The Twitter-Informed Parent: Finding Ideas, Advice and Support Online

For parents who are actively involved with their children’s schools—or for those who want to be—the neighborhood kaffeeklatsch is no longer the place to get connected. These days they’re heading to Twitter, where they can trade ideas, stories, and best practices with a global community of parents.

“I thought Twitter was about telling people where you are or what you’re doing. But once I joined, it became, ‘Anyone have any ideas about how we can get more families at our Fall Fest?’ and ‘How did this fundraiser work for you guys?’” says Gwen Pescatore (@gpescatore25), mother of three and president of the Home & School Association at Knapp Elementary School in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.

In the past few years, the education community on Twitter has exploded, organizing itself into subgroups dedicated to specific schools, grades, needs, and interests.

In the past few years, the education community on Twitter has exploded, organizing itself into subgroups dedicated to specific schools, grades, needs, and interests. Now, there are more than 70 education-related chats on Twitter (see a list here, from retired teacher and librarian Jerry Blumengarten, @cybraryman1), like #ccss (Common Core State Standards), #mathchat and #gtchat (gifted and talented)—not to mention parenting chats. While principals like Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_principal) and Joe Mazza (@joe_mazza) are leading a movement to use Twitter for teacher professional development and family engagement, Twitter has also become a rich environment where parents form valuable bonds with one another, regardless of geographic or other boundaries.

J. Michael Hall, founder and president of the Fort Worth-based Strong Fathers-Strong Families (@strongfathers), uses Twitter to offer encouragement to some of the dads he meets in schools around the country. It’s an effective venue, since he works with somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 dads each year. “Twitter is a long-lasting relationship,” he says, despite the constraints of 140-character messages. Every day his organization tweets a creative question about a specific school subject that parents can ask their kids; it’s designed to engage them about what they learned right when they get home from school. Hall has also used Twitter to connect with school administrators and raise awareness for his organization’s mission, to involve fathers in their children’s education.

Myrdin Thompson (@MyrdinJT), who is an “edugeek” mother of three in Louisville, a regional director for the National Family Engagement Alliance, and a White House “Champion of Change,” often looks to her Twitter friends for advice and support. They’re parents from around the country and the world whom she connected with through Twitter chats like #ptchat (parents and teachers) and #momcongress (she was a delegate in 2010). She’s hardly met any of them in person. When her oldest son went to his first sleep-away camp at age 13, she was more nervous than he was, and logged onto Twitter looking for reassurance. “Several Twitter friends shared some of their anxieties and solutions, and I felt better and didn’t helicopter the week he was away,” she recalls. In her Twitter network, she also trades reading suggestions, learning approaches and ideas about working with school districts as a volunteer.

The only downsides that parents mention when it comes to Twitter is navigating and keeping up with the overwhelming amount of information. The lack of training on how to use Twitter effectively—using hash tags to join chats, for example—is also a problem. Some schools are starting to offer Twitter 101 trainings and the like, for parents, teachers and staff. Twitter is “like using a fire hose to fill up a cup,” says Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby), an education expert and a founder of #edchat, one of the oldest and most successful education chats on Twitter. The chat, which includes some parents, has received up to 3,000 tweets in an hour. Whitby says with enthusiasm, “Now, the ideas of the world are out there.”

Liz Logan is the associate editor at Amplify. Her writing has appeared in Time, O, The Oprah Magazine, Editor & Publisher, Poets & Writers, and Time Out Chicago, among other publications. Most recently, she was an editor at Make It Better, a Chicago-area lifestyle magazine and website that she helped launch as a graduate student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She has received national writing and editing awards, and a fellowship from the National Press Foundation.

This article is commissioned by Amplify Education Inc. The views expressed are the author’s own, and do not represent those of Amplify Education Inc.