Tech Leadership

Tweeting in Schools

by JOSEPH E. ZYDOWSKY

Those not familiar with the uses of Twitter may think the social networking tool is mostly used for tracking the latest celebrity gossip or learning when a high school student has decided to turn in for the night. So it might be startling for a school board, school district staff, parents and community members to discover their local school district uses Twitter for communicating.

Joseph ZydowskyJoseph E. Zydowsky


Who’s Following You?
Twitter provides a quick and easy way for educators to share information. With a few taps on a smart phone or keystrokes on a computer, a school administrator is able to inform followers when inclement weather is forcing the cancellation of school or requiring an early closing. When a reminder for upcoming parent/teacher conferences might be helpful, a simple tweet is quite effective. When a teacher wants to remind students and their parents about an upcoming test and to share a link for a review document, using Twitter can be a great option.

Although Twitter limits a user’s posted message to 140 characters, those who have mastered the art of tweeting have figured out how easy and effective it is to simply tweet a link to another data source, such as a blog, podcast, photo, video clip or some other piece of web content. It is much easier for community members to receive a tweet that contains a link to the newest edition of the school district’s online newsletter than it is for them to remember to check the school district’s website each month and navigate to the link.

Retweeting is an efficient way to pass on useful information to the user’s followers. When a user comes across a tweet and wants to share it with those who have signed up as followers, a simple click of the retweet button will post that message on the user’s Twitter feed.

Are You Following?
As more organizations use Twitter, the number of people who are tweeting and the amount of information available is growing exponentially. The real challenge for Twitter and other web applications is how all of this available information is organized and accessible. Twitter allows users to execute a global search for particular people, subjects and trends, but the real usefulness is that once the account is set up, information can be found without searching.

By allowing users to decide which accounts to follow, Twitter provides opportunities to filter information. Only the accounts that are followed will be listed in that individual’s Twitter feed. A school administrator may find it helpful to follow local news outlets, experts in the field of education, professional educational organizations and other school administrators. It is simple to follow and unfollow particular users, so managing the information that one sees on a regular basis can be easy.

Twitter has additional features that allow for further organization of the information. Depending on the purpose for acquiring information, a user can view either the entire feed of accounts being followed or just a specific group of accounts that have been set up in a list. Users can have multiple lists, enabling the user to categorize accounts. A school administrator could have one list strictly for news outlets, one list for curriculum issues, one for politics, another for staff member accounts and so forth.

What Do You Follow?
Aside from following particular lists, Twitter users have begun using tags that allow anyone to follow specific subjects. (In Twitter, a subject can be tagged by preceding the subject with the pound symbol (#), known as a hashtag.) This is useful when the user desires information about a specific subject.

By following particular threads that have been given a hashtag, a user can follow or participate in a type of open forum on the issue. This can be an easy way to pose a question to a potentially large group of people interested in the same subject matter, which can be an excellent resource for educators. Examples of some hashtags for school administrators that I find useful are: #education, #edtech and #commoncore.

Twitter can be accessed from a computer or cell phone. Various applications make using Twitter on a smart phone easy. One of the greatest advantages of Twitter is that a user does not need a data plan or Internet access to participate. Once an account is set up (by using any computer with Internet access), the user can send and receive tweets via text messaging. This can be beneficial in schools where the percentage of students and parents having cell phones is much higher than those with Internet access.

Classroom Use
Implementing the use of Twitter in the classroom can be challenging. In the Cadott Community School District a voluntary workshop for teachers has led to Twitter use by a principal, an energetic teacher of business and information technology and a basketball coach. More staff members have created accounts but have not expanded their professional use.

While Twitter can be a valuable tool for teachers and students, communication with the public and collaborating with a volume of people have been the two greatest uses in our school district to date.

Education leaders must develop a network of colleagues for collaboration and as resources. Using Twitter is one way to accomplish these goals efficiently and effectively.

Joseph Zydowsky is superintendent of the Cadott Community School District in Cadott, Wis. E-mail: zydowskyj@cadott.k12.wi.us