Monday, October 28, 2013

ECSE and Early Intervention: Welcome To Twitter!

I have been active on Twitter for several years.   It has taken some time, but I have found a network and community of inspiring early childhood educators, special educators and related service providers (Occupational Therapists, Speech Therapists and Physical Therapists).  While I have had a difficult time finding Early Childhood Special Educators and Early Intervention teachers or specialists, this seems to be changing.  In the last 2 weeks, I have added more and more people who have a background in Early Childhood Special Education and/or Early Intervention to my “following” list.  When they join, I want to be supportive and personally welcome each of them, but I have so much to say I can’t get it done in 140 characters.  Instead, I thought I would write a welcome letter and invite them to read it. 

Dear Early Childhood Special Education/Early Intervention provider,
     Welcome to Twitter.  I am glad you are here.  I have been anxious to connect with professionals from our profession and it has been difficult to find you!  My PLN has been a great support for me and Twitter is where I connect with them. Twitter is my primary source of professional development.  I hope you find it as useful of a tool as I have.  There are many established communities of professionals in the Twittersphere.  My goal is to build a community of ECSE and Early Intervention professionals on Twitter.  There are a few things we can do to make it easier for us to connect with one another so that we can maximize the Twitter experience. I know many of you are new to Twitter so I am going to offer a few general tips.  
     Let’s start with who to follow.  If you are interested in finding more professionals in our field, “Lists” are helpful.  Many Twitter users create Lists of people who are similar in some manner.  I have a List of ECSE professionals, Related Service professionals (speech, OT, PT), and Assistive Technology tweeters.  You are welcome to access my lists and see if you can find some new people to follow.  You find a person’s lists under their profile.  Another way to find someone to follow, is to look at who other ECSE professionals are following, also found under their profile.  
     The next useful tool is hashtags.  Hashtags make information searchable, allowing users to find information specific to a topic such as Early Childhood Special Education.  Hashtags are the little # symbol, formerly known as the number sign, that you see inserted in tweets.  These hashtags, while sometimes annoying in popular culture today, do serve a purpose.  Give it a try, try searching #earlyedsped.  If you are using Twitter, put the hashtag in the search field and the stream will appear.  Another tip is to consider using an app such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite.  These programs allow you to organize Twitter feeds by hashtags, lists and users.  
     There are a few other hashtags to consider.  Hashtags tend to evolve, new ones appear based on campaigns and new interests.  Keep your eyes open for hashtags that are commonly used by those who tweet in the early childhood world.  We are an interesting field because we have one foot in the Early Childhood world and one in the Special Education world.  We can learn from and contribute to both fields.  Therefore, I follow many Early Childhood hashtags such as #kinderchat, #ece, #earlyed, #b25, #prek, #preemies, and #ecechat.  On the Sped side, I follow hashtags such as #spedchat, #atchat, #autism, #spedplc, #inclusion and #slpeeps.  Our field is in need of a unique hastag. I originally tried #ecse but it seemed that the #ecse hashtag apparently has some meaning in French and is was being used heavily for that purpose.  At that time, the feed created by #ecse was more French than ECSE related.  That being said, some of us continue to add it to tweets so it worth following that one.  I have found useful information under #earlyintervention, but it is also used by professionals in other fields such as mental health, chemical dependency, and medicine. I am proposing a hashtag more specific to our field (I feel like I am running a campaign!!),  #earlyedsped.  It is still a little long, but I am hoping that it will catch on with birth to 3 early intervention providers and Early Childhood Special Education professionals.  I am also hoping that related service providers who work in early childhood will find and use it.  It can also be a place where early childhood educators, child care providers and other caregivers of young children can look for information related to young children with special needs.  I usually include #earlyedsped in my tweets along with any other tags I think might be relevant.  I am asking you to please consider using #earlyedsped when you are tweeting something that would benefit other ECSE/Early Intervention professionals, or you are asking a question and want feedback from other professionals.  I look forward to learning from you!
      One last suggestion, then I will stop!  Other professionals appreciate it when you share information from conferences or other professional development sessions.  Twitter is a useful platform for this purpose.  Next time you are at a state level DEC conference, an ECSE leadership conference, or any other training related to our field, consider tweeting about it.  Karen Nemeth wrote an article about why and how.  Because our field is just starting to use Twitter, you may need to suggest a hashtag for the conference or session.  Remember to try to keep the hashtag short so it doesn’t eat up your allotted characters.  When you start tweeting about it, make sure to also add #earlyedsped so we know it is related to our field.  
     I hope this information is useful and will help those of us in our field connect.  I look forward to some great conversations.  If you have any questions or suggestions about using Twitter, please email me.  I am compiling a list of ECSE and Early Intervention blogs, so if you blog or have a website, tweet it to me or email.  My email is  

