When I first joined Twitter about a year ago, I signed on to follow my teenage daughters (stalker mom extraordinaire). Among their group of friends, they frequently used hashtags (#) at the end of their tweets such as #justsayin or #awkward to express their feelings at the time. Some of them are quite amusing!

After I began using Twitter for professional reasons to help build my PLN (Personal Learning Network), I saw hashtags being used by people at conferences: #NAIS, #ISTE11, etc. By “marking” tweets in this way, people could send a message to fellow tweeps who were at the conference or had an interest in the goings-on. Followers of the hashtag didn’t have to keep up with lots of attendees because savvy tweeters were all using #ISTE11 (for example) on tweets about the meeting.

Here’s how it works: With a free tool like TweetDeck (my choice) or Hootsuite, Twitter users can create a search column for #ISTE11 and the software will filter all tweets carrying that hashtag into that column for review. Brilliant!

As soon as I grasped this concept, I started keeping track of tweets related to Powerful Learning Practice by keeping a column filtered for #plpnetwork and later #vflr (Voices from the Learning Revolution, where you are now!).

Months later, I have an #ahamoment

What I didn’t realize until this summer (#slowlearner), was the ENORMOUS group of educators who are finding folks to connect, chat and collaborate with by following hashtags. If you are an elementary school teacher and have something to share or want feedback, put #elemchat at the end of your tweet. There are even hashtags for grade levels such as #4thchat. The list is endless – #mathchat, #scichat, #dyslexia, #edreform, #esl… You get the idea. Cybrary Man (aka master creator of educational link lists) has a page of educational hashtags here.

Live hashtag meet-ups in your specialty area

But wait, there’s more! Hashtag “groups” are organizing and having weekly discussions on Twitter! So if you are a 4th grade teacher, for example, you can log into Twitter on Monday nights at 8:00 p.m. EST and join other 4th grade teachers for the #4thchat. You can even vote on the topic for the chat in advance! I have even “lurked” during #6thchat as they discussed uses for Skype in the classroom. Great ideas!

There are twitter chats for almost every topic/hobby/profession imaginable. There’s even one (and this is timely) for new teachers (#ntchat) supported by an excellent wiki where live chat strings are archived. You’ll find a comprehensive list of hashtags across many fields of interest here on this Google Doc, and Cybrary Man’s calendar of educational twitter chats here.

Have difficulty following a twitter chat? The tweets fly by on my TweetDeck almost faster than I can keep up with them. Check out TweetChat.

Here’s more about TweetChat:

TweetChat helps put your blinders on to the Twitter-sphere while you monitor and chat about one topic.

Choosing a hashtag directs you to a TweetChat room. Each tweet automatically gets the hashtag added and the room auto-updates.

You can use the “User Control” area to feature people you like or to block spammers.

“Smart pausing” has been added so when you scroll down the page, it will not refresh, helping you avoid replying to the wrong person.

So why aren’t we all using Twitter?

I have gotten so many ideas from Twitter this year, and found so many passionate teachers to follow and collaborate with. It drives me crazy that more educators don’t take advantage of these opportunities to learn and connect (and benefit their students) through social media tools like Twitter. Scott McLeod says it best:

In an era in which the possibilities for ongoing professional learning are numerous and significant, I wonder how long will it take for us to start expecting educators to use these social media tools. It’s been 30 years since the advent of the personal computer and we’re still struggling to get teachers and administrators to integrate digital technologies into their daily work in ways that are substantive and meaningful. Meanwhile, we now have a bevy of powerful learning tools available to us that can advance our own professional learning (and, of course, make our technology integration and implementation efforts more efficient and effective).

It took me a year to figure out some of these #twittertips (another useful hashtag). I hope this helps more educators to connect more effectively and see the value of Twitter as PD.

What have I missed? Please add helpful tips in the comments! *Tweet Tweet!*

About the author
Patti Grayson is a fourth grade teacher at Virginia's Hampton Roads Academy and a member of the digital learning leadership team. Her articles have also appeared at MindShift and Teach.com and she was named a Top 10 Teacher in the Hampton Roads community for 2012. She blogs at Patti's Ponderings Follow her on Twitter @pattigrayson.