Professional development in 140 characters or less
By Barb Szyszkiewicz
Since the fall of 2012, a group of Catholic school teachers have spent their Saturday mornings with their virtual Professional Learning Networks (PLNs). They call it “PD in your PJs.” You’re invited to join them at #CatholicEdChat — all you need is a Twitter account, an Internet connection, and a love for learning. (Coffee is optional, but never discouraged!)
Barb Gilman, third-grade teacher at St. Margaret Mary School in Omaha, Nebraska, recalls: “Nancy Caramanico, Nick Senger, and I noticed that chats were becoming popular on Twitter as a way for educators to connect and share ideas. Nick and I had collaborated on a few projects in the past, and Nancy and I had tweeted and retweeted each other’s ideas. We decided to give a Catholic educator chat a go.” #CatholicEdChat was born.
Hosted each Saturday morning at 9 a.m. Eastern, this Twitter chat attracts Catholic educators from all parts of the U.S., Canada, and even Australia!
Kathy Mears, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Boston, Massachusetts, describes #CatholicEdChat as “a national network of learners.” She goes on to say, “It provides an opportunity for Catholic educators to share their own best practices, learn what others are doing, and discuss trends in Catholic education. Many great ideas are shared, and you are growing your own professional learning network.”
“[There is] an amazing group of people here, and the PD for teachers is awesome,” comments Jim King, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Portland, Maine.
Barb Gilman states that an average of 50 people actively participate in each week’s chat, though there’s room for an unlimited number. Many more, she believes, audit the chats but don’t take part in the conversation — and that’s fine, too. The chats are archived at Participate.com, so you’ll be able to easily retrieve any tips and links shared during the chat. Some topics generate a lot of discussion, and the archives ensure you don’t miss a thing. “Just enjoy. Go back and read things you miss later. Have fun reading or chatting with people,” Jim King advises.
How tech-savvy do you need to be to join a Twitter chat? Kathy Mears states: “You need to know how to use your phone, and that’s about it.” Chat participants are always helpful, and you’ll learn as you go along.
Twitter chats don’t take place in a special chat room or in an online gathering space like GoToWebinar. They’re right there in your Twitter stream. To follow and participate in a Twitter chat, search for the hashtag of the chat to see all the tweets that contain the same hashtag. Be sure that your tweets during the chat also contain the hashtag, or they won’t be seen by all chat participants. (See the sidebar for more Twitter-chat tips!)
Topics for #CatholicEdChat are announced each Friday and vary widely from week to week. Some popular past topics include liturgical seasons, Catholic Schools Week, leadership, Google, inclusion, professional development, Edcamps, blended Learning, classroom assessments, bearing witness, and STEM/STREAM.
Who can participate in #CatholicEdChat? Anyone with an interest in Catholic education. Teachers, administrators, substitute teachers, and other staff members are all welcome.
Professional development in 140 characters or less
Chat participants get creative when they need to work around Twitter’s 140-character limit. They may link to blog posts they’ve written, share graphics, or continue a conversation through email or voice-messaging app Voxer. #CatholicEdChat leaders Barb Gilman and Nancy Caramanico post simple graphics displaying the week’s chat questions every Friday. You can say a lot in 140 characters, and since you have the question list ahead of time, you can prepare some answers, freeing yourself to respond spontaneously to others in the chat.
If you’re new to Twitter or have never taken part in Twitter chats before, “it can be intimidating when you first start. I watched the chats at first before I participated in a chat,” notes Mary Gaeta, K-8 librarian at Our Lady of the Assumption School in Lynnfield, Massachusetts. Each chat begins informally with a reverse roll call: Participants indicate that they’re in the chat by noting their grade or subject and state in a short greeting. Again, only tweets that contain #CatholicEdChat will be seen by all participants, so it’s important to remember to include that each time.
Barb Gilman often kicks off her Saturday morning by tweeting, “Good morning! I’ll be using @TweetDeck, @TweetChat, and @participate for today’s #CatholicEdChat.” This indicates to her Twitter followers that there’s a chat going on in case they’d like to join and mentions some of the programs she uses to follow the chat.
