Remember the chatrooms of the 1990s?  Where you would find a topic that interested you and wander into a "room" where other Humans of the Internet were sharing their ideas about it?

That was the world before hashtags.

The habits of Humans of the Internet have not really changed so much.  We're still doing the same stuff, only now we're following conversations using hashtags, and it's all happening on Twitter.

This is what I look like rockin' it out to #engchat on Monday nights.  It is no coincidence that my maximum nerdiness is also my maximum comfort.

S T E P   O N E :   F I N D   A   C H A T

There are dozens of chats happening weekly or monthly on Twitter, and it's really up to you to find where your interests and your schedule overlap.  Some very generous educators created a schedule of all the education chats that take place each week.  Check it out!

Chats typically last one hour, and are defined by their hashtags (like #engchat).

S T E P   T W O :   J O I N   A   C H A T

In Tweetdeck (or other Twitter application), search the hashtag you wish to follow.  Once it is open in its own column, you will be able to see all of the tweets that are within that conversation in one place.

Remember, in order to be filtered into the chat, each tweet must include the chat's hashtag.

A chat will typically have a moderator who asks questions and helps facilitate the discussion.  There might be a specific topic to be discussed, and the moderator's questions will give the chat some direction.

At the beginning of the chat, feel free to introduce yourself.  I usually tweet something like: Hi everyone!  I'm Amal, and I teach 10th graders in NYC. #hashtag

Most of the time, the chat will use the Q1, Q2, Q3 ... and A1, A2, A3 ... format to help everyone organize questions and answers.  The moderator of the chat will tweet Q1 + question to discuss + #hashtag, and the participants will respond with A1 + answer to that question = #hashtag, and so on.  It can become overwhelming if lots of tweets are coming in simultaneously, but this should not cause you anxiety.  No one takes attendance, there are no points for participation, and nothing happens if you zone out or go to the bathroom.  You're just doing this for you.

Plus, there'll be an archive later.  You can usually find it on that chat's website.

S T E P   T W O - A N D - A - H A L F :   D O N ' T   B E   S C A R E D

When I first discovered Twitter chats, I was too big of a weenie to actually join one.  I mostly stalked the hashtag from the safety of my little apartment and read what other people's ideas were, without contributing my own.

This is a totally legal move, and maybe it's okay for your first time or two, but definitely jump in and contribute.  It's a safe and friendly community.

S T E P   T H R E E :   C R E A T E   Y O U R   P . D .

I love the ways Twitter has helped me make my own professional development, but I certainly don't let it stress me out.  Yes, there are dozens of chats I could participate in each week, but the truth is, I don't.  I like to enjoy New York City and see my friends in real life and make dinner and sometimes I'm just too tired from teaching to think more about teaching.  And it's all really okay.

It's also okay, and encouraged, to find and connect with educators through these chats whose interests are similar to your own.  I've greatly expanded my PLN (personal learning network -- gosh, don't educational acronyms bum you out no matter how useful they are?) through chats.

Although I don't participate in all chats, and I don't participate with very much regularity, I do have some favorites:

  1. #engchat - Duh.  English teachers are clearly my people, and I try to join #engchat as often as I can.  And! I'm moderating #engchat tomorrow night in a discussion of the role of morality in the classroom.  Be there!
  2. #edchat - I don't schedule this one at all, but sort of just keep the column open on my Tweetdeck to see what's up in education world.
  3. #satchat and #sunchat - If you're up to it on weekend mornings, these are pretty great discussions with a variety of topics.
  4. #tlap - Dave Burgess's book was a big hit in teacher world last year, and this weekly chat can incite some passion.
  5. #21stedchat - I'm a sucker for the happy place where education meets technology, and I love being inspired by others' creativity in this area.
And, of course, you can make your own!  The possibilities are pretty endless.

I hope this Twitter series on Hello Homeroom has encouraged you to take control of your PD and your PLN!  In case you missed it, here are Part I, Part II, and Part III.

Will you join for tomorrow's #engchat?  7pm, friends!


Hopefully my reasons for how Twitter has changed my teaching practice and shattered my misconceptions have successfully encouraged you into giving it a shot.  I'll give you my advice for getting set up and figuring out who/what to follow.

S E T T I N G   U P

  1. Visit and create an account. Your username (also called your handle) can be whatever you want, and I would recommend keeping it simple. Most folks go with some form of their name/initials or their primary professional affiliation. Remember that character count is an issue, so a shorter handle will be beneficial. 

  2. Set up a profile. It doesn't have to be earth-shakingly awesome, but definitely include a real photo and write something about yourself. You can change this later, but definitely start with something. I think everyone gets freaked out by the anonymous grey silhouette icon and zero information about the user. 

