Teachers Tweeting Teachers: Building a Community of Practice through Twitter
During a leadership team (LT) meeting of the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) in January 2012 we were talking about digital tools and the ways that teachers—and all of us are teachers—use or don’t use online forums for communication. We have had this discussion before as we continue to explore ways to stay connected without (or in addition to) face-to-face meetings. And in spite of this wish for digital connections, we have found that many teachers, including many of us in this group, really don’t participate in online forums. Facebook is the most widely accepted social media forum used by the people we know—though it is primarily used for social/family purposes. We have had success with the development of a Facebook page for the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP), with our team of ten administrators posting resources and information that our larger SDAWP community finds useful. Our administrators are all SDAWP Fellows, teachers in our organization that have completed the Invitational Summer Institute—a leadership program in the teaching of writing, and represent a variety of Summer Institute cohorts, teaching demographics, experiences, grade levels, and ages.
The discussion of online forums, social media, and staying connected led to a discussion of the reasons we, as teachers, would want to visit an online site—what creates the urgency to make the time to login and check for potential information? We talked about how much teachers like to know what other teachers are doing in their classrooms. What kinds of writing are their students doing? What resources are they using? What does a day in their life look like? This conversation led to a member of our LT, Marla Williams, mentioning Sweden’s (yes, the country) practice of handing their country’s Twitter account to an ordinary citizen for a week to tweet their observations and interests.
After a number of people turned to their smartphones to pull up @sweden, we decided we should try our own Twitter experiment. At SDAWP, we decided to “be like Sweden” and establish the practice of having a different SDAWP Fellow tweet each week to share a week in the life of an SDAWP educator. Our vision is that each week will present a unique perspective of what life is like for teachers in San Diego. And even more exciting, our followers would look forward to finding out who would be next: a primary teacher, one from a local community college, a high school teacher, a technology expert, the special education middle school teacher…
Beginning on February 5, 2012 Abby Robles (SDAWP ’11) started this experiment and became our first SDAWP Fellow of the Week. To facilitate the exchange each week, she created a Google doc (attached here if you're interested in using it as a resource) that we continue to update and share to each new Twitter Fellow. It also explains that using hashtags like #nwp, #cwp, #sdawp help to connect us to our larger writing project communities. Also, including other Twitter "handles" like @writingproject, @nwpsiteleaders, @cwp lets those folks "see" what we are doing and talking about in San Diego. As the weeks have passed, this has proved to be a fun and engaging way to get a glimpse into the teaching lives of our Fellows. They share resources, observations, pictures—and now have their SDAWP (and some other Writing Project Fellows across the state and country) interacting with them on Twitter. (@Sweden even commented recently!)
We also announce the new Twitter Fellow each week on our SDAWP Facebook page in hopes of encouraging others to follow and participate. Our Fellows and those who follow us on Facebook are setting up Twitter accounts and beginning to explore just what Twitter has to offer—and more of our Fellows are agreeing to serve as Twitter Fellows of the Week. (We are hoping to have 52 unique individuals for the year!) We have passed the 100 followers mark—and hope that the number continues to grow. Check it out—you can follow us @SDAWP_Banner (Valentyna Banner, the fellow for the second week of April) or follow me (@kd0602) or Abby (@abbyrobles13) to connect to the SDAWP Fellow of the Week. (Once you begin to follow you will stay with us even as our Fellow changes each week.)
This experiment continues to evolve and grow and we find that there are some long-term effects of serving as Fellow of the Week. We’ve learned that once a Fellow has acted as our SDAWP Twitter Fellow they tend to stay active on Twitter through their personal account as well—and many are figuring out ways to involve their students in this micro-blogging community. They also help keep our local Twitter community active by retweeting and replying to the tweets posted by our Fellow of the Week.