                                                                                    Jodi Altringer

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Why Early Education professionals should use Twitter.

Recently someone asked me why early childhood educators should connect through Twitter. She shared that her preferred social media platform for professional development is Pinterest. 
I use Pinterest and I like Pinterest.  Pinterest is a great tool for finding and sharing teaching materials and strategies.  I think this is important and beneficial, but there is more to the field of early education than instructional materials, art projects, and thematic units.  There are the philosophies, frameworks, and beliefs that lead us to choose the materials we are using.  There is not just the “what”, there is the “why”.  Why are we teaching what we are teaching, why are we teaching the way we are teaching, and why are we using the materials we are using?  I am challenging early educators to move beyond Pinterest, because Pinterest isn't conducive to conversations. I am challenging early educators to take the next step and engage in conversations about early education on Twitter.  The conversations taking place move beyond art projects and themes.  On Twitter, early educators are challenging one another, discussing best practice, asking “why”, discussing research and advocating for developmentally appropriate practices.  They are talking about the importance of early education, policies that shape our profession, and practices that are effective and not so effective in getting the results we hope to achieve.  The conversation is taking place with or without you, I am hoping to convince you that it is worth your time to join the conversation, because our field needs more voices. 

K-12 educators are reaping the numerous benefits of connecting with others through Twitter and blogging. The conversations they are having related to pedagogy, research, and what is working and not working in education, challenge individual educators to continue to improve and advance the education profession. These educators' voices are being heard.  Policy makers are aware of the conversations and taking note. The field of early childhood education can not afford to miss out on the opportunities that Twitter presents to our profession. 

Historically, early childhood has often been overlooked and not given the same respect or attention that is given to the K-12 world. Our field is finally getting some attention. This attention brings with it a great responsibility and sense of urgency. We need to show that as a field, we are also discussing pedagogy, research and “why”. We need to be recognized as a professional group who stays current, integrates research based practice, and knows how to teach.  We need to connect and converse so our voices will be heard. We need to share failures and successes so we move our field forward. Collectively we have a rich experience and background, our conversations can encourage and support one another to be intentional in our teaching, leading to positive outcomes for the children and families we serve. 

Another reason connecting in early education is beneficial is related to the concept of “burn out”.  We have important, rewarding, and often challenging jobs. I have found that connecting with others has lessened my sense of burn out and has sparked a renewed passion in professional development. Knowing that others are facing similar challenges is reassuring. Hearing the strategies they are using to overcome these challenges is inspiring. Reading the latest research, discussing philosophy, beliefs and “why”, strengthens my resolve to integrate research based practices into my teaching and to adapt and improve.  It also inspires me to  advocate to do what we know is best for children even when faced with many barriers.  Connecting with others leads to reflection, reflection moves you forward, moving forward helps you to avoid burn out, stay motivated and stay inspired. 

Being a connected early educator benefits you, your profession and ultimately, your students.  I hope you will consider joining in the conversation.  My Twitter handle is @jodialtringer. To get started, consider searching the following hashtags;  #earlyed, #earlyedsped, #kinderchat, #ecechat, #earlyintervention, #preschool, #childcare, and #preK.  Talk to you on Twitter!