This has been one of the hardest pieces I have ever written (and I have openly tackled race and discrimination in education more than once — as a white, middle-class male working in a fairly affluent, mostly white school). I have started and stopped it more times than I care to recall, each time destined to failure by my own guilt of hypocrisy and/or fear of unintended offenses to colleagues and friends about whom I care and respect deeply; however, I finally decided that this piece needed to be written, if for no other reason than my own consciousness and mental well-being. So let me preface this by saying a few truths. First, I know fair well that I have been, and probably will continue to be, hopefully unconsciously, part of that which I am about to criticize. Second, to anyone who “sees” themselves in this proclamation, please know that it was not written specifically about you and/or meant to offend anyone. Third, I am writing this piece in the hopes of bringing to light what I see is a growing problem that no one is talking about; I aim to, by doing this, raise attention to this issue in the hopes of, perhaps, creating a change, a return to what once was.
National Council of Teachers of English National Convention, 2012: Las Vegas, Nevada. I send my first educational Tweet. Within mere hours of being at this convention (my first of the sort) I quickly realize the wide open door to limitless possibilities that developing a digital PLN has created for me. Within months I am connecting with teachers across the country, getting into Twitter chats that deeply explore issues in education with tangible takeaways, asking questions of some of my favorite educational authors (and getting responses back), and, simply put, developing my capacity as a teacher in ways previously not possible. To say that I went sprinting full speed through this newly widely opened door would be an understatement.
My Couch, early 2014, Downers Grove, Illinois. I finish what is, at this point, probably my 50th twitter chat, but this time it feels different. My wife can sense my frustration, and asks what is wrong. I tell her it simply, without even having to think about it: I got nothing out of that chat; it was just a big feel-good fest. Don’t get me wrong, this job is brutally difficult, so having a chance to feel good about our work is important, but we all have 24 hours in our day to get 28 hours of work done, and I feel as if I just wasted one of mine. This chat just had a different feeling to it than those in the past. No one asked the tough questions, pushed the thinking, or challenged others; it felt as if everyone there was just wanting to be nice and happy and feel good. I don’t think too much more about it in the moment, but it clearly stays with me.
World’s Most Uncomfortable Desk Chair, my office, mid 2014, Downers Grove, Illinois. A rare slow day at the office, I have some extra time to spend on Twitter, seeking to learn and grow. I remember it like it was yesterday: 25. Yes, 25. As my feed continues to scroll itself down, often times more quickly than I can handle, I start to count the number. 3, then 8, then 15…at this point I have to stop to make sure I am counting it correctly, but sure enough once I catch up with all the tweets, I realize that someone I follow had just tweeted 25 times to promote a new blog post, each post filled with 3–4 mentions or 5–6 hashtags. I was dumbfounded.
Adirondack Chair on Patio, vacation, summer 2015, Sonoma, California. With a day of winery touring ahead of me (one of many days with such luck) and all three books I brought with me finished, I start my day outside, early, dedicating time simply to Twitter, hoping that the summer brings about deep content and ways to get better. I eagerly dive into my feed, wife (and the rest of the resort) still asleep. I sift through retweet after retweet of articles with no reason why they were retweeted, blogs being treated the same, and a plethora of empathy thoughts such as, “to be better we must want to be better” and “it’s through collaboration that we grow.” And while I don’t disagree with these statements, it really sinks in: this Twitter is not the same Twitter whose doors I so quickly sprinted through just a few years ago; in fact, those open doors have led me to now seeming shallow waters.
Airplane Seat 4A, June 15th, 2016, Somewhere over Montana in route to Seattle. So what, right? I am sure many of you are, if you even kept reading, angry at my assessment of how Twitter in education has evolved (or devolved) in the last three to four years, but I hope you will stick with this piece. After all, you have already gotten this far.
I want to propose some suggestions, some ways that we all can, collectively, refill the pool to deepen the waters of Twitter in education, to restore it to what it once was. So, here is what I think it will take to push Twitter to what it once was and more importantly to places it has never been.
1. Retweet with purpose and intention
One of the best features of Twitter is that I can see what those I don’t follow are saying based on retweets from those I do follow. However, when it is just a retweet, with no comment as to why this is an article that should be read, what you got from reading this blog, and/or how what you are retweeting might help others, it is a missed opportunity. So, when retweeting, think about using the quote tweet and imagine what would happen if we all committed to adding a comment to help others better see why this tweet (and content within the tweet) is worth checking out.
2. Read the articles/blogs you retweet
I know for a fact that this doesn’t happen as much as it should for two reasons: 1st — I have been guilty of this and 2nd — I’ve seen my own blog tweets get retweeted without ever getting a view added to the blog. If a blog is worthy of retweeting it should be so because of its content, not who wrote it, or wanting to be nice to your colleague who wrote it, and/or any other factor. This simple strategy of reading, in full, every article/blog we retweet will really allow the best content to rise to the top.
3. Be deliberate with self-promotion
Quickly into my time as a blogger, I told myself I would tweet out my blogs only three to five times total (and I try to stick with the three, if I can — but it’s hard; I get it). My logic being this; controlling my self-promotion would be the best way for me to know what pieces really were good and worth reading and which weren’t. It should be that simple; if you wrote a good piece, three to five deliberate tweets should be enough to get it thousands of views, after all, that’s the power of social media. If it doesn’t, maybe it wasn’t that good of a piece to begin with, and that is okay; it can be one way we grow as writers.
4. Push chats to have tangible takeaways
As someone who has hosted many twitter chats for a variety of different hashtags, this is something I always tried to do, but could still always get better at. The reality is simple, if people are going to give up one hour of their day for a chat, they should leave it with more than just feeling good about themselves. Push your questions to get to the how and why, not just the what (thank you, Simon Sinek). If you bring up problems, get to solutions. Simply put, push past the feel good and get into the takeaway. Without it, it’s like a student’s paper with great evidence and no analysis; and no one wants to read that.
5. Seek understanding as a means to grow
It is easier to be nice than it is to dig deep. How often have you seen something on Twitter with which you disagree and/or want to challenge but you don’t because you don’t want to ruffle feathers? I won’t speak for you, but I know that has happened to me a lot, and while I am certainly not saying that we should start challenging everything with which we disagree, I am saying that we will all grow more from Twitter if we stop fearing these conversations. So, next time you see someone who believes something incongruent with your own beliefs, engage in a conversation, not to debate but to seek understanding. It is amazing what can happen when we seek to understand that with which we do not agree.
If you made it through this piece, I want to thank you. As I said from the start, this was NOT an easy piece to write, but I am glad I did.
It is my hope that you will join me in continuing to sprint through the wide open door Twitter creates — let’s just hope that we dive head first into an oceanic creator of knowledge, experience and debate that pushes us all to grow, together.