Category Archives: Social Media

A Challenge: An Open Letter To Fellow Teachers


Dear Fellow Teachers,

Fired up about the latest mass murder in an American school?  Great.  Me, too.  And if I see one more well-meaning teacher on a social media post ask for advice while trying not to be “political”,  I’m going to snap my very favorite purple pen in half.   And you know that means business when a teacher vows to destroy a favorite pen. So, fellow teachers…




Everything we do is legislated by the state or federal government or decided upon by a school board.  From the backless, toeless shoes we’re not supposed to wear in my district to the funding we receive as a Title 1 school, EVERYTHING IS POLITICAL.

Saying you’re not political is political. 

It places you firmly in your privilege, siding with the status quo.

Your non-voice, your silence, emboldens others to tell you what to teach, how to teach it, and how much you’ll be paid to shut up and fake-it-to-make it.

I’m not saying your classroom is the place to indoctrinate your students with your views on abortion or 2nd Amendment rights. As a professional, your job is to helps students explore all points of view. What I’m saying is that you need to educate yourself and take a social media stand on issues that impact the four walls you teach in every single day.

For example:

If you can’t talk about these topics with a modicum of insight, it’s time to stop grading and read about them.

You can still use social media to ask for advice and share your favorite activities, but please get out of your Pinterest stupor and GET INFORMED.  What can you do?

  1. Find your local school district’s social media accounts  and follow them.
  2. Find your town’s social media accounts and follow them.
  3. Find your county’s social media accounts and follow them.
  4. Find your governor’s social media accounts and follow them.
  5. Find your STATE legislators’ social media accounts and follow them.
  6. Find your CONGRESSIONAL legislators’ social media accounts and follow them.


7) “Like” what you agree with a write a comment telling them why.

8) If you disagree with what your elected official posted, tell them why.

9) Do both professionally and diplomatically. No name calling, no sweeping generalizations. Keep it positive.

10) And when someone in your social circle posts something  you know is factually dubious (because you’re informed), TELL THEM ABOUT IT and add a credible link. Do not engage with a back and forth and be ridiculous.  Use your teacher voice.  Then get on with your life.

“But Heather, it’s JUST social media!”

It’s never JUST anything when it concerns our students.

Quick story:

In the mid 2000’s I was at a National Writing Project Annual Meeting and chose a session about supporting LBGTQ students, back when it was still precarious professionally to do so openly.  The hotel conference room was packed with teachers from all over the country, wanting to make a difference without losing their jobs.  One man said, “Listen. Even if all you can do is tell a student ‘That’s so gay is not OK in this classroom,’ you have done something. You have made your classroom safer for the closeted student in the back row or for another student whose uncle just came out.”

Those two sentences changed me.  Since that November afternoon  years ago, my classroom has never been the same.  Some people might consider it a political act that I stand up so openly for my LGBTQ students. I long to live in a culture where treating everyone with dignity and respect is a norm, not a political leaning. So until then, the rainbow  drawing on my classroom door is political. I can live with that.

I believe that every student has the right to feel safe in every classroom across our great, complicated, bruised country.   And they will never feel totally safe until we, as teachers, stop being afraid of being called “political.”


With love,



Detoxing From Social Media


Over my school district’s winter break, I am taking a break from social media.  From December 24th through January 3rd, I am not checking Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.  In the interest of transparency, I have logged into Facebook to check yoga class times and to see if anyone has posted anything wacky on my author page, but that’s it.

And it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be to go cold turkey.

I’m a fan of social media, largely in part because I use generally use it for the Forces of Good: keep in touch with friends and family, share information, offer a high five or virtual hug and laugh at funny videos and memes.  I also wanted to be totally present with my husband over the holiday because starting a new job and finishing a book has made me candidate for #1 Slacker Wife 2015.

I also have a very sick family member and I am reflecting a lot on the preciousness of time.  If I get a terminal disease, I am not going to miss liking people’s statues or picture of flowers.  I will miss hugging  people and walking through the woods.

But I didn’t realize how automatic it has become to click on the blue and white F on my iPhone screen.  It was totally automatic.  It freaked me out.  And made me feel ashamed of being so connected to this computer in my hand.

My thoughts so far:

Day 1 (12/24) : This is great!  It’s fun to be so disconnected and to live like it’s 2006. Please text me your photos from Christmas Eve dinner because I’m detoxing from social media.  See, I have self control. Now give me one of those cookies…

Day 2 (12/25)  I want to see people’s Christmas photos!  But it’s so nice to be out of the loop. But I want to see your kids in their Christmas outfits!

Day 3 (12/26) : Periphery, Harlen. Social media is  all periphery.  You’ll be in touch with anyone who really matters. But what’s going on???  I had to text my husband a meme I made instead of posting it on his FB page.  It was an Omar Little meme and it was about ceviche – who wouldn’t want to see that? Oh well. It was just for him.

