Why I try to follow every teacher I can on Twitter


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by stevegarfield

Tony Baldasaro wrote a blog post yesterday that is getting a lot of attention regarding why he “unfollowed 5000 people on Twitter” and how he is going back to starting over.  There is a lot of powerful thoughts in his post on how we actually connect with each other in this space:

As I pressed unfollow 5,000 times, I realized that I didn’t know most of the folks that I was unfollowing.  Actually, it was more than that, I had no clue who these folks were.  They were complete strangers.  I literally had no connection to them, which, in hindsight, should not have been a surprise.  As I said earlier, I didn’t “pay any attention to them” how the hell would I actually know them.  It did hurt to unfollow folks who brought great value to my life, but I knew if I was going to do it, I had to fully commit.

Now I don’t want to say Tony is wrong, and from my several meetings with him I can tell you he is an awesome guy,  but I do want to offer a different perspective.

Several years ago when I first started Twitter, I thought, like many do, that it was probably the dumbest thing ever.  I used it randomly, followed some educators, but mostly celebrities, because I didn’t understand how it could improve me as an educator.  My brother and others asked people to blindly follow me to help me build a network even though I had nothing to contribute in that space.  It was not that I had nothing to contribute, but that I just didn’t really understand how I could do it on a social network.  So people followed me and I offered nothing other than a wise-crack here and there.  Then after a couple of weeks I decided to take a year sabbatical from the space :)

A year later, I was coaxed into trying it again and people blindly followed me knowing how I easily gave up on it in the first place.  I actually decided to give it a legitimate try and quickly I was hooked.  I was amazed at how much I learned from others and how open people were to connecting.  I remember sending out a google form and having people share and reshare a tweet that showed my staff the power of Twitter for professional learning.  I look back at that post and some people that helped have become good friends and some people I still don’t even know.  Yet they were all willing to help some guy from Canada who was trying to help his staff.

I even watch today as my brother asks people from his network to help him get others connected:

Him asking for this help while only following a select few would be hypocritical in my opinion. (He follows over 13,000 people.)

The network that I have connected with on Twitter have helped me through some tough times.  When my first dog Kobe passed away people supported me from wherever they were in the world to make it through a difficult time.  When I was dealing with some personal issues, again people rallied around me and either tweeted, commented on my post, or emailed me directly to offer stories and support.  Some I knew and some were total strangers, but all were willing to help.

Currently, I follow over 8500 people on Twitter and that count will continue to grow.  I rarely look at my “home” column because, as Tony mentioned, it moves way to fast.  I use hashtags and lists to find information I am interested in.  Every once in awhile though, I take a peek at that home column (interestingly enough, that is how I found Tony’s blog post) and find something amazing, or see someone I follow asking for help.  Either I try to help them myself, or “Retweet” them to help them find a connection.  If I didn’t follow them, I wouldn’t be able to do that.  I do this because so many people have done this for me.  Although it is my “Personal Learning Network” it is not just about what I take from it, but also what I can give, not only in information, but in facilitating connections and offering some help.  I am, as all educators are, extremely busy, but when I can help, I try to do my best.  We are all teachers and we all should focus on what is best for kids.

I look back at when I started and if people look at what I had actually contributed, no one would have followed me.  I think they looked at what I could contribute in the future.  I remember this summer when someone with 15 followers and 26 tweets, helped me out a great deal.  If I used Tony’s way, this would have not happened.

Now some of you may be reading this that I am not following on Twitter and if that is true, I apologize.  I don’t use a “follow back” function because I do limit my network to mostly teachers (yes, I do follow Justin Bieber), and do not really care to connect with companies.  I also don’t check who unfollows me because I don’t really know how that would be helpful to me in any way. I do follow people that don’t follow me because I can still learn from them. The only reason I wouldn’t follow someone is because I find them offensive.  I try to look at who follows me when I have an opportunity, and follow them back if they are an educator because I know that I can probably learn something from them.  But unfortunately, sometimes I miss people and when it is brought to my attention I am often quite embarrassed.  Allie Holland, Jimmy Casas, and Diana Williams are all people that I didn’t realize that I wasn’t following, yet I have learned a ton from them in a short time and actually would consider them friends now.

