Friday, February 5, 2016

The 10,000 Tweet Question

This post is dedicated to my professional learning role models I've met through my use of Twitter, as both a tool and as a learning community. I'm grateful for your example, your encouragement, and your generosity as educators who believe in the value of Learning Leadership.  

Just this week, Brad Gustafson (@GustafsonBrad) posted two questions, via Twitter, that captured thoughts I've been wrestling with, particularly of late:

Why do you use Twitter?

What is it about the space that you value?

I find myself often contemplating "the why" for my own professional learning. And while I've resisted urges to write on the topic of social media and the role it plays in professional learning, I came to a realization.

I am on the verge of sending my 10,000th tweet.

This has me thinking.

Growing Up

A child of the 20th Century, I grew up in the 70's and 80's, a product of the public education system, and proud of it. Growing up, I was a member of a middle class nuclear family who lived in the suburbs. An amateur (ham) radio enthusiast, my Dad has always "tinkered" by nature. My Mom, on the other hand, has always preferred a good face-to-face conversation, usually at the kitchen table, with a cup of coffee.

We were one of the last families on the block to get a computer and a microwave. We never had, and I never played video games. For as long as I could remember, we had one television in our house, and it was kept in a central family room. I was a teenager before the time of cell phones, so when it came time to finally get one, it was a flip phone...which by the way was what I used as my means of communication until several years ago, well into my professional career. I only started using email because work required it.

To this day, I don't bother with tech unless I can see the relevant application that will add efficiency, quality, or value to my work as an educator and as a school leader. I remain patient with where the relevance is possible, but I am also instantly turned off by gimmicks and people who promote or who succumb to the allure of irrelevant technology.  


I am not a techie. Once tech-reluctant, I've evolved into a critical consumer of instructional technology.

I am often challenged by the notion that Twitter is possibly both a tool and a community space. In reflecting on this, I've gone through phases ranging from over-use, to under-use, to near abandonment, to the extreme option, considering deleting my Twitter account altogether.

Before I go any further (or you read any further), I realize, I do risk losing "followers" with this post. And I've come to terms with that, because so many people with whom I've connected since June 2013 may be disinterested in my lack of enthusiasm for technology...for the sake of technology. But for those who know me, or are willing to hang in there with me, until at least until the end of this post, you may find you know where I am coming from.

10,000 Tweets

Broken down over the last two and a half years since I've started to engage using Twitter, that's roughly 10 tweets per day. To an outsider looking in, this may seem excessive. It may seem imbalanced. And it may be perceived as my being self-important, or distracted, or obsessed.

And after nearly 10,000 tweets, I am here to unpack and in some cases, defend this position.  

Because, on the one hand, Twitter is nothing more than a tool. And it's not about the tools for me.

It's about the people. It's about the sharing, the mutual commitment to learning and to being better for our schools and our students, the generosity and the optimism that's modeled by others. It's about the personal connections and the friendships. And it's about the results of what comes of being a connected educator. That's what it's really all about for me, nearly 10,000 tweets later. But there's more to it than that.

Twitter is a tool.

To this day, I carry a "work bag" that's full of professional reading materials (a book or two, printed newsletters and memorandum, and the latest magazines). I also carry several devices that enable asynchronous professional learning.

Used in combination, I've been able to do what I love: to read voraciously, to synthesize my own learning, to process my reflective practice, and to engage with others who thrive when in the mode of active reflection.

Practically speaking, I've found that the best way to organize resources that I've designated as my "go-to's" is to use Twitter lists. Doing this has provided a means to check in on a regularly scheduled timeline, and to curate articles, blogs, images, teaching tools, and videos.

In turn, I share these resources on a weekly basis with our middle school families in a HBMS Parent Express Bulletin (via our school Twitter feed, @HamptonBays_MS and our school hash tag #HBMSPride as well as the more traditional, weekly email). I also share this in the form of an HBMS Monday Memo to our Hampton Bays Middle School staff.

Each of these weekly communications are thematic in nature and are framed with a concise blog post. These communications have allowed me to model a love and a value for learning, to extend an offer to share in the experience, to help families re-frame their idea of "school", and to invite others to choose to approach learning with an open mind and to unpack their thoughts on what drives their learning.

My personal-professional account (@schug_dennis) has provided me a means of staying current in my professional reading and relevant in my role as a school leader. I've used it to process and in some cases, substantiate my core beliefs in best practices. And I've used to challenge myself to think differently about topics and issues in education today. I've also used it to find and refine my professional voice, and in a way that risks transparency and vulnerability as a self-proclaimed learning leader (hence, the title of my blog, Learning Leadership).

Twitter is a community space.

