Written by Catherine Rushton, Assistant Principal at The Nicholas Hamond Academy.

“I don’t do twitter. I don’t have the time.” Does this sound familiar? Yes, me too and this was me just 4 weeks ago. If you had asked me about it, I would have told you it was a waste of time, and that I was far too busy for it. In fact, I distinctly remember a conversation I had with an ECT colleague at the start of October. When he asked about twitter, I said that I wouldn’t be tweeting anytime soon, as I was far too busy trying to make an impact leading teaching and learning in real life, in a real school, day to day. I still see where I was coming from, I mean it was less than a month ago, my memory is not quite that short! What’s changed is I now see how I can use twitter to inform decisions, provide resources and make links with other educators, actually enhancing my impact. We all know, knowledge is power, and there is a wealth of collective knowledge to be harnessed from the careful use of social media.

So how did I manage to bury my head in the sand for so long? What changed? And most importantly, what did I learn?

In 2020 a trusted colleague @ATT_Institute recommended I use twitter, so I created an account, did a few scrolls through seemingly pointless random tweets and 1 follower later I was bored, confused and my thumb didn’t stray in the direction of the little blue bird again.

What was holding me back? I’m not a technophobe. In fact, I taught myself everything there was to know about microsoft teams in 3 days so I could deliver training (over teams) to the teachers at my school whilst in lockdown. I have no issue working across teams, with multiple people, my previous role as regional lead practitioner had made me value collaboration between educators more than ever, so it wasn’t that I didn’t want to make connections.

The real reason I wasn’t “on twitter” was the fact I felt I had missed the boat. I didn’t know how to start from nothing in 2021! Everyone else had been tweeting away for years, had what felt like scores of followers and understood the rules. They had built up networks of connections, creating a landscape of tweets that related to their interests, and I just couldn’t see how I could join in.

What changed? Honestly, it all started with a conversation with my husband who is a regular on twitter, gets tonnes of ideas from it and has a reasonable following. He informed me that that I would never be able to learn how to use it now. Not one to back out of a challenge (ever), that was it. I vowed to have 100 followers by Christmas and prove him wrong, a valiant motive indeed, I’m sure you’ll agree.

So, I reactivated my account (opened the app on my phone) and sent my first tweet, a tweet I hasten to add, I have since deleted. It wasn’t much, a picture of some notes around a CPD book I was keen to promote with my teaching team. I waited. Nothing happened. My husband who had become the second member of my twitter following helped me out by explaining I needed a twitter following! Ultimately, for people to see the tweet, I had to have followers, which I didn’t, or I needed to use their twitter handle (the @something bit) to get my tweet in their notifications.

Not one to be beaten, I tweeted a picture of our “Open if Ofsted Call” box and wrangled a few close colleagues to follow me. Ten followers and two likes later I was off. Over the next fortnight I started following people, sent multiple tweets, scrolled pages of tweets, liking lots and re-tweeting like crazy. This makes it all sound a little hap-hazard, but I hasten to add, by this point I was actually “liking” tweets because I liked them! I was following people because their bios showed they had similar interests/responsibilities to me, or they had tweeted something I found interesting. With my own tweets, I became more connected with EduTwitter community, and could reach out to people who had inspired my work, sharing how initiatives had been implemented in my setting.

So, what did I learn? I’m keen to add a caveat here that I am still a fledging in the twitter world. However, my experiences over the last month show that any teachers out there wanting to get in on the action and utilise this fantastic resource, most definitely still can and here’s a few tips to start from nothing.