Day 4 (12/27):  I really want to tell everyone – the entire universe – how awesome Star Wars: The Force Awakes is!  I want to tweet J.J. Abrams and tell him I have officially forgiven him for the ending of Lost.  Instead, I will rave to my husband and the friends we watched it with.  I will text my sister-in-law back because she saw it today, too.  And I am good with that.

Day 4 (12/28):  I am reading REAL news sources more now.  I am actually going to The Washington Post app instead of my friends self-selecting for me.   It’s only been four days? I’m PROUD of myself for being off social media for four days. Proud?  That’s terrible.  Shameful.  Proud.  Wow. It’s a good thing I am taking a break.  I’m wondering what the outcome will be.







#SmarterSunday: The Insidiousness of Resiliency



Raise your hand if you work for an organization that uses “resiliency” in its mission statement or philosophy.


Now take that hand and smack yourself in the forehead.

Because that’s what “resiliency” feels like to me now.

As a teacher who is surviving the high stakes testing extravaganza inspired by No Child Left Behind, no word rings more hollow than “resiliency.”  It really means do more with less and make sure you smile while doing it – and come back for more tomorrow.

This article by Parul Seghal explains a dangerous outcome of demanding resiliency:  shaming those who question the system.

It’s time those of us who are asked to be resilient to start asking more questions about the system that demands so much from us. Even rubber bands snap.


Give It A Whirl: Using Medium To Build Your Author Platform

Give It A Whirl: Using Medium To Build Your Author Platform

Screen shot 2014-01-25 at 2.55.18 PMAfter shaking my fists at Mother Nature when I found out the  Penn State Lehigh Valley Writing Project’s annual Best Practices Conference had been postponed due to weather issues,  I thought I’d share a resource with you.  If you were planning on attending my session about publishing in the digital age, we would have talked about creating an “author platform.”  A author platform is essentially what you create to present yourself to the world, usually online.  It’s about your content and how you connect to others. Read this article for one writer’s perspective on the topic.

One of the possibilities I would have shared with you this morning is Medium. It’s a newfangled blogging platform started by Blogger founder and Twitter co-founder, Evan Williams, and two former Twitter employees.  Medium describes itself as “a new place on the Internet where people share ideas and stories that are longer than 140 characters and not just for friends. It’s designed for little stories that make your day better and manifestos that change the world. It’s used by everyone from professional journalists to amateur cooks. It’s simple, beautiful, collaborative, and it helps you find the right audience for whatever you have to say.” Medium says its benefits include simple composing and formatting, opportunity for collaboration, and the opportunity to be part of a larger, interactive community.

This article on Slate convinced me to take a look at Medium.  I found out Medium’s format is super-easy on the eyes, the content is fresh, and each post notes how long it might  take you to read it.  You can choose “collections” that interest you.  A few of the collections I follow are  Life HacksTeaching and Learning and This Happened To Me. There is something for everyone here.

If you are someone who plans on publishing your writing, Medium can be cool place to start.   Read posts, recommend the pieces you like, connect with some writers.  When you have something to say,  post something.  See what happens.  (And shazaam – you have your name in the digital writing world – bonus.)

I’m using Medium was a way to write the nonfiction I’ve wanted to write and to easily connect with other writers. I’ve decided 2014 is my Year of Writing Dangerously and my first post was something I’ve had written for years but never shared. Finding out about Medium gave me the impetus to put it into the world.

Would people read my precious piece?  Well, the stats are a really cool component of Medium.  As of today, I know:

Medium Stats Example

I try not to dwell on the people who viewed but didn’t read.  It’s easy to obsess over who isn’t reading your writing.  In the end, I decided two things: I hope the people who read this piece felt a little comfort and that I’d learn more about Medium to see how I can reach a more readers and connect with more writers.  Believe me – it’s ALL a learning curve with creating your author platform, so try, try again.  My next piece is called The Digital Age Is Not For Snotty McSnottersons.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

So the pros about Medium:

  • It’s democratic – no editors, no gatekeepers.  (Unless you want to post in a collection, then you need collection editors’ approval).
  • No commitment – you can just read until you’re ready to post.
  • Posts include the time it might take you to read it. Could be appealing to readers.
  • You can search for pieces by areas of interest.
  • You can recommend posts and thereby connect with other writers.
  • It’s easy to set up. You just need a Twitter account.
  • It’s easy to post.  You can save drafts, share drafts with others to seek feedback before you post and you can add an image.
  • You can connect with many other writers about many different topics.
  • Stats are really simple and easy to understand.
  • You can find a niche based on data from your stats.
  • It’s timely – you can write about last night’s episode of American Horror Story: Coven or the latest news.
  • Medium is having  nifty little contest based on the idea of six word memoir, so here’s an easy opportunity to give it a whirl.

Cons about Medium:

  • You have write so your voice is heard above other voices and you have to research how to do this. Let me know when you figure it out.
  • It’s democratic, so the quality of the other contributors isn’t assured.
  • If you want to post, you need a Twitter account.

