. I think that calling out the fact that you have probably cultivated this community over years of your work is important.

    2. You shared it in a collaborative way, specifically requesting feedback. You could have easily shared this assignment as view-only. You could have easily made it into a PDF and then sent it out. But, you didn't. This was a collaborative process of sharing with multiple entry points (throughout the assignment folks could comment on different things). This means that you are much more likely to get the kinds of outcomes you are looking for. So, while I agree with your last paragraph that "sharing is caring." It really matters how you share too. If you share something static, you will not see the power of the Teacher TwitterBrain. If you share something open and honest, then you very likely will.

    P.S. This comment is a part of the #C4C15 project. Find out more here: http://bit.ly/C4C15