School leaders who spend some of their working life on Twitter are developing their practice and professional identities, new research says.
Scrolling through tweets and opening lengthy threads is not a productivity rabbit hole, the meta-study finds.
Instead, it is a way for school leaders to expand their educational knowledge, learn about academic research and reduce professional isolation.
Academics from the University of Kentucky, in the US, conducted a review of existing research, in order to look at the benefits of Twitter for school leaders.
“The journey of developing as a leader is often isolating,” their paper, Push and Pull on Twitter: how school leaders use Twitter for knowledge brokering, states. “Often, leaders do not have a peer colleague to engage with for support, or to demonstrate their vulnerability.”
Twitter, the academics say, provides a ready-made community for these leaders.
In many cases, the sharing of knowledge on Twitter was interspersed with casual Twitter chat, creating and enhancing social ties between users of the site. School leaders could use Twitter to enhance their professional knowledge, via a broad pool of experts and expertise.
“Leaders on Twitter felt that its use helped reduce their sense of isolation, providing them with a sense of community, both online and offline,” the research paper states.
“Participating in Twitter increased educational leaders’ sense of belonging, thus reducing isolation and fostering a sense of specialness.”
But edu-Twitter is more than simply an online community of headteachers, the research found.
One study cited notes that most tweets from school leaders include a link to a website, mention of another Twitter user, or a hashtag, or retweet someone else’s comments. This, the academics say, is a key indicator of “knowledge brokering” between school leaders.
School leaders are also able to use Twitter to celebrate the achievements of their communities, and advocate for their communities’ needs. They tweet announcements about school events, as well as community-development activities.
This, the researchers say, can help “educational leaders maintain the mission, vision and values of the community they serve, as well as engage the community in a meaningful way".
They add: “These kinds of tweets have the potential to develop coherent narratives within the local community about a school and what it finds important or inspiring.”
However, the research also finds that there are gaps in the school leaders’ Twitter use.
“It is striking that leaders have not been commonly found to promote issues of equity and social justice online,” the paper concludes, although it adds that some may be doing so in hashtagged groups.
The paper says it is clear that “school leaders are using Twitter to build community, increase professional capacity, foster their own professional learning and learn collaboratively.”