Two weeks after school started at Monett High School this fall, all 43 teachers and administrators signed up to use Twitter. It was a high tech accomplishment that Principal David Steward trumpeted in one of his tweets on the text message medium.
Some may consider Twitter, like its social media counterpart Facebook, to be a colossal waste of time. Not Steward.
"I've been using Twitter for six months," Steward said. "It's a great way to connect with other educators around the world. We can share ideas and resources."
Steward found the more he used Twitter, exchanging 140-character long messages with colleagues, the more intrigued he became with its potential. He encouraged his colleagues to sign-on for a professional account and use the messaging tool for 15 minutes two or three times a week.
The One to the World strategy at Monett High School that introduced every student to a laptop computer raised the bar on the use of technology. Steward has embraced the potential of the medium.
"If we want to teach our students about 21st century technology and its tools, we have to be using it," Steward said. "We have to speak the lingo. Kids will connect a little bit better if we do."
The medium has been particularly useful as a way to alert colleagues to blogs or videos detailing new ideas on instruction. In a digital world, where finding a paper copy of a regional magazine could prove difficult, the tweet can prove a timely alert.
"You can have individual conversations in real time and can share ideas," Steward said. "If you're tweeting back and forth, the other person may reference an article. You can tag and and find it later."
In one example, Steward recalled one person he follow suggesting a way to rearrange classroom space to provide more interaction with students. He passed the idea along.
"It's very non-judgmental," Steward said. "Here's an idea; what do you think?"
Steward has tweeted links to articles and attached a hash tag, "MHS chat," which others can find later. He also uses the medium to pass on scores from games, like those initially sent by the softball team.
The use of Twitter started as a collaborative tool between educators. Since then, some teachers have used it in the classroom. Activity sponsors and coaches have used tweets to push information to team members.
To keep up the appropriate boundaries between students and teachers, Twitter is a one-way street. Students can follow teachers, Steward said, but teachers cannot follow students. The process is transparent and anyone can follow the exchanges.
One of the back-to-school activities Steward promoted was signing up for Twitter. When the entire faculty and administrative team signed up, Steward offered to treat his colleagues to a "build your own ice cream sundae" at lunch.
"We're so diverse," Steward said. "This gives us something in common that we all use to build community."
Steward is encouraging use of tweets by offering to put names in for a drawing for retweeting messages to further distribute favorite ideas. Teachers used to share a "thought of the week as part of the Friday Focus announcements. Now Steward has established a "Tweet of the Week" and recognizes teachers' best exchanges.
There are some tricks to writing messages with a maximum of 140 characters.
"You have to be concise," Steward said. "The bad part is you don't use grammatically correct sentences. It's a good challenge--how do I quickly convey what I mean?"
Anyone can sign on to follow the high school's tweets. The Twitter handle is "@Monetthigh" and people can be followed by typing in "@dsteward89."
"A year from now, there will be a segment of the faculty that's really into it and using Twitter well," Steward said. "Others will still be working at it. That's okay. You've got to have fun with it first. Learning comes through the fun."