I end this Transforming Instruction Through Technology series not with another way to integrate technology to help students, but rather with a way to improve your ongoing, personalized professional development through tech: Twitter.

I was once at a training where the instructor recommended that we all join Twitter by creating a professional development account on the platform.Honestly, I thought it was a stupid idea.

My mind was overwhelmed with all of the grading I had, the unfinished planning, and the unopened school-related emails; I had no interest in adding another “professional development task” to my plate. So I smiled and ignored the recommendation, thinking that it will distract from rather than add to my teaching.

Fast forward a bit, and I now have several years experience using Twitter for professional development. And I’m realizing that he was right: Twitter can be amazing for teachers. It helps you:

  • learn from others by following other educators,
  • teach others by sharing your best tips and tricks, and
  • join a community.

Best of all – it doesn’t take nearly as much time as you think it will. You can grow significantly from using Twitter for even just an hour a week. Here’s how:

professional learning network online

Follow Your Fellow Educators

Most teachers use Twitter to learn from other educators in the field who share what they’re doing in class.  Teachers will often tweet photos or videos, which present followers with opportunities to innovate.  For example, when I was hired as a consultant at the American School of Milan (ASM), I wanted to give their teachers real examples of scaffolding that work for beginning learners in elementary school. Unfortunately, though, I only had secondary school examples in my pocket.

professional learning network online

Source: Twitter

So I went on Twitter to ask for examples, and a flood of responses came back within 24 hours.  Not only could I give the teachers at ASM great examples for this particular problem, I could also share with them the names of people they should follow on Twitter to learn even more.  

 Twitter is about being inspired by ideas, then adapting and innovating them. Twitter

Can you spend 20 minutes a day scrolling through the tweets of expert teachers in our field? Here’re a few experts of EL instruction:

Don’t limit yourself just to individual teachers, though. You can also learn from reputable organizations, such as:

They often provide the research behind effective practices, and their articles are usually of high quality because they have been curated by an editor. I struggled for years trying to help students think conceptually even though they were developing their English skills.  Then, one day, I saw a TeachThought article describing how to teach writing through concepts.  Since reading that article, I’ve adapted it to my classes, and it has revolutionized how I teach ELs to think conceptually.

Tweet to Share

One common objection to Twitter is that it’s just a self-promotion platform like Facebook and Instagram. Who has the time or energy to hype themselves up all the time, right? Wrong. It’s not about puffing yourself up, it’s about using your time to share what has excited and helped you. And by doing so, helping other people too.

Ideas for what to share can also come from what you’re doing in your classes. I once tweeted how I had my ELs annotate texts in their home languages to access difficult, grade-level texts.  The next day, a fellow teacher named Will Arnold adopted it for his own class.  Arnold didn’t have students annotate in their home languages; instead, he had students annotate in English to understand a difficult text.  My casual tweet supported all students, not just ELs, in accessing the difficult text.  

professional learning network online

Source: Twitter


Teachers tweet to serve, not to go viral.Twitter

But don’t feel the pressure to create content just to share it. You can also simply retweet something you think will support educators. If you don’t have the energy to invent and share something new, just learn and share from others. You can easily find something interesting in 20 minutes of scrolling and re-tweet it in no time.

Join a Community

I hear from many teachers that they are the only EAL teacher in their school, or, if they are part of a team, it consists of just a few people.  Twitter can help EAL teachers connect with one another by following different hashtags (#) such as:

Searching for the #ELL hashtag will filter and display all the Tweets that are tagged with it.   By following particular hashtags, we filter our engagement while on Twitter, excluding information we’re not interested in and making the most of our time on the platform.

One of the best ways to be part of an online community is by joining a Twitter chat. These chats are online conversations around a topic, such as a subspecialty of education.  When you join regularly, you start to interact with familiar followers and slowly form relationships with these not-so-distant Tweeters. Most chats meet at a specific time each week so they’re easy to work into your schedule if you find that they’re helpful to you.

The chat that I consistently participate in is #ellchat_bkclub. Katie Toppel and I started this slow chat because we wanted to host conversations around books related to EL instruction. The community votes on a book and the time frame for reading (4-8 weeks), and Katie sets guiding questions per week.  People participate when they can throughout the week, which allows them the freedom to contribute as it suits their schedule.

The best part of #ellchat_bkclub is that the authors themselves often participate in the discussion! Followers love this aspect because they can directly interact with authors whom they admire and who have contributed to the field.

Here’s a video about creating a professional learning network on Twitter by two of my favorite EAL teachers: Jess Bell and Carlota Holder.


We are only as effective as the quality of training and professional development we receive.  But learning doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Pull out a device during a coffee break, during your commute on public transit, or while relaxing on the couch to participate in all the learning, sharing, and connecting that occurs on Twitter.

I’d argue that Twitter, when used well, can be the equivalent having a consultant spend 20 minutes with you on the topic you’re most interested in.  And the best part is that the consultant is on your schedule!  Twenty minutes might seem like insufficient amount of time to learn anything substantial, but done repeatedly over time, just a few 20-minute sessions can result in learning strategies that significantly improve the learning of your ELs.

Often the most marginalized in a school, ELs need any support we can offer.  Carve out an hour a week of your time, and let the Twittersphere support you as you advocate for ELs. If you’re interesting enhancing learning for ELs by integrating technology, please consider reading ELL Frontiers: Using Technology to Enhance Instruction for English Learners by Heather Parris, Lisa M. Estrada, and Andrea Honigsfeld. By purchasing this book, you also support this blog.