How Social Media Enhances Teacher Professional Development: Interviews with Experts

Social media is playing a larger role in conversations at education industry and professional development events. Just a quick search for “Twitter” at these conferences show roughly a dozen talks at the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) conference and almost two dozen talks at the Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC).

Can social media make that much of an impact on educators’ pedagogy or professional development? We spoke with educators around the country to find out.

Why Use Social Media in the First Place?

It’s understandable if educators are skeptical about using social media as a form of professional development. After all, how authentic, accurate or helpful could professional development be when it comes from strangers, and often in the form of short posts or tweets? Margaux DelGuidice, a public and school librarian, author, and awarded School Library Journal Mover & Shaker, says the connections formed and relationships built to provide support in myriad ways all year long. “The possibilities for professional growth and collaboration through social media are endless,” she says. “My Professional Learning Network (PLN) is always there for me, with educators across the globe answering questions and sharing knowledge via #edchats (education chats) and #tlchats (teacher librarian chats) on Twitter.”

Before we jump into the nitty-gritty of Twitter, hashtags, Periscope, and Google communities, know that there are ways for those hesitant to dip a toe in the social media pond right away to still connect with educators. How? Through what some consider the original social media platform: email listservs. “The school library listserv LM_NET and Twitter are the two networks I rely on to help me get through the school year,” DelGuidice says.

LM NET (Library Media Network) is possibly one of the oldest ways for teacher-librarians to connect in the digital world — it launched almost 25 years ago in June 1992. Do you have questions on a new edtech tool? Are you looking for digital resources to teach information literacy? LM Net’s 12,000 members can help.

Regardless of whether you opt for nascent or old-school technologies, it’s the connection that counts, not necessarily how you do it. “It helps when teachers can take ownership of their learning and professional development by exploring options that make them feel they are part of a larger learning community,” DelGuidice says.

Social Media as an Outlet for Enhancing Pedagogy

It doesn’t take long for educators to see the benefits that a 140 character-ridden PLN can bring. Amanda Thompson, a third-grade teacher in Tigard, Oregon, can attest to Twitter’s power of connecting educators. “Twitter allows me to follow teachers on a worldwide level,” she says. “I can see classroom ideas and communicate with these educators in real time.” Through that communication, Thompson explains, she learns new practices to implement in her classroom, particularly with education technology.

“Twitter has given me opportunities to move up the SAMR model, get ideas from other educators, and with testing edtech apps or websites with my students,” she says. Thompson collaborated with to test their site with her students, and joined a Google+ Community to share her feedback along with other educators.

Speaking of Google+, its communities are not just for connecting educators to edtech organizations; they’re perfect for connecting with educators on a local, regional or global scale, too. Lisa Monthie, a technology professional development specialist for Waco Independent School District in Texas, explains how her district has used Google+ to facilitate sharing and conversation with educators throughout her district: “We have content specialists who set up Google+ communities and Google Hangouts after school trainings,” which help further the discussion beyond in-service trainings.

So, Google+ is great for collaborating and reflecting with colleagues on improving their pedagogy, but what about sharing their shiny new teaching practices in action? “We use #wacoisdpd on Twitter, and our elementary campus Brook Avenue uses #BraveLearns, to showcase the great things happening directly in the classroom,” she says. Monthie’s district is also trying out Periscope, a live video streaming app built into Twitter, to share what they are doing with classroom management and tech integration.

Social Media’s Lasting Impact in Education

Despite the back-and-forth of a Twitter buy-out and its declining value, it’s clear that the platform’s impact on connecting educators is thriving. “Access to 21st-century ideas and products has been mind changing in regards to my choices of instruction in the classroom,” Thompson says. “Twitter has made me want to try more technology in the classroom because teachers are showing what they have successfully done with their class. I make sure to highlight Twitter as a resource when leading building or district PD.”

Often, educators’ use of social media platforms trickles down into their students’ learning experiences, too. “What I learn by collaborating with other educators helps me become a better educator for my students,” DelGuidice says, “My goal is to model this type of behavior, to show my students that technology does not have to inhibit relationships, rather it can be the catalyst that forces them to grow.”

Thompson agrees. “Modeling social media behavior is something that educators can do in the classroom. With Twitter, I can show my students ways to connect with others, share their work and collaborate professionally.”

Sarah Thomas, arguably one of the most passionate, influential educators on Twitter today, sums up the benefits of leveraging social media for professional growth and success in education. “Social media has opened up so many opportunities for me as an educator,” she says. “Given my alternative path to the classroom, I had a steep learning curve, but everything turned around for me when I began to connect with other educators in my district and beyond. Social media allows educators to do this organically, truly in the spirit of learning together. That makes all the difference.”