After being involved in social media for over a decade, I have made a few observations that might be helpful to folks who use social media, more specifically Twitter, to develop and maintain a Personal Learning Network. I started my Twitter account with a plan and focus to use it to develop collegial sources for my professional learning. That may be different from why most people sign up for Twitter, but that is an educator’s perspective that may not have been imagined by Twitter’s founders.

Using Twitter for professional learning requires a collaborative mindset. Being collaborative requires more than just consuming ideas from others. It requires sharing, commenting, reflecting and sharing again. This requires work. Twitter for professional learning is not a passive exercise. It does require time and effort. The rewards and benefits however, can more than outweigh the effort.

The key to having valuable and relevant information arriving on a Twitterstream is totally dependent on who is being followed. In order to get thoughtful and credible information tweeted to one’s timeline, thoughtful and credible educators need to be followed. Who one follows is the single most important factor in succeeding at professional learning when using Twitter. Maintaining and upgrading that follow list takes time and effort. Each of those follows is a person. People vary in their involvement in anything from time to time. They may lose interest, becoming inactive for a period of time, or maybe forever. One’s follow list needs to be constantly updated to accommodate those who drop off the stream.

Additionally, an educator’s interest may begin to branch out. In my time on social media the iPad, smartphones, 1:1 laptops, 1:1 chromebooks, Flipped classrooms, STEM, Rigor, and many other initiatives were introduced to education. With each of these introductions new educator experts emerged. All had to be added to my follow list if I was to maintain relevance. As initiatives develop in education new people most familiar with those initiatives need to be followed. Educators who are vocal and knowledgeable while involved in Twitter chats are another group from which I add follows. People who engage me in thoughtful education tweets are also most often followed. I usually look at a perspective follow’s profile to assure their educator credentials before I commit.

It is easy to get a follow list much larger than one can handily manage with all of these follow considerations. To simplify and organize tweets, chats, hashtags and groups of follows, I employ TweetDeck. Hootsuite is a similar tool. I am able to create dedicated columns that follow specific hashtags, groups, or individuals in addition to separating out my Twitterstream, Notifications and Direct Messages. Each of these designations gets an individual column.

Being a collaborative educator in the 21st Century requires that an educator be connected to other educators. With the tools of technology available today educators are only isolated by choice. Since most districts do not send a majority of educators to national, statewide, or even local education conferences, the virtual connection is the best alternative. Technology today enables that to happen. It is however incumbent on each educator to work to make those connections. It requires a collaborative mindset as well as a willingness to learn. It requires educators to be what they profess to their students, “You must be a Life Long Learner!”

The time investment to accomplish this can be as little as twenty minutes a day. The warning here however is that often times a learner may actually get caught up in the learning and spend more time than planned on a given topic. Social media opens educators to the pedagogy, and methodology of others. It offers transparency to policies. It questions the status Quo. It forces reflective thinking. It acts as a megaphone for new ideas. It gives educators a voice in the discussion of their own profession. None of this will happen however unless an educator comes to the table with a collaborative mindset and a willingness to spend time collaborating. Educators should never expect less from themselves than they expect of their students. A good teacher is also a good learner, and a good learner can always become a great teacher.


We often hear that the most influential element in a student’s life is the teacher. As an educator this can be both an honor and a daunting responsibility. It elevates the status of a position, often viewed by some as public service, to that of a valued mentor. This would all be well and good if education could truly be defined as it was for centuries in the past. Students were empty vessels to be filled with the knowledge of their teachers. If this were in any way true today, and a teacher was able to pour all of the knowledge contained in his or her head into the empty vessels seated in rows before him or her, the teacher would still not be imparting enough information for an adequate education in today’s world. Our world, as well as information itself, changes and evolves at too fast a pace. Teaching and learning are evolving and many of the old concepts no longer apply.

Unfortunately however, many politicians and some educators buy into this traditional model of what an educator should be, and base teacher evaluations on it. In many states a teacher’s evaluation will be predominantly based on how well his or her students perform on a standardized test. That test performance has de facto become the goal of education.