Although there are some tweeters that I look at daily, Tony could have done what he was talking about by simply creating a list of his favourite tweeters and inserting that column into Tweetdeck.  It really is that easy.

I have learned over and over again, that I have no idea who I can help, who can help me, and who I can be the connector for between two separate parties, so I do my best to follow as many teachers as possible.  You do not have to be a prolific “Tweeter” to help me become a better educator although your sharing does help.  A ton of people trusted that they could learn from something from me a long time ago when I had contributed very little, so I am going to continue to do the same.

  • http://www.theteachinggameblog.com/ @klhellerman

    I obviously don’t follow and am not followed by a vast quantity of people. So maybe this conversation is different for people like me. In any case, it has never bothered me to follow so many people. Like you, I have columns organized by needs (one of people who are always interesting and supportive, one for #langchat, etc). I dip into whatever column suits my need in the moment. Sometimes that column of “all friends” is exactly the bit of spontaneity and dare I say distraction I need.
    At the same time, I recognize that some people can’t easily or simply do not want to filter and ignore what they do not need to see. It makes sense that they would limit the number of people they follow. I guess in the end, the question to follow or not follow comes down to: What method will give you what you need from Twitter.

    • georgecouros

      I think part of my point is that it is maybe not just about what we need but what we can also give others?

      • @klhellerman

        One would hope. I do really enjoy any help I can lend. It's part of what makes twitter interesting and has facilitated some great interactions and friendships for me. But I don't think having a limited list necessarily hurts someone's ability to be helpful. It may in fact be more productive for them to have a smaller list…so they don't feel overwhelmed by the need to help everyone or can more easily identify needs. My point is…there is no right approach. It depends on the person.

        • http://www.tonybaldasaro.com Tony Baldasaro

          Katie,
          I would also suggest that hashtags allow us to help to groups of people way beyond any list of followers we may have. I don't believe they replace the relationship that forms between two folks that connect and share passions, but the responsible and effective use of hashtags gives any tweeter a greater reach than his or her existing network.

  • http://noeltigers.com wmchamberlain

    I had this conversation today online too and like you I have no plans to unfollow large groups of people There are a lot of reasons I made that decision from knowing what is like when someone with a lot of followers decides to make me part of their network to that sneaking suspicion (more of a reality actually) that I am nothing special and I don't have the need to limit who I converse with.

  • http://howeprincipal.wordpress.com Matt Renwick

    Great post George, as usual. I find myself consistently agreeing with your viewpoints, yet always seem to learn something new from them.

  • http://www.tonybaldasaro.com Tony Baldasaro

    Hi George, Excellent post… as always. I love the point you make about our responsibility to reach out and share. I believe it was @shareski who said that educators have a "moral imperative" to share, and you punctuate that point nicely.

    My post generated quite a discussion and I was pleased that I could at least put a ding in the twitterverse for the day, but I believe there were a couple of misconceptions readers took from my writing – which I take full responsibility for as I didn't do a great job fully articulating my position.

    First, I too used hashtags and lists to make my workflow more manageable. Of the 5000 people I was following, I had about 80 in two separate, but very targetted lists. Most of those 80 folks I refollowed right away because A. they provided value to me and my learning and B. I had in fact developed a relationship with many of them. Which leads me to the second misconception…

    I didn't do what I did to reduce my numbers, I did it because the process I used to find those that I followed was fraudulent. I was following people just to get more people to follow me, to create a following for myself, not to foster relationships and openly share with the folks involved in those relationships. I didn't know who any of those folks were because I didn't bother to try to build a relationship. Overtime, twitter became more about me alone, than "us" collectively. Consequently, I couldn't trust the process by which I followed people, so I decided to start over with the implicit mission of recommitting myself to build meaningful relationships with those with whom I connect and follow (not only through twitter, but other sm tools as well). A year from now, I may be following 5000 people again, but not because I mindlessly followed them to increase my following, but instead to build more meaningful relationships with educators all around the world.

