Sunday / July 21

Should Twitter Replace Professional Development?

First posted on

There is buzz online about Twitter replacing professional development. As a tweeter, I get it. Weekly twitter chats are dynamic for connecting with colleagues across the globe, and new ideas and inspiration fill my Twitter feed every day.  (If you are new to Twitter as a resource for educators, please read Edudemic’s fabulous blog.)

Professional Development Pitfalls

The limitations of Twitter, however, are much like the limitations of the sit-and-get workshops of traditional professional development. They both emphasize the gathering of ideas, but fail to support us in taking action.

If we are talking about replacing irrelevant sit-and-get workshops with Twitter, then it is a promising trade—but neither of these is going to lead to the shifts in instruction that impact students. Like the professional learning binders that accumulate on teachers’ shelves, favorite tweets fall to the background as we teach. We keep gathering new ideas, but how many change what we do in our schools?

Joyce and Showers’ (1995) research confirms what many of us know from experience: one-shot training rarely leads to changes in teaching. Consider their findings:

Impact Chart two

Adapted from Joyce and Showers (1995).

If we were to update this study with research on the impact of Twitter, what data would you expect? Imagine if all teachers in your district did the following:

  • Read tweets from other educators
  • Opened links from tweets to read blogs and watch videos
  • Engaged in education-focused twitter chats
  • Used hashtag to research specific topics or connect with specific communities

As a result of these experiences, what percent would understand new knowledge and skills? What percent would apply learning to the classroom?

Deep Inquiry Matters

What’s missing from Twitter AND traditional professional development is continuous, collaborative problem solving with sustained focus on an issue that matters. According to research (Wei, Darling-Hammond, et. al., 2009), effective professional learning that shifts how teachers teach and students learn is:

  • intensive: has a sustained focus (30-50 hours) in one area
  • ongoing: with opportunities to plan, test, reflect and refine approaches
  • connected to practice: relevant to the specific work we do every day with students

Powerful professional learning designs engage educators in continuous collaboration to prioritize a challenge, design a solution, and test and refine it together. Hands-on approaches like coaching, lesson study, and observation inquiry move professional learning from ideas to action.

Replace these with Twitter, and we will suffer as a profession.

Best of Both Worlds 

The good news is this is not an either/or question. Twitter and professional learning aren’t competing in a brawl, trying to be last one standing. They are like collaborators whose diverse strengths in synthesis are more powerful than either individual’s strength alone.

Rather than advocating for Twitter to replace professional learning, let’s get specific together about how we can use this dynamic networking space to enhance professional learning.

In this three-part blog series, I’ll delve more deeply into the topic of how to use Twitter to enhance professional learning. Stay tuned for my next two posts:

  1. Pros and Cons of Twitter for Professional Learning
  2. Using Twitter to Enhance Professional Learning

Join the conversation by commenting below, or Tweeting me your thoughts @TonyaWardSinger. I welcome questions and challenges. Let’s engage in dialogue that helps us all expand our thinking and deepen our impact as teachers and learning leaders.

twitter bird

How do you use Twitter for your own professional learning?
What is most exciting, or most frightening, about the idea of schools using Twitter for professional learning?

Related Blogs
5 Effective Ways Teachers Can Use Twitter for Professional Development via @medkh9
Professional Development Takes Off on Twitter by @Zalaznick via @DA_Magazine
Twitter for Professional Learning, Any Takers?  via @Edweek
Twitter Vs. Paid Professional Development by @MrKempNZ
Using Twitter for Professional Development by @SarahWCaron via @Education_World 

Joyce, B., and B. Showers (1995). Student Achievement Through Staff Development: Fundamentals of School Renewal. 2nd ed. White Plains, NY: Longman.
Lewis, C., R. Perry, and A. Murata (2006). “How should research contribute to instructional improvement? The case of lesson study.” Educational Researcher 35(3): 3.
Singer, T. W. (2015). Opening Doors to Equity: A Practical Guide to Observation-Based Professional Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Darling-Hammond, L., R. C. Wei, A. Andree, N. Richardson, and S. Orphanos (2009). Professional Learning in the Learning Profession: A Status Report on Teacher Development in the United States and Abroad. Dallas, TX.: National Staff Development Council.


Written by

Tonya Ward Singer is an author, keynote speaker and consultant with a deep commitment to ensuring all students in culturally, racially and linguistically diverse schools access high-quality education. She specializes in high-impact literacy, ELL achievement, 21st century learning, and leading effective job-embedded professional learning at scale.

Tonya’s bestselling book Opening Doors to Equity: A Practical Guide to Observation-Based Professional Learning helps educators lead observation inquiry, a professional learning design inspired by Japanese lesson study and tailored to the unique context of teaching for equity and innovation in U.S. schools.

Tonya has taught at multiple levels as a classroom teacher, reading specialist and ELL specialist in the U.S. and abroad. She designs curricula and leads professional learning to help educators elevate student literacy, language and life-long learning for 21st century success.

leave a comment