What makes all of this so complicated is that kids are not widgets. They are complicated. It may be true that a teacher may at times be the most influential factor in the classroom for some kids, but not for all kids, and not every time. Kids do not leave everything at the door of the classroom so they can have their vessels filled. All of their problems travel with them. The difference between kid problems and adult problems is that, hopefully, adults have learned coping mechanisms, but kids have not.

Teachers do not just address that part of a kid that is in school to learn. The whole child with all of his or her problems must be addressed. Learning, no matter who is the teacher takes a back seat to safety, hunger, health, and emotional stability. When it comes to kids we need to first address Maslow’s Hierarchy before we can get to Bloom’s Taxonomy. This is never a consideration in a teacher’s evaluation.

Kids today are entering schools after traveling through neighborhoods that might be considered war zones in some countries. Kids are coming from homes where education is not a priority at all. English in many homes is a second language at best. Kids are coming to school not from homes, but cars or shelters. Beyond the complications of urban poverty, we have large regions of the country experiencing rural poverty with different problems for kids, but the same results. Their problems and needs take precedence over learning in school.

How can we possibly assess and evaluate a teacher’s performance without assessing and evaluating each of his or her students? The tests that students are forced to take may be standardized, but the students themselves are not. Each student is different with problems that affect their ability to learn each and every day with varying intensity. That is what complicates learning and teaching. How can there be simple solutions with so many complicated variables?

To complicate things further for teachers, they must also deal with the red tape of shortsighted policies. Policies often put in place to address issues that have little to do with educating a child. Teaching involves dealing with the whole child and all of the complications that come with it; yet, we are told that a standardized test for all is the answer. It is the golden measure. It will tell us how much each student has learned and how effective each teacher was in teaching without regard for any other factors beyond the grade on the test.

With standardized testing and all of the curriculum materials and extras that go along with that making a BILLION dollars a year for a few companies, I fear it will be with us longer, but we have already lived with it for longer than we should have. We cannot however allow politicians to use these tests to decimate the teaching profession and public education beyond repair. Yes, we need to evaluate a teacher’s performance, but it must be done fairly and in consideration of what the job really requires. It can’t be done in a way that simply ignores what it is that teachers are being required to do every day they report to work. Teaching and learning have nothing to do with empty vessels. Politics and politicians however might better fit that description. Maybe before we can better educate our kids, we need to first better educate our politicians.

When asked to define what Pornography in the public domain was, United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that”.

The point was that the term was too subjective with too many variables to specifically define it, but its existence should be obvious to the average thinking person. Of course there will always be those whose views are more conservative or more liberal on any interpretation, but the general consensus usually prevails.

I have written as many authors and bloggers have about what is relevant in education, yet the term “relevance” is too subjective with too many variables to specifically define it, but its existence should be obvious to the average thinking person. Of course there will always be those whose views are more conservative or more liberal on any interpretation, but the general consensus usually prevails. I know it when I see it.

As things change the relevant person keeps up with that change as it affects the world in which we all live. At one time change was slow so relevance was easy. Slow change allowed slow acceptance. Change requires people to stop believing in what was a truth and accept something else in face of change. That is not easy, but given time, people eventually come around to accepting change and being relevant, at least until the next big change comes along. With each big change the process repeats. Relevance is not a passive exercise. It requires steps and commitments for it to happen.

The 19th Century in education was fairly consistent because change was slow in happening. Textbooks could be used for years with little change in content. Education controlled the information used to educate people, so everyone followed the system’s rules to gain access to an education. Relevance was not an issue since the system itself could determine what was relevant.

The 20th Century started the same way, but about halfway through it more advanced technologies began to affect the rate at which change happened. Relevance began to outpace the system. The space race blew up the pace of change. People needed to keep up with the changes in information and content in order to remain relevant. Education needed to make more and more adjustments to keep up with this rapid pace of change. Television, videotape, audio recording, offset printing all began to influence changes. Personal computers and the establishment of the Internet came in the latter half of the century spurring on faster-paced change that was to never slow down. The institutions of learning no longer controlled access to information, and that alone began to question the relevance of these institutions, as well as the teachers within the system.

