It’s no secret that Twitter is immensely popular with educators. Fire up Tweetdeck and search #edchat on any given night and you’ll find solid, animated discussions about the profession. It really does a great job serving as the village square for learning.
Twitter is a public discourse. As such, it presents problems for public servants. Particularly administrators, although you could easily make the case that this applies to teachers as well.
Why do Administrators Tweet?
I’m oversimplifying a bit here, but in general administrators tweet for the following reasons.
- Public relations (look at all the students doing cool learning!).
- Learning. Engaging in thoughtful conversations. Creating a Personal Learning Network (PLN).
- Random commentary and observations on life.
Point 3 doesn’t relate to education (but can get you into trouble if you aren’t careful). That is unless you want to make the case for being a more approachable human (look! I’m a diehard FC Cincinnati fan on the weekends!). In those cases, it’s best to keep all tweets PG and under.
Most administrators are the public face of school. The superintendent is the public face of the district. The principal and assistant principal are the public face of the school. Ultimately they’re trying to convey a host of messages like:
- Our staff loves students
- Kids love learning
- We’re growing kids academically AND with extra-curriculars
- Parents! Send your kids here!
- Parents! Support the next levy!
This means lots and lots of tweets of pictures with smiling students and teachers. It means positive shoutouts. It means lots of retweets of more smiling classes with gratitude notes from Twitter followers. It means trying to cultivate a love feast.
And parents do love it (as do teachers). The message is received! If successful, positive energy expands and pride grows. The tweets rarely offend, and if someone is offended at pictures of smiling students running food drives, what’s wrong them?
Educators love Twitter for learning and growing in the craft. Learning can be a profoundly social experience and Twitter’s role as a social network lowers the barrier to find groups who want to grow in their profession.
I’d argue educators are wired to default into the characteristic of “nice” (we were “those students” in school). They tend to be way less trollish on Twitter than the average user.
Learning is also personal. Growth can be painful. Sometimes you need to admit failure. In public. Take this #edchatcincy prompt as an example.
We become educators when we reflect on faults and failures.
Learning also happens around the edges. When you push and poke expectations, you learn (but you can also offend). When research paints a picture of teaching strategies that are loved but don’t work (ahem, Learning Styles), how do you politely push the conversation towards debate. How do you pitch skepticism towards whatever education trend is the current flavor of policy?
Equally important, sometimes we’re simply working out our thought processes and ideas in a public sphere. We could be wrong!
Learning in education is also controversial. Education is a very political beast with many opinions, values, and stakeholders. Take the debate over school choice. Is this tweet too edgy?
Or does it stir up a thoughtful debate?
Where Points Collide
My point is that public relations and learning often conflict. If I’m a superintendent, I want to control the narratives the best I can. I want pictures of board meetings filled with students showing off the robots they coded. I don’t want pictures of catholic school parents protesting that their tax dollars should be used to fund their schools.
Running PR means playing it safe. Learning on Twitter means a public discourse that, while it may be growth invoking, might not be that safe. Especially if there are folk looking to weaponize tweets out of context.
To me, it seems like administrators need to pick a purpose. PR or Learning. And if it’s learning, you need to be ready to catch some flack. Which is a bummer.
Of Course, You Could Just Have Two Twitter Accounts
And I do know some administrators who do have two accounts. But even here you have problems because:
- The “Non Educator” account is still under your name. Followers will find you.
- It’s hard to consistently tweet from 2 accounts (this is really not the norm).
We leave digital footprints everywhere. Following those footprints can paint a picture of who we are. A digital identity. But identities are complicated and sometimes they conflict.
Perhaps I’m overthinking this conflict. I’d be curious to hear from Twitter using administrators to get their thoughts.