  3. Download a Twitter client that will keep you sane. I use Tweetdeck, and I've heard good things about Tweetchat, too. The basic Twitter interface can be overwhelming, and these tools will help you filter the items coming through your feed. 

  4. Optional: download the app for your mobile devices! 

Now you're all set up!  Let's get you to dip your toes in.

W H A T   T O   F O L L O W

There are two basic things you can follow on Twitter: users and hashtags.

A user will be defined by the @ symbol.  For example, my Twitter handle is @hellohomeroom.  For example, when anyone types @hellohomeroom into a tweet, I receive a notification that someone is reaching out to me.

A hashtag is defined by the # symbol.  A tweet will include a hashtag in order to be categorized with other tweets that use the same hashtag.  For example, including the hashtag #downtonabbey into a tweet will classify that tweet with every other tweet with the same hashtag.  As a result, Sunday nights are busy with everyone who is watching and tweeting about #downtonabbey, and any user who wants to see what people are saying about only Downton Abbey can search that hashtag and see only those tweets.

Here is a screenshot of my Tweetdeck currently:

At the far left is my timeline, which comprises the tweets of everyone I follow.  Next, I have a column for #engchat, which is a running conversation for English teachers (with a focused chat on Monday evenings).  The third tab is for notifications, which includes direct messages, replies and mentions (when someone tweets @hellohomeroom), and follows.  I keep #edchat open, since it's probably the most common educational hashtag.

Which hashtags are for you?  Check out the lists to see if your content area, grade level, location, or interests have specifics for you to follow!

My last post of this series will focus on Twitter chats.  I hope you'll join me for the upcoming #engchat  I'm hosting about this coming Monday, January 13 @ 7pm.  We're going to be discussing the role of morality in the classroom, and it's bound to be exciting.

hand lettering by Kelly Cummings


In my last post I discussed why Twitter has been so important to me as an educator.  Before I started using it, though, I had a very different idea of what Twitter was all about.

Truth: I used to think Twitter was pretty dumb.  I'm an English teacher, you know, passionate about words and their craft.  I really didn't have too much confidence that the People of the Interwebs were communicating anything terrifically thoughtful in 140 characters.  And there aren't even that many pictures.  And I don't really care what celebrities are having for breakfast or whatever.

The list below is my attempt to woo you, because these are the things about Twitter that surprised me and pleasantly shattered my expectations:

  • 140 CHARACTERS IS PERFECT. In 140 characters, you can write a headline, paste a link, and add a hashtag or two.  As I'm scrolling through my feed of users I follow, I am seeing what they are finding and making, and the sites to which they are linking, with minimal commentary.  The sources speak for themselves, and I've basically customized my own news feed.
  • TWITTER HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH FRIENDS.  I used to think Twitter was Facebook's ugly cousin or something, but it's really not like Facebook at all.  Instead of keeping up with my real friends on Twitter (like one might do on Facbeook), I use it to follow other professionals and creatives whose work inspires mine.
  • FOLLOWER DOES NOT EQUAL FRIEND.  I follow hundreds of people whose work is excellent.  They do not necessarily follow me.  They are not my friends.  I have never met most of them.  They are not creeped out that I am following them.  I am not offended that they are not following me back.  It simply is not a two-way relationship at all, and it's totally fine.
  • IT'S OKAY TO OPEN TONS OF TABS.  I am exceptionally forgiving of myself with this.  When I'm scanning the headlines in my Twitter feed and clicking on links that look interesting, I end up with dozens of open tabs.  This does not cause me anxiety.  I can just read the pages.  Or save them for later.  Or get bored and close them.  There is no reason to panic.

In essence -- at least the way I use it -- Twitter is all about curating the feed of information you want to receive and creating the network you want to have.  While I'm aware it can certainly be used for adventures in human idiocy, I've found it to be extremely professional and informative.  

In my next post I'm going to explain how I got started and what my current Twitter usage looks like.  Maybe then you'll be wooed and you'll join me for #engchat next Monday!  

image and hand-lettering by Allison Lehman


I want to tell you about why Twitter has had such a tremendous impact on my practice.  I realize how wacky that sentence might sound.

I guess I got off to a rocky start in this little career of mine.  My first six years were six first years.  (That's right.)  I was placed in a different grade level or asked to fill whatever holes existed in the schedule of my school at the time.  It felt like an endless whirl of trial and error experimentation, where I never got the chance to build upon what I'd learned, but just started over instead.

Only recently, it seems, have I come over a sort of hump.  I am currently teaching a course that I designed myself, and I'm doing it for the third time.

What used to end in nightly tears and phone calls to my mom is now maybe the best gig on earth.