After we survived Y2K information became more and more digital. Industries that could not maintain relevance disappeared. The world became digital with almost unlimited access to information and content. People no longer needed permission to publish content. Curation and creation of content is different from the 20th Century. Access to information, which is content, is the staple for learning and it can now be done without permission from learning institutions.

Educators need to realize that these changes have taken place in many cases in spite of them and their efforts. There will be no slowing down for people to catch up. In a world that is so affected by technological change educators need to be digitally literate in order to maintain relevance in this world. Flexibility and adaptability become important skills for the modern teacher. This is the world that kids are growing up in. Change is inevitable and the teacher is no longer the sole keeper of information. Kids can access information at any time and anywhere. Permission to do so is a personal password away. As educators, what and how we learned may not be what and how we should teach.

In order to maintain relevance, one needs to be aware of what is going on in the world around him or her. Collaboration with other educators can be a key component to succeeding at maintaining relevance. Joining collaborative education communities can inform and support any educator willing to share openly with others. These connected colleagues can lead and participate in education discussions that will never take place in staff rooms, or department or faculty meetings.

Pedagogy and methodology to meet 21st Century needs are regularly discussed. Ideas are proposed, discussed, vetted, modified and improved through many of these connections. Blog posts have all but replaced the journals and newsletters of the 20th Century. Teachers may personally and directly discuss, and collaborate with the thought leaders, authors and policy-makers in education to affect change.

We have come a long way from the 1800’s and looking back we can see the flaws in the teaching methodology of that time. We can also agree on how that would not be relevant for today’s learner. We would also agree that the same would hold true for the first have of the 20th Century. Where people start getting off the train is when we hit the latter half of the 20th Century. We are all products of that latter 20th Century mindset. If we are not careful, our students and we will be victims of that mindset, because it is no longer relevant for our learners. We need to make those uncomfortable steps forward, so we will not be left behind. In this fast-paced-rate-of-change era in which we live, even those who are just standing still are ultimately falling behind. An irrelevant educator may not be obvious to everyone, but he or she only needs to be obvious to his or her students to be ineffective. If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.


The title of this post immediately kills any chance of a large-numbered readership when it posts on ASCDEdge. For some reason any post with Twitter in the title does not do well with a general population of educators. Social media as a source of professional development has yet to catch on in large numbers among educators. There is however a growing number of educators using Twitter who look for strategies to better serve them in social media for collaborative learning. Whom should I follow on Twitter and how do I find them are key questions that need to be addressed.

First, we must understand that the worst advocates for collaborating with Twitter are more often educators who are collaborating through Twitter. They tend to overwhelm the non-users or new users with elaborate stories of the astonishing wonders of Twitter, as well as all of their astounding Twitter connections. They create an image in a newcomer’s mind that intimidates and scares them from engaging. Additionally, advocates often use jargon and acronyms of experienced Twitter users that do not communicate well with the novice while further mystifying the process. I will attempt to keep it simple.

The Follow Concept

To understand how Twitter works one needs to understand that the only information one gets is from the people who one follows. That is why when we first signed up on Twitter, there were no tweets in our timeline. We were not yet following anyone. The first reaction of an educator is to ask where are all these sources people are talking about?

Of course the first thing a newbie starts to do is follow the famous people, mostly entertainers and athletes. The timeline then begins to show their Tweets, mostly Public Relations, or fan related tweets. But where are the education Tweets that will get me collaborating, you might now ask. They don’t exist if you are not following educators, even more precisely, if you are not following the right educators. Following ten actors, ten singers, two politicians, and the art teacher down the hall will not generate many education sources, unless the Art teacher down the hall is also an adjunct education professor.