    • georgecouros

      Hey Tony,

      Just a challenge on this statement:

      "I didn't do what I did to reduce my numbers, I did it because the process I used to find those that I followed was fraudulent. I was following people just to get more people to follow me, to create a following for myself, not to foster relationships and openly share with the folks involved in those relationships. I didn't know who any of those folks were because I didn't bother to try to build a relationship"

      If you really want to start fresh, why not just start a brand new twitter account? Those relationships you talk about are important and obviously a two way street so if they were important on the other end, wouldn't they find you as well? If it not about followers and about connections only, would you be willing to start truly from scratch?

  • http://psolarz.weebly.com Paul Solarz

    Good post – you have always been very helpful to me on Twitter, so thanks for being so considerate and helpful!

  • @judyarzt on Twitter

    Great post, George. I, too, follow teachers, for several reasons. One prime one is that I teach courses to teachers, and to keep up with what other teachers are doing and to share their good work with others, the larger the net, the more the fruit. Often teacher educators who work in universities can become disconnected with teachers K-12, but with Twitter, this gap closes, and great partnerships are forged. In addition, I like to follow a variety of professional organizations and media sources. Interestingly, this past summer, I wrote an article for publication about teachers using blogging with their students, and almost all the connections and sources I used for this article derived from the vast contacts I made through Twitter. Twitter also enables teachers and educational administrators to create global connections

  • http://blog.reth1nk.org Nick

    I definitely think that it is complicated to reach out and follow as many people as possible, hoping to learn from people you might otherwise not have been able to connect with, but if you follow so many it can be complicated to follow the entire stream and might miss out on quite a bit more than if you focused on categories or specific groups of people.

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  • Kelley Jones

    Thanks for this post explaining how you use Twitter as an educator. I've recently reached a 'follow' amount where I can no longer keep up with the tweets. I used to try to help everyone on my list that asked; most were teachers from my board with a few bloggers that I enjoyed. Now that my home stream flows by too fast, I've been feeling disconnected and overwhelmed. I'm about to go check out Tweetdeck right now, and make myself some lists – then follow more teachers! The way you've outlined things here resonated for me immediately. Thanks again for solving my twitter problem.

  • darcymullin

    George,

    I love this post. I feel the same way. If somebody is an educator I will always follow them. Will I be able to make meaningful connections with everyone I follow? No. I don't think that is the point. For me, I don't know who my next great connection will be. I also don't know who will stimulate are share the next great idea. I think by limiting the conversation and the people involved we are really limiting the learning we are exposed to. Thanks for continuing to push my thinking.

  • burlingtonps

    Thanks George! I also try to follow every educator who follows me as I feel it is something that I need to pay back to the network for all it has given me. I also worry about missing a connection with someone who I can learn from.

    In addition, my talks with you about this topic have also gotten me to take away an automated response to any new follower due to its impersonal nature.

  • patrickmlarkin

    Thanks George! I also try to follow every educator who follows me as I feel it is something that I need to pay back to the network for all it has given me. I also worry about missing a connection with someone who I can learn from.

  • http://www.teachscienceright.com Chris Mitchell

    Total agreement with you here. I was kind of surprised to see everyone unfollowing so many people on Twitter. At the time the Tweets were flying all over the place, I understood their reasoning, but just thought that was one guy's interpretation. With Tweetdeck, I also very rarely look at the home column. Kinda pointless right now with the other columns I use. I look forward to our interactions via Twitter!

  • http://adunsiger.com Aviva (@avivaloca)

    The funny thing is George that it was actually you that inspired me to follow as many people as I do. If an educator follows me, I follow back. And I follow many people that don't follow me. There's certain people whose tweets I check on more regularly, but columns in Tweetdeck help me with this. I know that I learn from many people on Twitter, and I hope that I can help out many too. I definitely don't make any plans to unfollow people anytime soon.

    Great post, George!
    Aviva

  • http://Www.ideasfactory.me @ideas_factory

    Well done George-a great post & a fabulous antidote to the current 'Unfollow' culture.

    I believe that Twitter is about conversations & having them with educators that you wouldn't normally have an opportunity to speak or listen too-a true global Staffroom.