CAVEAT TO TEACHERS: there has been much ado about teachers and social media.  I personally think a lot of it comes from luddites who are afraid of change.  Listen, the revolution still might not be be televised (immediately) , but it will be and has been Tweeted.   We might as well get on board. Just remember: don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your principal or superintendent to read.  If you want to be a writer in 2014, you have to create  an author platform, so you might as well start now and start small.

Parting offer: if you are interested in posting on Medium and would like someone to give you feedback before you post, I’ll do that for the first five people who email me.  The only stipulation is that you’ll do the same for me sometime.

Please post comments and questions below, ESPECIALLY if you post something on Medium. Come on, take a chance! We’ll add a few clicks to your stats and make you feel mighty special. And don’t forget to connect with me on Twitter and Facebook so we can support each other as we write.

See you April 5th!!

See you April 5th!!

Twitter For Teachers: Part 2


Screen shot 2013-05-28 at 6.26.30 PMSince summer  vacay is just a few weeks away, here’s a final post about how to use Twitter for professional development.

Twitter chats are a fun way to engage with teachers and find out what’s going on in other schools.  For  example, #edchat happens on Tuesdays at noon and 5pm EST. Teachers from all over the United States and world participate in this discussion about a topic.  I would suggest just tuning into an edchat first to see how it works.  All you have to do is type in #edchat and you’ll be able to follow any tweet with that hashtag.  Tweeters comment on a specific, pre-determined topic, like maybe technology or testing.  Retweet or favorite the tweets you like.  You’ll be giving compliments to the tweeters and you just might find yourself some new followers.  Once you feel comfy with how edchat flows, join the conversation. Here are tips for a successful edchat. There are plenty of other chats as well, so check out this fascinatingcalendar.

Don’t forget to make lists.  This is a simple way to organize tweets.  Sometimes I just want to see tweets from teachers I follow; other times, I just want to read tweet from writers I follow.   Here are some tips from Twitter on setting up a list and here’s a video.

So welcome to the Twitterverse!  Have fun and get connected! Please share any resources you find below.  There’s always something new to learn when it comes to social media.

Twitter For Teachers: Part 1


If you’re looking for up-to-date teaching ideas but don’t have hours to comb through websites, Twitter is your one-stop-shop.  Here are some tips to get you grooving into the Twitterverse.

1. Sign up for Twitter. It’s free and simple.  You have to choose a username; mine is @harlenwrites. You can use @yourname or @alias.  Just remember we’re teachers and we have to be especially responsible with our social media identities,  so something like @hot4teachrr or @ilovecoorslight aren’t your best choices.  Just sayin’.

2. Follow and read, don’t post—yet.  It took me a year to feel comfortable enough to send a tweet.  A Twitter-savvy friend told me she uses it for news, sports and pop culture but didn’t send tweets.  That was a safe place for me to start, so I followed some of the people she followed and didn’t do much but read. I encourage you to do the same.  Find out what people are saying, how they are saying it and become familiar with the lingo. Here are the basics:

  • Rt = retweet (You like what someone said, so you want to send it out to those who follow you, too.)
  • # = hashtag (a way of indexing conversation topics. More on that in #3.)
  • Favorite = press the star to say you really like what this person has to say and you want to remember it.  It’s like a virtual thumb’s up. Your Twitter account has a special area for your favorites, so you easily can find it later.  If you really, really like it, retweet and mark it as a favorite.

3.  Hashtags are #awesome and #important.  Hashtags serve different purposes.  One purpose is to give your tweets an audience. For example, if you are tweeting about a lesson, you could use #edchat or #edtech, depending on the type of lesson. People who search for this hashtag will read your tweet.

Another purpose of a hashtag is to give you something to search. For example, I search for #engchat when I want to see what’s going on with English teachers. There are tons of hashtags dealing with education. These are websites I reference frequently when I’m tweeting:

Cheat Sheet: Twitter For Teachers

Cybrary Man

Hashtags also allow you to participate in Twitter chats.  I’ll have more on that in Twitter For Teachers: Part 2, but in the meantime, you can check this out for more information: Utilizing Twitter Chats for Professional Development.

If you are ready to launch into the Twitterverse and want more info, you can simply search “twitter for teachers” or try these websites:

The Ultimate Twitter Guidebook for Teachers

Why Teachers Should Try Twitter

Northwestern Lehigh School District Wiki

Free Twitter Handbook For Teachers

Finally, here’s a great graphic with 11 tips for using Twitter effectively.

If you still aren’t totally sold on a personal Twitter account, a fabulous option is Tweet Chat.  You can type in a hashtag and see what people are talking about without having to sign up.

Twitter For Teachers Part 2 will cover chats and lists.

Be sure to follow me @harlenwrites.  Hope to retweet and favorite your great ideas soon!