The Timeline

The key to getting many helpful education tweets containing sources that a teacher may use in the classroom is to follow many, many classroom teachers. Of course to pinpoint your specific education interests you will need to pinpoint those whom you follow as well. A third grade teacher may want to follow many other third grade teachers. A math teacher would concentrate on following other math teachers. As you build your Personal Learning Network (PLN) of collegial sources, you will find people outside your specific realm of interest that will also add value to your learning. As all of these “follows” Tweet their information out, your timeline begins to be populated with tweets giving education information and sources. Of course if you are also following your fantasy football team, you will have a great many football tweets as well. You may want to consider creating a separate account for your athletic gaming interests.

The Profile

All Twitter accounts have profiles. You should fill yours out so that people know you are an educator, as well as specifics that are unique to you in education. This is how many people judge whether or not to follow you, basing that decision on your profile. You may do the same thing. Go to a person’s profile to make sure they are an educator that would add value to your PLN. Of course you may unfollow anyone at anytime if they do not prove to be of value to you personally. They are not notified that you unfollowed them.

I often follow educators who engage me on Twitter but that is not a rule; it’s a personal choice. There are well-known Tweeting educators who follow less than 20 people. I follow over 3,000. NO, I do not read every tweet. It is a personal choice for my Personal Learning Network. You decide what you need.


There are hundreds of education chats taking place every day on Twitter. It is very easy to access and participate in these chats. It is a great place to identify educators that will enhance you PLN. Educators involved in these chats engage in education discussions that often expose their individual education philosophy and education experience. Follow those people from the chat that you believe may offer you value to your network.


Blogs are a great place to find people to follow. The blogger lays it all out for everyone to see. You can quickly identify where any blogger stands on education. Most bloggers make it easy for you to follow on their site. Look for a “Follow Me” icon and click on it. Many bloggers are authors as well and they often attract other authors who guest post. Authors post their Twitter handle in their bios for people to follow.

Follow Lists

If you access a person’s profile, you can go down a little further and access their ‘Lists”. Many Tweeters create lists that they develop for groups of educators. They will use these lists to follow group members on a separate column on TweetDeck or Hootsuite. You may follow these educators as well by clicking the follow button next to each person on that list. It is not stealing. Additionally, you can follow anyone that person is following as well just by accessing his or her follow list.

A great way I have found is to start a newcomer out with a list of over a hundred educators to follow. These are people who I have followed for years. The timeline of that newcomer now immediately fills up with information and education sources. The entire collaborative element rapidly becomes crystal clear. This is my list: https://twitter.com/tomwhitby/lists/my-twitter-stalwarts/members

#Follow Friday or #FF

Friday for educators is known as Follow Friday. If no one explains what it is to you, you may go months seeing the #FF hashtag and never understanding what it represents. I didn’t get it for months. Friday is the day that Tweeters make recommendations of great people to follow. A tweet will go out with a twitter handle and why you should follow this person and then at the end the #FF hashtag. A shortcut method, less personal or informative would be to list a number of Twitter handles and the #FF hashtag. I personally like to give reasons to follow folks.


There it is, a strategy for following all laid out in simple terms. A big problem with collaborative learning through social media however is that it is not a passive activity. There is no way of getting around the work one needs to do in order to get positive results. Having a plan or a strategy does make things easier. Focusing on following educators, who themselves are focused, makes for best results. Don’t just follow those whom you agree with, but follow those who challenge you as well. The most important thing to remember in Twitter: Big numbers of followers may impress some people, but whom you follow is far more important than who follows you.

Poster Fac Mtg

Over the many years that #Edchat has been engaging educators, one topic that always generates a huge amount of interest, based on comments, is the faculty meeting. Teachers are required to attend the faculty meetings that administrators are required to hold and very few are happy with the results. The only upside is that with each meeting a check may be placed in the box for attending.

Technology may be a way to update the tired model of the faculty meeting. Email for the faculty may be a great way to distribute the mundane stuff that takes up so much time at these meetings. Of course a really progressive administrator might have a weekly Blog that could address a great many topics that bog down the faculty meetings. Once the day-to-day school housekeeping topics are removed from the meeting there will be more time for more substantive topics that affect learning in education. Using a Google Document to circulate amongst the faculty for suggested topics of discussion for the upcoming meetings might be a great direction in order to address real faculty needs and concerns.

