How I Welcome Newcomers to Online Teacher Professional Development (a/k/a the #MTBoS) and How You Can Too

Here is the promise:

There is a community of math educators that meets online at all hours of the day. They trade support and resources and many of the educators who meet there will tell you it is the most indispensable professional development they have ever experienced. If you lack support in your school or district, this community might actually get you through. I’m referring to the the Math Twitterblogosphere, or the #MTBoS, an abbreviation that is as unwieldy and charming as the community it names.

Here is the reality:

Where am I? Who are all these people? Is it rude to just say something to somebody? These conversations look interesting but do I just … jump in?

Here is an ugly bit of unexamined privilege:

Loads of people informed me immediately that, nope, Twitter only works that way if you already have lots of followers, if you’re already in the community, and that it also helps to belong to a demographic that is accustomed to being listened to all the time.

People informed me that their first leap into this teaching community was scary, that getting “shot down” was bad, but bad also was simply getting ignored.

I decided I didn’t want to ignore a tweet from a newcomer to the Math Twitterblogosphere. So about a month ago I wrote up the designs for a Chrome extension and hired a freelancer to build it. The extension highlights tweets from users that meet any criteria I choose.

Here is my “Welcome to the #MTBoS” rule. It highlights tweets from anyone with fewer than 100 tweets, people who are likely new in town, so I can make sure they hear from somebody.

The results have been a blast. I don’t break much of a sweat on these welcome wagon tweets. “Never stop tweeting” is my standard greeting, after a more personal remark. Other times I try to connect newcomers to the resources they’re after. Regardless, people are generally really excited to receive these quick tweets.

That’s someone whose day got made because this little Twitter extension made it easy for me to make sure she didn’t get ignored.

You can make someone’s day too. Loads of these newcomers aren’t following me. Many of them are looking for classroom teachers to follow. Many of them are looking for people who are only a couple of years ahead of them in their careers, not ten or twenty.

You’re welcome to install the same extension, without any warranty, and with only the most meager set of instructions. (If I start hearing that a bunch of you want to install it, I’ll give it a proper download page with a proper set of instructions. 2017 May 25: Updated with that page.)

Hey. Good work, everybody. People are writing dissertations about us. People from outside mathematics education are looking in at us as a model for professional community. This place is special. Let’s keep expanding it – its numbers, its representation, and its heart. This is one idea I had recently. What’s yours?

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Michael Pershan offers his work towards community building: comment on more blogs.

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I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. More here.

26 Comments

  1. Reply

    That’s nifty! I’m in the “being ignored sucks” camp so whenever I can I scroll through #mtbos and find tweets that have no or few replies and try to respond if possible. If I have nothing to say on the topic I usually retweet if it’s been 12 or more hours to make the question fresh.

  2. Reply

    Let’s keep expanding it – its numbers, its representation, and its heart.

    I like this call to action a lot more than ‘be selfish’! Though maybe ‘be selfish’ is the advice we want to give noobs. MTBoS experts should be a bit less selfish.

    This is one idea I had recently. What’s yours?

    This extension is a lovely idea.

    I’ve been playing with moving more of my MTBoS life back to blogs, away from Twitter. I wanted to read and comment on a wider variety of blogs, so here’s what I did.

    (1) I gave away my Twitter password to a loved one. My MTBoS attention (maybe not yours’) is a zero sum situation. If I’m spending time on Twitter, I’m not spending time reading blogs and commenting. And I like comments, and want to encourage blogging.

    Boo.

    I still go on Twitter, but far less frequently.

    I also turned on email notifications so I’d be sure to respond to anyone who wanted to chat.

    (2) Problem: I used Twitter to find blogs, and my RSS was badly out of date. Fortunately, the @mtbos_blogbot account follows a lot of blogs. I used a fancy website to turn the blogbot account into an RSS feed. I subscribed to that RSS feed in my preferred reader (The Old Reader, always The Old Reader) and, tada, lots of blogs to follow.

    Yay.

    (3) I’ve been commenting a lot. I sign up to be notified of follow-up comments, but I still find it helpful to keep track of where I’ve commented. They’re conversations are worth holding on to. So I’ve been using Google Keep (but replace that with your favorite bookmarking service) and saving and tagging any post I’ve left a note at with a ‘commented’ tag.

    So, that’s my little pitch. Twitter is great (though maybe not for me right now) but I’d hate to imagine a MTBoS with less blogging. Blogs are special. Keep commenting.

    • the twitter thing is sort of a reason i fell out of MTBOS. initially i was really excited and tried to participate a lot, but after a certain moment i felt like all the action was happening on twitter and being in europe meant that time-zone wise most of the real-time action was out of reach and when i could look at twitter, it became this overwhelming mass. i started to develop fear of missing out and this feeling that i’d never break into the “inner circle,” which was simultaneously a middle school-like desire to hang with the cool kids but also a nagging fear that since i wasn’t in it that i wasn’t a caring enough, creative enough, good enough math teacher. so i purposely took a step back from everything.

