The Ultimate Guide to Twitter for Schools
For every scare story you may read in the media about the evils of social media, there are millions of people happily using social media to connect with like-minded people the world over as well as school twitter accounts.
Edutwitter, as it is known, is a vast network of educators, teachers, school leaders, aspiring teachers and former teachers all connecting to share ideas, resources, tales from the classroom, and general educational chat. For many in education it is the primary source of relevant news and information. As well as following fellow teachers you can follow staff from educational publications, Ofsted, Local Authorities, and consultants. So many give their time and expertise very generously due to the community nature of the chat. The way to make the most of it all is to be a part of that chat too.
We have written this school Twitter guide to help you get started. Whether you are a teacher or a school leader we have pulled together the key information and advice you need to get started, and we tackle some of the common concerns too.
When you start out on Twitter you will need to decide on a “handle” which is the name you are known as on Twitter. For example our business account has the handle @HeyGreenhouse. Many teachers like to keep their real identity private for the purpose of not identifying their school. For example if they want to use Twitter as a place to air their stresses or discuss information which would be considered sensitive and personal if the public knew which school they were discussing. Whilst this is absolutely fine, do give yourself a name that makes it obvious to others that you are a real person though. Twitter may suggest a name with lots of numbers i.e. @JL234517879 but often bots (accounts set up just to mine information or start scams) use these types of suggested names so fellow educators may not be sure you are genuine. Many teachers find it useful also to find similar teachers so a name such as @MrsJ_Year1 can be unique and give enough information to show a real person without identifying you.
Likewise the photo you upload to Twitter as your profile picture can be another way to stand out. Twitter will, by default, give you a default image (which used to be a picture of an egg – birds.. egg.. ) but scammers often keep the default image so do change it to something more personal to show you are actually a real person. But you do not need to add your actual photo. Maybe a photo you have taken of a place you like? Or a picture of a pet. Anything works really other than the egg!
Lastly when setting up your account you will have the option to add a biography. This is just a few sentences letting people know who you are. You can look around at other people’s for inspiration if you need to. Simple short sentences work well to just let people know who you are and your areas of interest. This does not have to be all educational but adding in the fact that you are an educator will help others on edutwitter to connect with you. Something like “Year 1 teacher, mum of 2, love science and PE. Weekends spent hiking and watching TV dramas” gives enough information about your interests, both work and personal. But what you share is entirely up to you.
You can change your handle, photo, and biography after starting with Twitter but it’s good to start as you mean to go on so have a think before you get signing up.
Following People and Hashtags
When you first start your Twitter account it can seem a bit daunting and also pretty dull – until you start following people. Otherwise you have essentially walked into an empty room and if you speak no-one is hearing you. A good place to find educators to follow is by searching for educational hashtags. There are numerous hashtags and more are added all the time. Some have been running for a number of years on edutwitter such as #UKedchat and #PrimaryRocks. There are also specific chats such as #SLTchat which is aimed at senior school leaders. Scrolling through these chats is interesting enough but also when you see tweets which interest you then follow the person tweeting as they are likely to have more gems for you in future too!
The more people you follow, the more people start to follow you back. And when you start tweeting they are more likely to find out you are an educator worth connecting with and more will follow. In the early days also do be brave and reach out to fellow teachers and ask if they will retweet you to ask for followers. Everyone had to start somewhere!
Each tweet has a maximum of 280 characters. You can also add links to websites, photos, and GIFs if you wish. Tweets with photos get more attention than those without, usually. Importantly, tweeting is about making connections and being part of the conversation. You can add your personality to it. Just be aware of your links to school if you are openly talking as a teacher. Even if it is all positive you should be aware that anything you say, if you can be traced to work, should be something you would happily say in front of the staff and parents at your school! Edutwitter can get into heated discussions at times over varying opinions on all things education related. But it is usually pretty swear free so bear that in mind too!
Edutwitter is most famed for the generosity of fellow teachers. People share links and ideas and also resources. Some put so much work into resources that they then share freely with everyone so it’s a very handy community to be a part of. Get sharing and borrowing!
When you are following someone who also follows you back, you can also talk through Direct Messaging (DM) which is a private message. These are great for talking privately with fellow educators but do be cautious about going straight to Direct Messaging with those you do not know well. The main form for Twitter is to tweet openly as that is how the community works. But Direct Messaging is useful in its place too for sharing some resources that you may not want to give freely to everyone publicly.
School Twitter Use
Schools have started to use Twitter more and more as an official school account too, rather than simply personal accounts by teachers which are mostly used for non school conversations too. Many schools use Twitter as it is an easy and free communication tool for everyone interested in their school activity. Many schools choose to use their Twitter feed as a marketing tool sharing sporting and academic achievements, photos and details of open days.