Once topics are decided upon a flipped meeting should serve the faculty well. Material like blog posts or videos could be assembled and distributed using tools for collaboration prior to the meeting. This will prepare the faculty for what will happen rather than dropping it on them in the meeting. Assessment tools could be used for formative assessment during the meeting to gauge understanding of the topic by the faculty. Any teams or committees formed from this meeting can be connected through collaborative tools and shared documents to create a professional Learning community. Administrators in those groups will immediately be aware of any problems that might arise as the groups strive to complete their goals. There will be no need to wait for another faculty meeting to get results

Technology offers many tools to change the face of the faculty meeting. It can make it a means of change for the school culture. It can permit and support teachers with bold and innovative ideas to lead their colleagues into change, or just expand and improve what change is already occurring.

Time in education is a precious commodity to teachers. To waste a monthly get-together of the entire staff is an outrage when there are so many real needs that should be addressed or things to learn. Just because we have always run faculty meetings a certain way, that is not a justification for continuing what is so obviously a bad, or at least an unproductive practice. Administrators need to stop observing and commenting on how technology is being used by others in their school and begin employing it themselves to improve their schools. In so doing they would be modeling for all the thoughtful, meaningful, and responsible way to use technology in education without fear.

One Education Twitter chat that precedes all others is #Edchat. It was founded July 30, 2009 and has run continuously ever since. For those who are not Twitter chat savvy, a Twitter chat originally was a discussion that uses a specific hashtag to conduct a real-time chat on a specific subject. Of course education chats are education-specific. Typically, they run about an hour in length and are running on set periodic schedules.

Here is a site that updates chat schedules:


My original intent in creating #Edchat was to involve people in an in-depth, organic conversation on a single given topic. It was not easy to run and it might have been even more difficult to participate. We had never done a chat before. It is my opinion that participation requires involvement and not just observation. Those involved in the chat are creators, while those just lurking and observing are merely consumers.

Participation in a chat is not always easy. It requires an understanding of the chat in order to affect a working strategy to participate. It is fairly impossible to follow and interact with every participant. My strategy is to engage a small group of participants by tweeting my own opinions and questions on the prevailing topic. People who respond are drawn into my circle of influence. On other occasions I work off of questions and opinions of others to invite myself into their circles.

I have been asked on several occasions to guest host a chat. I am usually invited to chat about collaborative learning, or connected PD. On more than one occasion the owners of the chats presented me with a number of questions they wanted to post over the course of the chat. They wanted them numbered: Q-1, Q-2, and Q-3 etc.… They wanted the participants to answer the numbered questions with numbered answers: A-1, A-2, A-3 etc.… I would not participate in those chats. I understand that it made things easier for some but that was painting by the numbers as far as I was concerned. What was the participants’ investment in that type of chat? They needed only to follow the numbered Q’s and answer with numbered A’s. Where was the thought? Where was the pushback? Where was the following of a progression of thought? Most importantly where was the learning? These chats had evolved into following a recipe. Q-1, A-1 move on to Q-2 and repeat.

Chats are difficult for a reason. People do not know what they will face as they enter the chat beyond the Topic. The discussion is determined by the participants. Where the chat goes should be totally directed by where the participants want to take it. Moderators are there to help and participate, but they should be taking their direction from the chat, not trying to direct it with pre-determined questions. This makes it more difficult to run, but it emphasizes a trust in the audience/participants to come through with concerns, solutions, or other more in-depth questions. We are adults and deserve the respect from chat owners to conduct ourselves as learners eager to find answers to questions within specified topics that we need to know. We need organic discussions and not scripted ones.