      Useful feedback for Twitter vets.

      i think for newcomers, and people on the periphery like myself, the sprawling nature can be really overwhelming. sure, the more the merrier, but that means your own stuff gets lost and it gets hard to find others and make real connections.
    • I like this call to action a lot more than ‘be selfish’! Though maybe ‘be selfish’ is the advice we want to give noobs. MTBoS experts should be a bit less selfish.

      I almost wedged in my usual appeal to selfishness, which lately draws its fire from this Watson quotation. We are only experiencing half of a #MTBoS, half an NCTM, half a life, if half of humanity is excluded from those forums and benefits. Our MTBoS is bound up with theirs.

      So, that’s my little pitch. Twitter is great (though maybe not for me right now) but I’d hate to imagine a MTBoS with less blogging. Blogs are special. Keep commenting.

      Never stop commenting. Your infodiet isn’t what I need right now, but I admire its thoughtfulness.

  3. Heidi Sabnani

    May 22, 2017 - 4:34 pm -
    Reply

    Brilliant! I think this is a great opportunity to reach out to others. I’ve had some limited response from MTBoS over the last two years, but I am sure there are people who are even more new to all of this than myself.

    • Right! After hanging around for awhile, you start to realize that you’re a #MTBoS vet!

    • Everybody feels weird at first, but the more you jump in, the more comfortable you will become. Good stuff gets forwarded, responded to, or commented. At its heart, there is an element of basic trust involved, but please know that many of us only started tweeting and blogging because we were desperate to find the people like you who are out there! So do what you need to do — lurk, tweet, blog, comment. The #MTBoS operates on the butterfly principle!

  4. Reply

    I noticed you doing this, great idea.

    I do predict others may want to utilize the addon, but does that behavior scale? Or even if it does, is that what we want to do at scale? Perhaps there’s a phase two after welcoming.

    What might phase two be?

    Inviting to a #chat?
    Asking a question back?
    Getting more followers and followees to these new members?

    • I actually think Sam Shah & his crew have some good second steps written up already. But none of them really nail the feeling of getting some spontaneous feedback from a stranger on something that interests you. That’s how this project came together.

  5. Reply

    Well this is just plain awesome. Great idea, Dan! I’m totally in, and I love Scott’s idea of phase 2 as well. Looking forward to building our community more intentionally!

  6. Megan Bartley

    May 23, 2017 - 6:19 am -
    Reply

    You have probably seen this YouTube video of Pixar guru Randy Nelson. But if not, it is worth watching. I love applying the idea of “plussing” to tweeting. :) And who does not love old school Pixar? I like to use this to help build the culture of collaboration in my classroom.

  7. Reply

    I wanted to share my thoughts on this part: “Loads of people informed me immediately that, nope, Twitter only works that way if you already have lots of followers, if you’re already in the community, and that it also helps to belong to a demographic that is accustomed to being listened to all the time.”

    I totally get this. True, if no one is following you, few will see what you tweet. I remember it not feeling great that my first tweets got very little feedback (and I think it was well over a year before I got my first comment on a blog post). It usually does get better though and like most things, it takes time and effort.

    It is similar to being the new kid in school. Most of the other students already have connections and are not looking out to welcome the new kid. You might reach out and not get a warm welcome, but usually there are some people there who will love to make you feel like a part of the community.

    Personally, I found it helpful to get interactions going by replying to people’s tweets and including hashtags like #MTBoS.

    • and I think it was well over a year before I got my first comment on a blog post

      On the one hand, I want to say to anyone who is blogging: let me know! If you want a comment, ask and you shall receive. Literally anytime anyone has ever asked me what I think about a post I have commented, and tried to comment generously.

      But is this what people really want?

      The real joy, it seems to me, comes when you’re noticed. It feels good to get attention for my writing, especially when I don’t ask for it.

      That’s part of the tension with the sort of community we’re living with, it seems to me. Part of the fun is ‘earning’ attention. The rewards are lesser if you ask for it. (Not that they should be lesser. But I think this is experientially true.)

      I don’t know if there are any implications to this observation, even if it’s true.

      Michael’s quote in his senior high school yearbook.

      I just like thinking about this stuff.
  8. Reply

    Your post nails it… And I am reminded of my first tweet about a year ago. I was still pretty new on twitter and didn’t know exactly how hashtags worked. I tweeted with no followers so I figured it was low risk… but I was still terrified. And within the hour got a response from one of the presenters I had seen at NCTM the year before. I FREAKED out. It is surreal to get acknowledgment for a contribution. Ever since, I have been generous with commenting, likes, and sharing tweets and ideas because it can keep someone in a conversation they might otherwise leave or not participate in. It’s makes for a good community. Or like what Randy Nelson says in the video attached above, when you amplify and “plus” the work of another it allows for collaboration. Commenting and sharing is collaborative in nature because it amplifies and “plus”-es the work of another. Thanks as always.

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