When Mitchel Meighen, a sixth-grade English teacher for Chicago Public Schools, started using social media, he initially intended that it would serve merely as a tool to engage students in the classroom. But he soon realized that as a teacher, it had the potential to be much more.
Fast-forward several years, and social media has become a key tool for Meighen's teacher professional development as well as a means to find and share downloadable classroom resources.
"It was originally just a way to promote my classroom, and my school, and what I was doing with my students, and my school also had accounts and I could engage with them in that way . . . It really started when I was teaching high school because it was a way to use these platforms that students already are using for personal reasons to kind of make it a little bit more educational," Meighen says. "And it just kind of grew from there."
For him, Twitter became a way to participate in education-focused conversations and idea sharing with other educators, including through Twitter chats. For teachers, Instagram and Pinterest are more image based, he says, enabling them to share worksheets with peers at other schools and post photos of their classrooms and from conferences. LinkedIn is primarily where Meighen shares education-related articles and builds his professional network, whereas he views Facebook as a mesh of the other channels.
Teachers are striking hard but shining bright! ✨ I’m happy to join CPS teachers in the fight to create a school system that is fair and just for both students and teachers. An underfunded education is not fair education. #putitinwriting #ctustrike #ctuseiustrike #chicagoteachers pic.twitter.com/jqgIKXgJks
— Mitchel Meighen (@mr_meighen) October 23, 2019
Why Social Media for Professional Growth?
Social media can be a great tool for you, as a teacher, both outside and inside the classroom. When it comes to professional development, using different social media channels can be a great way to build and expand a professional network as well as discover and share classroom resources with other educators. According to unpublished data collected by HMH and YouGov for the annual Educator Confidence Report, 65% of the teachers surveyed said they use social media to find and explore teaching and instructional content.
Social media can enable you to showcase your work and classroom (think photos on Instagram and Pinterest!) as well as discover new K–12 trends (think Twitter hashtags) and follow thought leaders and education experts.
Using Popular Social Media Platforms
We spoke with four current teachers, including Meighen, who provided insights into how they use Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. (Note that beyond the traditional social media channels, there are other tools that teachers can use for similar purposes. Mashable has a list of seven to get started with here.)
The following information can be helpful as you start to explore your various social media options and determine how each can meet your needs.
INSTAGRAM: Posting and sharing images and resources.
- "I am rather transparent with how I operate my classroom, and I enjoy sharing and collaborating with fellow educators. I post activities that I am doing in my classroom, how I am using resources that either I created or another educator used, and reaching out to companies that have enhanced my teaching and student learning through their resources and materials." —Katie Risolo Radovich, first-grade teacher at the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York
PINTEREST: Posting and sharing classroom resources and discovering new classroom ideas.
- "Pinterest is great to get ideas for activities. I typically use Pinterest for math and science. I’ve found that there are a lot of creative ideas for these two subject areas! Pinterest is also useful when looking for anchor charts (visual charts) to display classroom information. Sometimes I want an easy-to-read chart or a chart with a silly rhyme to help students remember information and get stuck for ideas. I just log on to Pinterest and there are many to look at." —Jade Mackney, teacher at P.S. 43 in the Bronx, New York
TWITTER: Following education trends and learning from other educators.
- "Twitter is a little bit more academic just in terms of conversation threads and being able to communicate with other teachers about certain ideas. There are lots of teacher Twitter chats for various subjects. That's where you have more conversations about ideas, so maybe sharing a video or resource and then being able to talk about it with other professionals. It's also a good place to find different ideas you can filter through with hashtags and certain accounts that primarily are geared toward [a certain] topic." —Mitchel Meighen
- "After attending the 2019 Model Schools Conference in Washington, D.C., I quickly realized that my learning could continue well after the conference by following the presenters whose sessions I attended. It was then that I caught the 'Twitter bug.' By following them, I learned about and started following other great leaders in K–12 education." —Erika Gilbert, Math AIS Teacher at Gilette Road Middle School in Syracuse, New York
Wrapping up 4 days of learning from the best of the best in education. 5000 educators! Thankful to have had this opportunity for a second year, making amazing connections and being able to grow myself and my practice! #MSC2019 #CNSV2I @RigorRelevance @LeadAndLearn @DrATottossy pic.twitter.com/hLjpJ2YhiY
— Erika Gilbert (@egilbertGRMS) June 26, 2019
LINKEDIN: Building your network of educators.
- "LinkedIn is more for sharing articles and finding people within your network or within certain areas that you're either working in or conferences that you presented at, and then connecting with them." —Mitchel Meighen
FACEBOOK: Combining some or all of the above.
- "If I follow a teacher page on Facebook, it is because I found them on my teacher Instagram and I want to make sure I will be able to see any additional resources they have to offer, as sometimes the algorithm on Instagram hides posts that I would have loved to see." —Katie Risolo Radovich
- "You can link pictures and images from Instagram there, connect it to Twitter, and kind of just share articles or resources." —Mitchel Meighen
- Facebook can also be helpful for teachers to join specific groups. On the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Facebook page, teachers can join the HMH Science group where they can interact with educators who teach the same discipline, share resources, and more.
Getting Started: Tips From Teachers
- Don't be intimidated or overwhelmed. Radovich advises against just mimicking what another educator does on social media. "It may seem like many educators 'have it all together,' but many are posting the peak or highlights of their day," she says. "There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes, behind the photos and videos that you cannot learn." She wishes more educators were honest with the fact that there aren't always going to be "perfect" days in education, despite what you may see online. Keep this in mind as you use social media for teacher professional development!
- Start small. Follow a few accounts in your discipline, as well as accounts of curriculum publishers (like HMH!) and other companies from which you can acquire classroom resources. If you like the types of information you are receiving, follow a few more similar accounts and repeat the process, Radovich recommends. Immediately following hundreds of accounts can become overwhelming and make it feel like you are being bombarded with messages. Social media becoming integral to your regular professional development routine won't necessarily happen overnight!
- Don't focus on follower count. Meighen says using social media with the intent of just getting a big following isn't really the right mentality to have. He says you should focus more on what you want to learn and get out of having a stronger online presence. After deciding what your personal reasoning is, start interacting with other accounts and engaging in relevant conversations. When you become more active, you will start seeing that your professional network is growing naturally and other educators are getting to know you. That's what having a social media presence is all about!
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