I understand why some chats have gone to the multiple question format, answering up to 10 questions during a 1-hour chat, but we have to ask what is being sacrificed in the name of simplicity? We have educators supporting rigor in education while they are trying to simplify their own learning. Although my personal preference is for the unscripted chat, there is no right way or wrong way of doing this. For some the only way they might be involved in any chat might be through the scripted chat. For many others the organic conversation that springs from the unscripted chat is the way they learn best. We are fortunate that any chats are now available to us as connected educators using social media for continuing professional development. Chats give transparency to education. We talk about our individual experiences on topics common to all. Chats are also a sounding board. Even more, they are a treasure trove for collegial sources, people who can help each other professionally. Participate in chats for all these reasons and to maintain relevance in a rapidly changing world.

#Edchat takes place every Tuesday at Noon and 7 PM Eastern Time zone. There are different Topics for each chat. Archives are found at http://edchat.pbworks.com/w/page/219908/FrontPage.

#Edchat Radio Show on The BAM Radio Network is a weekly analysis of the week’s chat with myself and Nancy Blair hosting with a different guest each week http://www.bamradionetwork.com/edchat-radio/.

#Edchat Moderators include: @tomwhitby, @blairteach, @ShiftParadigm, @wmchamberlain, @lookforsun, @web20classroom and archivist, @jswiatek

If we are to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.

We are now better than fifteen years into the 21st Century and educators are still discussing what role technology plays in education. The fact of the matter is no matter what educators, who are mostly products of a 20th Century education, think, our students today will need to be digitally literate in their world in order to survive and thrive. Digital Literacy is a 21st Century skill, but therein lies the rub. Most of our educators have been educated with a twentieth Century mindset using 20th Century methodology and pedagogy at best. I dare say there might be some 19th Century holdovers as well.

Digital literacy is recognized by the developers of common core to be important enough to be included as a component of the curriculum. This will however vary and be dependent on what each individual teacher knows, or does not know in regard to his or her own digital literacy. In other words teachers without digital literacy in a 21st Century education setting are illiterate educators for the purpose of this discussion. We can certainly wait for attrition to clean out the system, but that might take years at the expense of our kids. It also does not address a further infiltration of even more from entering the system.

These educators are not bad people. Many may be willing to change and learn to be digitally literate if it is prioritized and supported by administrators. The problem there is that digitally illiterate administrators fail to recognize the need, or understand how to support the new skills required using a new 21st Century mindset. That is not to say all administrators fall into this category, but certainly too many for any needed change to happen in a timely fashion do.

There certainly is enough blame to go around for what places the education system in this predicament and much of that lies in education programs from our institutions of higher learning. Unfortunately, too often student tech skills and digital literacy are assumed and not formally taught in schools of higher education. If students are getting by with email and desktop publishing it is assumed that they are “digital natives”, a term that has cut short education for digital skills in America.

The biggest problem we have with any digital education is the rapidity at which things change.This will only get worse as technology evolves. People learn something; they buy into it; they get comfortable with it; and then it evolves to something else. That comfort level is hard to shake, so change is slow, if it takes place at all. The system also generally fails to recognize the need to prioritize and support change in a way to keep all staff relevant. It is also failing to prioritize digital literacy for incoming teachers.

If we were to prioritize Digital Literacy as a job requirement it might speed up needed changes. Once colleges realized that placing their students in teaching positions required a knowledge of digital literacy they would need to revamp their curricula accordingly. An influx of digitally educated teachers would go a long way in changing the culture of elementary and secondary schools in regard to their acceptance and priorities concerning new tools for learning and the integration of technology and education.

We have always required new teachers to have specific skills in order to secure a job teaching. We also required that they demonstrate those skills before a job could be offered. I can’t think of one hiring committee, of the hundreds I participated in, that did not require a writing sample. How many teaching candidates are offered jobs without someone seeing them teach a class with a sample lesson? It would not be a stretch to require candidates to exhibit their technology skills for consideration.

Prioritizing digital skills will also signal a need for existing staff to get comfortable with change rather than retaining the status quo. It will shake up comfort zones to enable forward movement. It will also force administrators to get some game of their own. They will need digital awareness in order to objectively observe teachers using technology for learning.

Digitally illiterate educators will soon be irrelevant educators and that hurts all educators. As a community we need to support change and digital literacy or we may become as relevant as a typewriter, or film photography. If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.


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