Twitter "Saturday School" For Teachers

Every Saturday morning, nearly 200 educators join the online conversation #satchat. They say Twitter lets them instantly discuss issues like bullying, teacher recruitment and social media with colleagues outside their districts. Host Michel Martin talks with #satchat co-founder and New Jersey public school administrator Scott Rocco.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, if you own a home or want to buy one, you've no doubt heard of the mortgage interest tax deduction. Homeowners love it, but many economists hate it. We'll find out why in a few minutes.

But first, you might remember that, a couple of weeks ago, we brought you our special program on education. Top policymakers and advocates, as well as parents, students and teachers took part in a special radio broadcast and live Twitter forum at hash tag #NPREdChat. That conversation generated hundreds of tweets and many interesting story ideas.

We learned a lot and one of the things we learned about was a global network of teachers that take to Twitter every Saturday morning at 7:30 AM Eastern Time to talk about challenges and share best practices.

The chat was started by New Jersey school administrators, Brad Currie and Scott Rocco with about 20 people. It's grown tenfold since then every weekend.

We wanted to hear more about this, so we called Scott Rocco. He's an assistant superintendant at Hillsborough Township Public Schools in New Jersey. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

SCOTT ROCCO: Thanks, Michel, for having me on.

MARTIN: So how did this start? Who had the idea? What was the original idea?

ROCCO: Well, the original idea started with Brad Currie and I. We're both administrators and we were administrators in a town right next to each other. We started talking about some opportunities for having a discussion through social media on educational purposes and having a positive and progressive conversation. So we toyed around with the idea of creating a hash tag, #satchat, on Saturday mornings and we didn't know if it was going to end up being an interesting concept or something people bought into, but it did and we've got over 200 people all around the world who join us 7:30 in the morning East Coast time and now we also do a West Coast 7:30 #satchat with some administrators out of California and Texas, so it's been popular over the last couple of months.

MARTIN: Are you surprised that it's gone so global, that people, literally all over the world, want to participate?

ROCCO: I'm absolutely shocked because, when you look at the start of our #satchat, we always ask people to introduce themselves, tell us what their position is - not that the position matters because that's the beauty of social media. We don't care. As long as you're just an educator, you can participate in these conversations, but when people start telling us where they're from, Australia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Canada, all over the world - participate, and it's wonderful to be able to collaborate with these individuals who, without social media, we wouldn't have an opportunity to talk with.

MARTIN: What are some of the topics that have come up?

ROCCO: We've talked about - we've been doing this since April and we've done it every Saturday. We've talked about things like global leadership. We've talked about rethinking leadership, which was the most recent conversation. Innovations in schools, assisting emerging leaders, harassment, intimidation and bullying, school safety. We've talked about stretching the budget dollar and we try to talk about topics that educators want to talk about, need resources and collaboration on, but without social media, they wouldn't have the opportunity to actually collaborate with people outside of either their school or their school district. And we try to pick topics that are popular, but also, we don't shy away from the tough topics. So, this Saturday, we're going to be talking about tenure reform.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with Scott Rocco. He's a New Jersey school administrator who is the cofounder of hash tag #satchat. That's a Saturday morning Twitter chat for educators and, as he's just told us, there are people participating from literally all over the country and all over the world.

Let me just read a tweet from this past Saturday's chat. This comes from Greg Miller(ph). He is a principal in Southern Alberta, Canada. He says, social media has definitely opened my mind to varying perspectives. Learned more in my one and a half years on Twitter than in entire career, which is pretty - which is impressive. So what are some of the other tweets that stand out for you, Scott?

ROCCO: I think the one thing that stands out and is consistent throughout our discussions and with people responding to the power of social media is that it's 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You take as much as you want from it and you give as much as you want from it. And what people are taken with is the willingness of educators all over the world to collaborate and help each other and...

MARTIN: You know, for - I'm sorry.

ROCCO: ...that comes out, time and time again.

MARTIN: Well, one of the things that I think people might be skeptical of is one of the reasons a lot of people are skeptical of Twitter, even though people use it, is that - how can you really get into any depth in 140 characters?

ROCCO: Yeah. It's one of the things that comes up a lot is - you know, really, is there any value in using this resource? Because you can only put out 140 characters. And my response to people is - yeah. It is because, first of all, it makes you be concise, so you have to think about what you're talking about, but on top of that, the 140 characters can link to articles, to research, to websites, to other resources that people can check out, which actually expand the conversation.

And then what happens is educators match up from all over the world, so there are seven of us now. We've expanded our moderators for #satchat. There are seven of us and we collaborate using all kinds of different resources, like Google Docs, and we go online and have video chat with each other, so the conversation goes beyond the 140 characters. The 140 is just the way to connect, in my mind.

MARTIN: Have you incorporated anything you've learned into your specific practices at school?

ROCCO: Yeah, yeah. It's a great question because a lot of ideas get generated, but if you don't use any of those ideas in your job - in your profession, then what's the value? And I have. I've done a number of different things. We, in New Jersey, are required to pick a new observation model. And we agreed, as a committee of 51 staff members, teachers and administrators that we would be transparent and so, when our subcommittees began to report out what they were finding in the various model examples, we began tweeting that out. And, when the committee chose, we were tweeting out that meeting so that our entire staff understood where we were going and why we were going that way. That's one example.

Another example is the use of QR codes, the bar codes, or the boxes that look like bar codes. I now have a business card for my job because I do personnel with a QR code on the back, which links immediately to our website. It has our vacancies. It has our online application. It has a recruitment page that tells people about our district. I learned about QR codes through talking with people on Twitter.

MARTIN: Have you ever messed up? You know, there've been a number of stories about, you know, political leaders who've, you know, gotten into some hot water for things that they tweeted. They say, oh, I didn't mean that or I misunderstood.

ROCCO: Right.

MARTIN: And people - you know, people aren't so forgiving about that. Has that ever happened to you or anybody else?

ROCCO: Well, I try to - I try to use it exclusively for professional use. I consider before I send tweets. However, I do realize that, as I'm sending tweets in conversations - because #satchat is not the only conversation out there that I participate in - #satchat's the one I moderate - that people may take what I tweet the wrong way. Every once in a while, people will ask myself or any of the other educators for clarification of what we're tweeting, but hopefully - knock on wood - I don't have one of those errant tweets that goes out and is not what I meant it to say.

MARTIN: Well, hopefully, you keep the name-calling to a minimum. Right?

ROCCO: That's right. That's right.

MARTIN: Exactly. So, finally, you know, have you thought about or have you - you're teaching social media classes now to teachers. Do you just - quickly - as quickly as you can, 140 characters if you would - best advice for people who want to start using Twitter, but are still a little afraid of it?

ROCCO: Sure. Best advice, very simply, observe, begin to participate, engage, collaborate. It's just that easy. You can spend a lot of time observing and then participate. Then you collaborate and then you engage others. And you can do it as much as you like.

MARTIN: Well, keep us posted, if you would.

ROCCO: Absolutely. Thank you.

MARTIN: Really interesting, although I'm not promising to get up at 7:30 on Saturday. I'm just letting you know.

ROCCO: You're welcome anytime.

MARTIN: Scott Rocco is an assistant superintendent at Hillsborough Township Public Schools. He's the co-founder of the Saturday Twitter chat, hash tag #satchat. It is for educators. And he was kind enough to join us from West Windsor, New Jersey.

Scott Rocco, thank you.

ROCCO: Thank you.

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