  1. Get your account set up: Do it in a way that will make you proud now and in the future. You are the architect of your online presence and unlike some among the long standing EduTwitterati, you can consciously select a twitter handle now, knowing this is going to be your online professional presence. Avoid job titles, or other things that are likely to change in your twitter handle, your name and bio can change to accommodate your evolving professional persona. Whether you keep your name anonymous or use your actual name is personal choice, both have implications: use your real name anyone viewing your tweets can connect it to you, remember this is parents and students as well as the teaching fraternity. If you are anonymous, it is harder to make personal connections over twitter. Carefully structure your bio, it is super important to help you get connected, so get as many of your professional interests/skills/responsibilities in there as possible. People will see your bio when you pop up under “who to follow” in their timeline, if you want followers who share your interests, help them find you.
  2. Get following: one aspect of twitter is that you get to read ideas that are being shared by the multitude of amazing educators and authors who are tweeting regularly. You can find people to follow by searching for them, but by far the best way of finding your crowd is by looking for those connections, who follows the people you already follow? Don’t be shy; follow anyone you share interests with, especially focusing on people leading your field, be that safeguarding, geography teaching, science of learning, phonics, primary science or A-level philosophy, your crowd is already on twitter, you just need to find them. The nature of tweets allows lots of skim reading and then once you find something of interest you can delve deeper by following whole conversations, looking at linked resources, images and websites, just don’t forget to “like it” if you like it, its helps those posting know what people are finding useful. Many people stop here, and use Twitter solely to magpie ideas and resources, which is a great. I have many friends and colleagues who use twitter in this way, have done for many years and swear by it. But I would argue there are advantages of going all in.
  3. Get tweeting: When you tweet you connect with the twitter community in a new way, and for me this was the thing that really got me hooked. The only way to get started tweeting is to … start tweeting. Tweet what you know, you are an expert in your field, whether that’s your own ECT experiences, teaching English to Yr7 or leading a special school, share your expertise! You may be tweeting something similar to previous tweets, don’t sweat it, there is no such thing as an original idea anyway and it will always be your personal spin. You can use what you read to gauge the temperature of certain topics but remember this isn’t about being a big name on twitter, its about authentically sharing ideas with likeminded professionals, trust me, you have something to share! Having said all that, if you are “bothering to tweet” you want people to actually see your tweets, so some followers would be nice.
  4. Get followers: This can be tricky, but patience is key, remember a small number of followers who care about what you tweet is better than getting your mate whose husband is in the RAF to get the whole base to follow you. Quality certainly trumps quantity here. A great place to start is find a few people you know professionally who use twitter to help you get started, a few choice retweets can be enough to help you get you going and then growth is possible. Tweet regularly. I tried posting almost daily for about 3 weeks and it significantly increased my number of followers. Remember it’s teachers you’re interacting with, so daytime-termtime tweets will get less noticed, and holiday tweets may get missed, consider when you tweet if you want it seen. Interact with other twitter users, you can respond to tweets, re-tweet or add twitter handles and hashtags to your own tweets. If you re-tweet make sure you quote tweet and add value to the original. It’s so much more engaging than just effectively pressing “forward”. You can use twitter handles to let people know how you have applied ideas from their blog/book, alert them to something that is especially relevant to them or to provoke a response, use hashtags to link your tweets to trending topics. But remember care is always needed when we share our ideas widely.
  5. Most importantly stay beyond reproach: It is such a shame EduTwitter is quite well known for arguments, but I am sure I don’t need to tell you that it is never good to engage in anything that is causing a stir or trending for all the wrong reasons. This might be one of your motives for avoiding twitter this far! But aside from high profile spats, there are many other aspects to consider when we acknowledge our tweets may be part of our online persona for ever more. Firstly, confidentially/data-protection details of individuals need removing from anything you share. Secondly, content, before every tweet, read and re-read before you post it, sometimes I store mine in drafts by pressing “cancel” then “save draft” and double check later before tweeting. Ask yourself, would you be happy for this to be emailed to all your colleagues, students, and their parents? If the answer is no, don’t tweet it! Finally, keep it focused, now I am as partial as the next person to a cat photo but as a rule keep it professional. This allows you to step away from your account when you want to switch off from work, there’s no harm in having multiple twitter accounts if you want one for following gardeners, dirt bike racers or Ru Paul’s Drag Race (guilty).

I really hope you found this useful, and with a bit of luck it has inspired you to get started. Hopefully you will find the resources and connects you make on Twitter as useful as I have, and I suspect my twitter story has only just begun.