Parents often have Twitter or can read your tweets via a link even if they do not have an account, so it is a good communication tool with easy access for all rather than buying into expensive systems and faffing around with login details for each parent. Twitter is also easy to feed through to your school website which means your website can be updated with your tweets – another quick way to ensure everyone can access the information. Handy for everything from sharing achievements to updates on snow days.
Locked or Public Accounts
On Twitter any account has a choice of being “locked down” or public. A locked down account has the advantage that you can vet each potential follower of your information. They will need to request access to your Tweets and be approved. You can also easily reject those who are then troublesome. However, this then removes the opportunity to feed your tweets to your school website, and reduces access for parents who want to see the information without having their own twitter account. Also many parents will not be obviously parents on their own Twitter account so it may be tricky to identify who is who.
A public account means that anyone can view your tweets by searching for you or clicking through to your profile from a tweet, even if they do not follow you from their account. This has the advantage of making sure you are part of the wider conversation and means you are sharing your school far and wide which is great free marketing for prospective parents, and more crucially potential staff! It also means you open yourself up to more opportunities for sharing and connecting. This of course means you have to be extra careful of issues around GDPR and safeguarding when posting school photos and information.
Adding school photos and work
A lot of schools post photos of students, some including their names via their work or certificates, and others without names. Some also share names and work without photos. Twitter is still new enough that, although there are ways to share publicly without any legal ramifications, it is still always best to tread carefully on these matters.
An important step in sharing photos and information about students is to ensure you have explicit consent from parents and, as much as is possible, verbal consent from the students themselves. A very clear signed permission slip from a parent must state that you will be using the photos on social media on the school account. This is common sense mixed with some very real GDPR requirements. Parents should also know what to do if they want to remove that consent at any time so you need a process for that.
It is also a matter of consent to ideally ask students for permission even for each photo. On the whole they are delighted to have their achievements shared, but touches such as asking if it’s OK to post their photo to the school Twitter account also helps to reinforce their own personal agency in their own e-safety. The student agreement does not supersede the parental legal consent, however.
If you do not want to go down the road of using student photos there are still ways to share achievements. Photos of school displays, photos with the backs of pupil heads where they would not be recognisable, and even photos of the staff working together during staff meetings are also content which will engage other schools. There is one school which tweets as their school goats and follows their exploits around the school grounds! So you can be as creative as you like and share all your news without worrying about student privacy if you prefer.
Personal versus school twitter accounts
If you do have a school account and have seen the great chats going on and want your teachers involved too, you may want to ask them to have accounts linked publicly to the school site – i.e. by including the school name in their Twitter handle or in their biography. However, it is worth considering the impact that may have down the line. Teachers may start chatting to other educators and want to share more details than you might like on the school-linked account. This does not mean they are sharing past what would be within the teacher standards, but everyone needs to let off a little steam or ask for help with specific issues from time to time, and a personal account can be a good place for this.
Teachers having their own accounts has benefits in terms of sharing too. Hashtags such as #mfltwitterati and #teamEnglish, for example, are subject specific places to go for advice and shared resources. For subject leads having a personal account, and not just a shared school account, is a brilliant resource for inspiring teachers and importing new ideas. This is especially relevant for small schools, rural schools, and SEND schools who may not have a local peer to share with or learn from. Twitter as a free CPD tool is second to none.
Sharing resources is absolutely to be encouraged as part of the edutwitter network and has saved many a teacher a lonely and stressed Sunday evening when the inspiration is just not arriving! Although people are always willing to share, you may want to share your resources too. Just keep an eye on copyright to ensure you do not break any rules there. If you are a Local Authority maintained school check with your LA about sharing anything made by them and used across all schools. Similarly with MAT schools ensure you check with your trust to see if there are any rules on sharing. Local Authorities and MATs may also have rules on selling on resources that teachers make as part of their role so, although there are opportunities to get paid for resources shared online, ensure you know what your LA/MAT expects.
Be cautious also around copyright in general. From your profile pictures to your shared resources you need to be sure you are not sharing someone else’s intellectual property. There are sometimes requests from educators asking for someone to scan in and share pages from books, or to email them resources from commercial providers. There is often an assumption that this falls under fair use in education. However, in the world of Twitter this is classed as sharing on a commercial platform so it is worth noting the rules here.
To Tweet or Not to Tweet?
Overall the positives of Twitter outweigh the bad in the education community. There are considerations to make as we have mentioned, but the network is thriving and the opportunities are endless. Have a scroll through Twitter when you have five minutes. You likely already have a teacher or two from your school on Twitter already with personal accounts so ask them about how to use it and maybe one of them will be confident enough to run the school account for you!
We hope you found these tips useful – look out for future posts on other aspects of social media for schools.