I have stopped simply surviving.  This is critical for me, because to be honest, I think I would have left the profession if that feeling didn't turn.  In my eighth year now, I am in a pretty happy place where my ideas are informed by my practice, I am refining my curriculum, I am exploring creative projects and challenging my students' curiosity and

<insert voices of angels singing>

Except ... not exactly.

What actually happened was that I got bored and frustrated.  I was coasting and recycling lessons and I wasn't particularly inspired most of the time.  I still loved the kids and the job, but ... meh.

It took me a long time to realize some fundamental things about this career that have completely altered my perspective of it, and of myself in it.  I've narrowed it down to THREE TRUTHS, and these things are what led me to Twitter.

The teaching day is so hectic, and as much as I appreciate and enjoy my colleagues, it rarely feels that we truly work together.  I don't know what the math teacher next door is working on, and I might be the only person, besides dozens of students, who knows what I'm working on.  It is a challenge for creative people to grow in an environment where ideas aren't being bounced back and forth and feedback is limited. 

My current school provides professional feedback very consistently, and that is an awesome thing.  I love that it is a place that values growth and a healthy dose of change.  As great as it is to have more PD, though, it is still school-wide stuff.  While I don't expect the seminars and workshops to cater to my specific needs and desires for my classroom practice, I still totally want that, too.

I work with some really great folks, truly.  And we collaborate here and there.  But I'm also the only one who does exactly what I do the way I do it.  The people who I really would love to sit with and learn from teach in San Diego or Australia or Rome, and we don't have the same planning periods.  The best professional learning community I can have needs to transcend time and space.

And so, Twitter.  This silly little piece of media has been transformative in addressing these professional obstacles.  I am regularly able to be inspired by the work of others and am motivated by the cool things I see them doing in their classrooms.  It has helped me set goals and it makes me work harder toward them.  I have little internet teacher crushes and love that I get to have meaningful conversations with these people.

I'm really going to push you to give it a shot.  Then you can join me on #engchat next week!

More Twitter love:  Part 2

Moral Character In The Classroom

I am so excited to report that I've been invited by Meenoo Rami to host a discussion on #engchat next Monday, January 13!  Will you join me there?

#engchat is a community of English teachers who meet on Twitter to share ideas Mondays at 7pm EST. I have loved participating in its conversations, and have connected with some incredible educators through it.  

* * * * * * * * I've been a bit evangelical about Twitter with my teacher friends lately, so I decided to share some posts this week about how Twitter has changed my practice and how educators can use it professionally.  I hope I can set out a sort of welcome mat for some reluctant users who aren't sure where (or why) to begin.  Be sure to check back this week for those posts! * * * * * * * *

Let me explain the topic I've chosen:

Questions about morals come up every day in my high school classroom.  They come up in reading works of literature, in nonfiction research articles, when someone talks about what they saw on TV last night.  They come up in teenagers' daily lives, and in mine.

Good vs. evil.  Right vs. wrong.  How do we know?  And why should we care?

It's pretty controversial, I suppose, though it isn't my intention for the chat to become super heated, and I hope this is a topic that other teachers have come across in their professional lives, too.

Teachers are just regular, flawed people.  We're also professional role models.  Aren't we supposed to provide some guidance in helping young people develop their own moral character?

Here are my essential questions for next week's chat:

  • If it is not part of the curriculum and standards, do we as teachers have an obligation to help develop the moral character of our students?
  • Should we teach morality, given that it is formed so subjectively?
  • What are the components of moral character that students (read: humans) should understand?
  • In your own classrooms, how do you teach these "extracurricular" lessons?  Are they overt?  Or do they blossom organically?
  • Are we as teachers able to teach these lessons?  Are they effective?
  • Are our lessons within the classroom counter-cultural, given that students are bombarded with conflicting messages outside of school?

I don't have answers to these questions, and I'm filled with doubt and doing my best in my own practice.  It will be so exciting to hear other educators' ideas on this topic.  I hope you'll join us!

background image via The Weaver House for DLF

Happy Almost Mid-Year

I celebrate the turning of a new year pretty seriously, except I can't seem to wrap my head around it in January.  It's in August that I'm planning my resolutions, reflecting on my growth, and making absurd lists of my goals.  

My life has somehow revolved around the public school system since pre-kindergarten, dangit, and I can't really adjust my life calendar now.  I'll say, "Happy New Year!" right after Labor Day.

School was back in session today after what felt like a very long break.  Our server was down and our hallways were cold.  Many students were absent, many plans were improvised, and the day felt nothing like the refreshing start of something bold and new.

Even though it's a mid-year slogging point professionally, I'm still really excited for 2014.  I have a lot of personal changes coming my way this year, and I know it'll be a very eventful period that will come with many adjustments and fresh perspectives.  One of my goals (which, obviously, I made last August) is to write about them.

It's going to be a really great 2014, I tell ya.