Educators need to keep in mind that Twitter is a public forum. All chats are public and are archived. Be careful about what you share — keep it positive and professional.
Beyond the PLN
“#CatholicEdChat actually makes good PR for our schools,” Barb Gilman reports. “I was Skyping with one of the founders of Participate Learning (www. participate.com); he was looking for input on how to make their site better. He shared with me that he was surprised at the level of professionalism and knowledge the participants of #CatholicEdChat had. He really had no personal experience with Catholic schools and didn’t believe that those that teach in Catholic schools were current in best practices and the latest in technology. His opinion of Catholic schools has changed. That just made my day! To have given this impression, just by reading our tweets, made me very happy. I know we are all this and more!”
Associate principal and history teacher Anne Schaefer-Salinas of Notre Dame High School in Belmont, California, encourages teachers to use Twitter “to get out of their classroom to collaborate with teachers in the same content area or at the same grade level. In Catholic Ed, the numbers in any building are pretty small, so even if you have the greatest colleagues in the world, it is a really small group. Twitter is a wonderful way to get ideas, share lessons, find answers, and feel validated for the great work you are doing. Engaging with the world allows you to see just how awesome you are. And who doesn’t need a little awesome in their life?”
Why sleep in when you can tweet?
Why would teachers and administrators wake up early on Saturday mornings for informal professional development? “The professional benefits I receive are life-changing,” Mary Gaeta observes. “After each chat I feel invigorated and excited to implement what I have learned. Amazing teachers share their lessons, practice tips, successes, and failures. It truly is a great resource for teachers.”
Anne Schaefer-Salinas agrees. “The opportunity to connect with Catholic educators from around the country is invaluable for sharing ideas and getting support from like-minded educators.”
Barb Gilman says, “I firmly believe in Catholic education and want to help make our schools stronger. This is my little way of doing this and my contribution. Twitter is a very valuable resource, and setting up a day and time for Catholic school teachers makes it easier for us to connect and collaborate. I know money is tight and good professional development can’t easily be offered to our teachers. I’ve always been one to search out answers and gather information on how best to teach my students. I wanted to share this with others.”
The #CatholicEdChat community is notably friendly, helpful, and welcoming, and there’s always room for one more. Confess that you’re a first-timer, and you’ll find yourself greeted with enthusiasm. Teachers and administrators who participate in this chat are there to share advice, ideas, and expertise. Wake up early some Saturday, or explore the archives — you’ll be hooked!
New to Twitter chats? Try this FAQ to get started.
- Where do I find the chat topic and questions?
Check the #CatholicEdChat hashtag on Friday evenings to find out the topic and questions for the next day’s chat. Questions are also posted on the CatholicEdChat Facebook page.
- How do I chat using Twitter on my computer or the Twitter app for Android?
Search hashtag #CatholicEdChat Choose “Latest” Refresh browser to display new tweets
- How do I chat using the Twitter app for iOS?
Search hashtag #CatholicEdChat
Choose “All tweets”
Scroll down to display new tweets
- How do I chat using Tweetdeck?
Set up a free account on TweetDeck.com and sign in with Twitter (you’ll need your Twitter password) In the search column, type #CatholicEdChat Feed will auto-refresh
- How do I chat through Participate.com?
Set up a free account at Participate.com
Begin at Participate.com/chats/ CatholicEdChat
Click “Join #CatholicEdChat now”
- How do I answer the questions in the chat?
Questions are numbered Q1, Q2, and so on. Once a question is posted, precede your answer with A and the corresponding number, and conclude it with the #CatholicEdChat hashtag.
- Where can I find step-by-step videos that explain #CatholicEdChat?
View the how-to video at Participate.com; search #CatholicEdChat tutorial
View founder Nancy Caramanico’s presentation on YouTube: youtu.be/ sjnJHd-KF_Y.
- How can I view chat archives?
Barb Szyszkiewicz is a Secular Franciscan wife, mom, writer, musician, and school library volunteer from New Jersey. She is an editor at CatholicMom.com and has taught in Catholic schools at all levels from kindergarten through college.