    I honestly don't get why another teacher would want to unfollow another educator. There are so many tools out there that can streamline your twitter feed that it rules out the argument about too many tweets to read.

    It all comes down to snobbery-twitter is not about teachers justifying a 'follow' they already do that by being educators who are on Twitter!

    Those who are 'culling' their following right now might just remember that twitter isn't just a conversation with someone with their hands over their ears. It's a collaboration-a place where everyone-even those who aren't as vocal as the rest, can learn.

    Pleasure to be part of your true twitter PLN .
    Julian S Wood @ideas_factory

  • Gail

    Hmmmm, I seem to be able to get "Facebook" and use it to share ideas and conversations, and I also get and can use "You Tube" clips in the classroom, Vimeo and love Ted Talks, but when it comes to Twitter….I just can't seem to catch on and then I feel like a bit of a techno-loser! I want to quit Twitter…but also know that moral imperative of sharing as a teacher! I can't seem to get Twitter into my repertoire!

  • Fabiola

    I read your posts often even though I don't always comment. You always have such good things to share. In particular and helpful to me, is your use of lists. I need to use more lists! I follow most teachers and have only unfollowed those who tweet way too often for my sanity (50+ tweets an hour). I realize now that this wouldn't be an issue if I weren't looking at my home screen all the time. I'm still learning. I'm thankful to have you as part of my PLN and I'm glad that you were one of the first to show me kindness with a follow.

  • graingered

    The thing that gets me is how some will have, say 5000+ followers, and maybe a few dozen that they follow. I see this as problematic in the spirit of Twitter insofar as the 'network' isn't really a network when it's so lopsided… it's just a fan club. I consider it folly to not follow back most of those who follow us (as educators) for fear one might miss something useful or insightful… ideas aren't optimized when they're all going in one direction.

  • graingered

    I recently lectured at the U of A to 450 3rd year ed students… gave a nod to Twitter and provided my contact. Many followed, and I followed them back. Nothing to lose IMO. The value of the 'network' depends on it actually being a network- many directions, many possibilities.

    • georgecouros

      Bang on :)

  • http://www.stretchdevelopment.com @davidhyner

    this is spooky….. I was sitting here just thinking, should i unfollow everyone and start again with "only" education and speaking related contacts on twitter ?! Thanks

  • http://www.stretchdevelopment.com @davidhyner

    I am also doing an informal study of educationalists to ascertain if the time spent on social media is actually worth it or not. At present the shocking truth seems to be that people spend way too much time on it, do not get the rewards they seek, use "it's awareness and marketing" as an excuse to justify their time spent, and will still do it anyway……… all very interesting stuff. People do feel VERY strongly about it one way or the other though.

  • http://www.jessicalahey.com Jess Lahey

    Really nice post. I, too, use Twitter as a tool and try to follow two categories of Tweeps: writers and educators. Consequently, Twitter has been an invaluable way for me to learn from other writers and educators, rather than an odd, narcissistic numbers competition. I do use Twitter to publicize my writing, but have found that it's been a great place to get feedback on that writing as well. But again, this is because the people I follow are specifically interested in the topics I tend to explore in my work as a writer.

    Thanks for a really interesting read this Sunday morning.

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  • http://kalaobjetos.com.ar/ cajas para armas

    Good post!

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  • http://www.flavors.me/bcbailey64 Brian Bailey

    BRAVO – reasonates with me! In fact the whole reason I ended up creating this Social Media PLN course at Capilano University…was because of TWITTER!!!!!! http://www.capilanou.ca/ce-calendar/index.html?page=30

  • http://bit.ly/temperedradical Bill Ferriter

    I’m stumbling into this conversation late, George, but just wanted to let you know that I appreciate your thinking. I love the sense of service that I hear in your words.

    This balance between helping others and creating a meaningful learning space for me is an interesting one, isn’t it?

    I tend to lean towards the selfish side of the equation: While I’m all about helping, I don’t want my main stream to be a surging river of Tweets that I’ll never read anyway.

    Has me thinking this morning…
    Bill

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