What do the following tweets have in common?

Okay, they're all tweets by me, obviously, but there's something else: all three are tweets that were favorited by one of my students.

I've written before about teens at my school defying prevailing wisdom that teens don't tweet, about my initial freakout when I discovered students were following me and my ultimate decision to keep tweeting publicly. Since then, things have really exploded: more than a quarter of my 546 followers are current or former students.

Now, I should mention that not all Twitter ventures in my school have been entirely successful. This fall, administrators decided to move daily announcements from their traditional morning reading over the intercom to social media. The school unveiled its official Facebook page and Twitter feed, and one of our assistant principals started condensing announcements into 140 character versions. We even enlisted student models with laptops and phones to produce a slick print marketing campaign.

And then the whole thing flopped.

At this point our AP still tweets, but the announcements are back on the intercom. Why? Students recoiled at the idea of an authority figure being able to read their tweets if they followed the official feed. (Which I still find a little odd, because they could easily set their profiles to private, and many students with public profiles still follow me and a handful of other teachers in the building.)

So why are my tweets more successful? I'm sure some of it has to do with my utter lack of authority--students don't see me as someone who's out to bust them for what they say. (I don't think the administration is, either; they have better things to do than sift through Twitter feeds all day. But I also don't follow students back, so I only see their tweets if they're directly mentioning me with an @ reply.)

No doubt some of the appeal is that I do actively try to be funny. Turning something frustrating from my day into a joke helps me take control of the situation, and it's better than stewing about it for hours. And when my students retweet or favorite a pithy remark about finding gross things hidden in the library or keyboards stripped of their keys, maybe their followers will think twice (or at least once) about making someone else clean up after them.

Ultimately, though, I'm most excited about Twitter as a tool to connect with my students when other methods fail. During standardized testing the library was closed for three days in a row, our bell schedule was disrupted and we couldn't make any announcements over the intercom. So when a copy of Hunger Games was returned, at first I didn't know how to get it to the student who was next in line. Ordinarily I have the main office page students during passing periods, but it was early in the morning and I wasn't sure when we'd be able to make announcements again. So, on a lark, I tweeted the student, who I knew was following me, to let him know that I'd leave the book in the main office.

All of which led up to yet another favorited tweet:

How do you use Twitter with teens?

About mk Eagle

I'm the librarian at Holliston High School, a bit west of Boston. In my spare time I advise my school's yearbook and Gay Straight Alliance, write about food, and root for the Red Sox.

3 Thoughts on “30 Days of Innovation #8: Just Tweet It

  1. Kate Covintree on April 8, 2012 at 8:17 pm said:

    Hmm, you've really got me rethinking me twitter account. I've realized two other things about my personal twitter use: 1. It's hard for me to keep up and 2. I really haven't used it much at all since it's become such a popular medium. We have a twitter account for the library -- which regularly reposts what we put on our FB page, but I've never really thought to make my personal twitter page one that shares info about my day. Your post definitely makes me reconsider. I think partially I don't give out my twitter id (how did students find yours?) because, I get concerned about privacy issues. Both mine (what if I want to mention something more "grown up" do my tweets then have to be work related?) and theirs (would my other followers begin to know whom I was talking about? How do you reconcile that?

  2. Kate, I did have to make some (minor) changes to the way I tweet. After my brief freakout when I discovered that students had found me on Twitter (not that it was at all difficult--my username is my name), I decided that rather than switch to a private profile, I would instead run a feed that I wouldn't be uncomfortable showing to just about anyone, whether that's one of my students, a current or potential employer, or, say, my grandfather.

    To that end, I no longer tweet about alcohol or when I've been drinking (which is probably a good idea anyway; now if I take a photo of a pretty cocktail it ends up on Facebook instead), and I don't swear. (Even though I'm often really, really tempted.) I never mention students or teachers by name unless I'm praising them, and I try to couch all my gripes in humor.

    I should also mention that even though I blend personal and professional--I still have conversations with real life friends on Twitter, and get excited about movies or restaurants--the vast majority of my tweets come from work. I'm at a computer pretty much all day so I tend to stay away from the laptop at home, and I've never been one to tweet much from my phone.

  3. Laurie C on April 9, 2012 at 9:18 am said:

    This post was very helpful! Our teen services coordinator is experimenting with Twitter, but we've just started promoting it, so haven't gotten any followers yet. We've been thinking maybe our library regulars aren't as into the social media scene as we thought, but maybe we just need to promise we won't follow back, so they won't be leery of following the library.

    As for as teens' expectation that only followers will read their public feeds (when the administration could snoop around and find them easily enough if it wanted to,) I think teens (and many adults) see it as an honor system, like keeping a diary and leaving it around because you know people will respect your privacy and not read it uninvited. Not the way it always works in real life, but I think adults with public feeds on Twitter are also shocked when something they tweet gets picked up and broadcast to a wider audience than they intended.

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