On the other hand, I've forged connections -- authentic and meaningful personal and professional relationships -- with others with whom I share comparable professional learning values. For me, these values include, but are not limited to the following beliefs:

  1. We have an obligation to provide our students with a safe, challenging, supportive space to learn and grow.
  2. We have an obligation to model, encourage, and promote the value of adult learning in our school communities.
  3. We have a responsibility to celebrate, to share, and to showcase the good work that our teachers do and our schools do.
  4. We are doing better than we think, but we can always do better.
  5. We are all learners first.

Twitter (the community space) is full of high-achieving, optimistic, generous, selfless, learner-centered people. Undoubtedly, there are people who use Twitter (or who are "on Twitter" as some people like to say) in superficial and self-serving ways, to push a product, re-package the work of others as their own, or to shamelessly self-promote. But depending on how you choose to use Twitter, and how well you scrutinize your followers before following back, you can steer clear of this, if you so choose. (And, in my humble opinion, you should.)

Why is it important to do this, to be critical consumers? Because we have an obligation to our profession, to shield it from those out there, looking to manipulate, corrupt, or taint the work of educators.

Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) is someone whose work I've respected and admired, for his ability to candidly speak with honesty and passion about adult learning (andragogy). On many occasions, Whitby has written on the topic of adult learning. In his 2013 Island View blog post, Pedagogy vs. Andragogy, he unpacks the applications of the work of adult learning theorist and specialist, Malcolm Knowles.

In reflecting on the pathways of my own professional learning journey, andragogy, or as Whitby writes, "the art and science of helping adults learn", is, in many cases for me, "the point" of Twitter.

I've come to appreciate how to work closely with the other adults with whom I engage, in our learning organizations and our school communities. I've come to appreciate my ease with approaching learning something new. I've also developed an appreciation for the values that adult learners hold, and have committed myself to use this knowledge to promote approaching learning with an open mind, while I work to create conditions to support the success of other adult learners.

Based on Knowles research and Whitby's reflection, the following are essential elements of adult learning:

  • internal motivation
  • self-direction
  • real-life experience
  • goal-orientation
  • relevance
  • practicality
  • respect

So, in retrospect, here are several 10,000 Tweet questions, for us all to consider:
  • Why do we use Twitter?

  • Is Twitter a tool?

  • Is it a learning community space?

And, if we are engaged in active reflection in our practices and our "Why"...

  • What's the point?


  1. Dennis,

    Thank you for a most reflective post. I had a few minutes of time on my hands in between travel and so, was fortunate to find a few minutes to read your post quietly and calmly.

    I have struggled over the years with the use of Twitter as a tool, and how to use it - but I find that it is a wonderful tool to stay connected. I use it as a method of constructing new learning and as a method of sharing out the work that I/we and others do.

    I don't always have time to "speak" to my "professional" friends. That is, those that have an understanding of what goes on, on a daily basis, in my professional life. There have been many times I've struggled to explain what it is I do for a living to my face-to-face friends. I help people is about as simply as I can put it. With technology, I say, if I am pressed.

    But I don't really use Twitter only to stay connected, I also use it to push my thinking. To engage in quick conversation about a topic (as we do in #nyedchat) and to force me to clarify my thinking and to clarify my writing (the latter being a consequence of only having 140 characters to make a point).

    In an age where it's so easy to connect with people through social media, I find it is more difficult, unless time is set aside, to have deep conversations through it. So in answer to your question about whether it is a learning community, I say yes. Is it a tool, yes, I say yes. The why we use it is as open ended a question as asking why we do the things we do.

    Twitter serves a purpose as other tools do. Were they created intentionally to fill a void? Perhaps. Did they intend to disrupt society the way they did? Perhaps. Is society the better for it? Yes, I think it is. No one can deny the immense purpose they serve to gather the voice of the public; to pressure governments or others to make a play, to bring to light injustices of the world...As a tool it serves as community, voice, and a space to play. Your questions are important as they help us pause and ask ourselves, WHY. I was fortunate to have happened across your post and to have had a few minutes to think about the question more deeply. I'm also thankful to have had a few minutes to write and gather my thoughts together. No doubt the act of having had to type is forcing some other part of my brain to engage.

    The time that I value most on Twitter is that which I set aside to chat with you and our friends at #nyedchat --time that I know I have for myself to push my thinking AND have my thinking pushed forward. I'm glad to have you as a part of my PLN and look forward to more questions about why.

    Thank you for writing today.

  2. Dennis,

    Many salient points. I cringe when people say Twitter is the best PD tool out there and the self-promotionists make me cringe. I was certainly skeptical of its uses. However, I have found many resources, stayed connected with people whom I respect and found, as you, people who are overwhelmingly positive about education and the future for young people. So, I agree. It is a good tool, but like any other tech, it's merely a tool.