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How social media can help you
reach new heights

We all know that teachers don’t have time during the school day to engage in the professional discussions that increase student achievement. And even if they find time, they’re hampered by antiquated technology or overly sensitive firewalls that keep them from using online tools.

So what do teachers do? They leave school, go “off the clock” and get online to engage with colleagues from all over the world and at all hours of the night.

We do know that schools with high levels of collaboration and strong professional communities have higher student achievement, as outlined in this year’s AFT/AIR report, “Workplaces That Support High-Performing Teaching and Learning: Insights from Gen Y Teachers.” Social media (which connect people) and Web 2.0 (which eases information-sharing) allow educators to become active collaborators. Using them is about more than reading articles—it’s about discussing and debating best practices.

Here are several tools for starting your own exploration.

Common Craft
Are you confused when people start talking about social media like Twitter? If so, check out the Common Craft site for short, accessible videos that describe what all this stuff is and how you can use it.

Social media circles

The purpose of these cool graphics is to show you various tools, including free ways to organize content, music and blogging. Check out this example of a social media circle:

This free open-source presentation tool can help you bring your presentations to life. Use it to easily embed graphics and video, share your presentations and comment on others’. To see a great example of what this program can do (and maybe even learn a little math), see

More educators are using Twitter as their first stop for information and ideas. Twitter lets you browse a constant stream of “tweets” alerting you to new posts, and, if you like, it lets you share your own hard-won knowledge. If you aren’t following AFT TEACH on Twitter, check it out now:

Besides daily updates on Web resources to use with your students, you’ll see the latest research. Another feed worth following:


We’re all familiar with blogs, whether we follow them or have one of our own. Visit
this blog by a teacher who shares her experiences with integrating technology in her
instruction and how it has changed the way she teaches: http://shelleywright.word

Meeting tool
Often, while in training or listening to a speaker, we have a question or want to comment. We put these questions or comments on a sticky note and “park them.”

Using TodaysMeet while an event is happening lets participants post questions and comments in real time. Others can view the comments and jump in to help. Facilitators or speakers can see comments during breaks.

This kind of instant feedback helps a speaker tailor instruction to participants.

Create your own channel lets you create a TV channel for free. Imagine being able to stream your class’ recital to parents and grandparents who couldn’t be there in person. All you need is a camera and a computer. Worried about privacy? You can make your shows private, so that only families can view their children’s creative efforts.

View videos offline
Have you ever seen a great YouTube video you wanted to share, but couldn’t because you don’t have access to the Internet? Use this tool to download videos and watch them later, without being connected to the Web. Just paste the YouTube URL into the space provided, indicate the file format you want and click the link. It’s that simple.

Professional networks
When people think about online communities or social networks, they think of Facebook, a great tool. But given our focus on teaching, “ning” communities are more appropriate. These are organized around specific content, not around people.

The AFT has developed a ning community for Gen Y teachers:

Want to learn more about Web 2.0? Check out its community for teachers: Anyone who teaches or simply enjoys English should check out one of the most successful professional networks around, English Companion:

Stay tuned! The next issue of American Teacher will feature a story on how Facebook and other social media are affecting schools and classrooms.

Reprinted from American Teacher, January/February 2012 issue.