I’m writing this reflection as my Twitter account recently passed the 50,000 followers milestone. It’s not something I ever expected to happen; it doesn’t seem all that long ago when Vic Goddard sent me a tweet saying he was my 50th follower, back in May 2012. For a long time I’ve been aware that a significant following carries some responsibilities and risks – but mainly it is a great joy. It’s wonderful to be able to connect with so many people. (Yeah, I know, some will be bots but what can you do? And they’re not all personal friends – I know that too). Apart from during holidays and occasional meltdowns when I delete the app from my phone, Twitter is a part of daily life for me. Some might think that is rather tragic – but that’s how it is.
A look at the twitter analytics stats – which I hardly ever do – tells me this: 61% of followers are female, 50% are in 25-34 age group and 82% based in the UK.
My most liked and RT’d tweet is this:
I follow over 3000 people which makes my timeline pretty busy. The advantage is that no one group dominates and it has a random factor which I like. There’s a good mix of education, news, politics, science and bits of fluff. The disadvantage is that you miss things. I’ve found it useful to have a list I call ‘education commentary’ that I keep to 50 members and edit from time to time. I dip in for an update every so often.
One of my favourite things about Twitter is the blog sharing. This is the main reason I use it- as a way to share my blogs. But it’s also a major source of professional learning and I read a lot of blogs and articles every week. Some people are incredibly generous. I got over the hang-ups about self-promotion long ago. I think of it as sharing. Every time I tweet a link, someone new reads it. I probably overdo it sometimes – I’m sure I’ve been muted by hundreds – but I’m always grateful to see links from bloggers; there’s no use hiding all those ideas. How else would we know they were there?
Another favourite thing is the sense of community. Particularly now that I’ve met a lot of the people I follow – and nearly all of the people on my commentary list – it really does feel like that. And there are lots more people I’d still love to meet having only connected online. There is a lot of kindness and support in the Edu-sphere. I’ve had unbelievable personal support over the years – especially the last one. My DM inbox was flooded with kind messages earlier this year which meant a lot.
There are obviously problems with Twitter too. I’ve learned so much from the exchange of ideas but sometimes I watch in dismay as a ‘debate’ explodes into poisonous acrimony. You need a certain mindset to debate ideas in 140 character snippets without descending into barbed exchanges. Of course tone matters – because we are people. Some people do this really well, respectfully disagreeing and exchanging views. Others seem to thrive on the conflict. Personally, I try to avoid it – except maybe very rarely. If you dish it out, you need to be able to take it; that doesn’t always happen. I’m uncomfortable with it not least because you get forced into camps which is something I’m at pains to resist.
Luckily Twitter has good features for helping manage the environment a little: unfollow, mute, block, and ‘mute this conversation’ which is a godsend. I’ve also set my account so I can’t be tagged into tweets. Blocking is extreme but I have adopted a zero tolerance approach: if I’m judged, attacked or referenced in a way I don’t like, I block. Simple. Life’s too short. If people offer respectful challenge and ask questions, that’s entirely different.
I’m sure we all have our own code that we try to follow. Here’s mine: – it’s a list of my personal filters not of puritanical commandments. I’ll probably break it sometimes – but it’s mine so I’m allowed, even if I disappoint myself.
- Don’t ever swear. It’s a public forum. Students are followers; it looks bad.
- Assume people have good intentions even if they say or do things that make your heart sink.
- Try to say things to or about people, in a style you would use to their face. (eg would you hold up someone’s worksheet in front of them and laugh at them saying – OMG, did you really make this pathetic worksheet?) Especially if you might actually meet them.
- Avoid actively engaging with anonymous accounts or people with no bio or a photo of themselves. They could be anyone and they are unaccountable.
- Don’t get hung up about giving or expecting replies: sometimes people are too busy – it’s not personal.
- Don’t criticise individual schools – whatever you read about them in the press, in Ofsted report snippets (which can’t be trusted) or from their twitter opponents – who often have axes to grind. It’s always more complicated and you don’t know the full context. You’re not helping. Ask questions but don’t just pile in. Schools are always misrepresented – don’t be part of that.
- Critique of other institutions is fine – that’s not the same as personal criticism of their encumbent leaders: Ofsted, DFE, unions etc…
- Politicians can be criticised freely for what they do and say. It’s not personal. It’s part of being an MP. Other edu-folk require more sensitivity. It’s different. Where possible direct questions to them, don’t just talk about them.
- Try not to crash weekly chats with hashtagged blog promotions during the chat time period. It annoys everyone.
- Don’t feel obliged to read blogs that are sent via mentions or DM or to respond to requests for RTs.
- Try to support new bloggers – not just read what your geeky (predominantly white, male) friends write. (This is an area I should do better on).
- Stop being disappointed by Total Tumbleweed, every time you post your music. Nobody is interested – get over it.
I can’t imagine Twitter still being the same in five years’ time. I fear it will do a MySpace and self-destruct. The bubble will burst. Or will it? Maybe not…. I hope it lasts. How else would we know what’s going on?
Thanks to everyone reading and following – – especially to everyone who contributes to making Twitter so interesting.
This could be a handbook for edutwitter Tom! Publish it …..? Only thing I’d be tempted to leave out are the rules (although I certainly agree with them – mostly) because the freedom of expression is so small in 140 characters that the odd expletive or naughty reference can be quite engaging.
Stay well sir.
Thanks for the writing this. I am just starting my online edu profile and this contained helpful advice. Thank you for SHARING.😉
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Great reflections on the twittersphere Tom – how you find the time to invest in this I don’t know – but you do a great job! Surely there’s a dissertation lurking….Steve.
I also follow the rules you’ve set out – they work for me too, teacherhead. Although a retired teacher, as a grandparent I still have a vested interest in education. Twitter seems to me a good way to stay connected – I often find I’m more up-to-date with changes than friends who avoid social media. Guided to a variety of sources, Twitter allows for a variety of informed choices. Thanks for yours
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