The mainstream media often portray Twitter as a sensationalist vehicle for attention-seeking celebrities to broadcast the trivial minutiae of their everyday lives. This is a shame I feel as in my humble opinion, the social networking site is in fact the most powerful tool for improving teachers’ professional development there has ever been … ever … and it’s free! Does this news sell papers though? Probably not!

I personally don’t care what Jonathan Ross has for breakfast or how many million followers Lady Gaga has which is why I don’t follow them on Twitter. What I am interested in is connecting with innovative educators from around the world, sharing ideas and having meaningful discussions about the issues of the day. For me, Twitter is an invaluable way of keeping up with the latest developments of topic areas I’m exploring and for sharing them with my 5000 followers!

In 2007, when I joined Twitter, the number of language teachers from the UK using the service were few and far between. Over time, however, more and more dipped their toe in the Twittersphere and thanks to word of mouth and events like the Isle of Wight Conference, we reached a critical mass around 2010/2011 when the growing community took on a life of its own and was even given its own name!  The MFL Twitterati as it is now known is a dynamic grassroots group of language teachers, consultants and associations from the UK who are passionate about language learning and love sharing their expertise with like-minded colleagues around the globe.

Described by some as ‘the best MFL staffroom in the world‘, the MFL Twitterati has proved to be an invaluable professional and personal support for many of its members some of whom say they couldn’t now imagine teaching without it! Wow!

The success of the MFL Twitterati is down to the fact that you get to know a little about people’s personal lives as well as their ideas about language teaching (it’s not all serious work stuff, there is some banter too!). You can also choose who you follow and who follows you back, (unlike a forum) encouraging you to be pro-active about nurturing your own personal learning network. Lurking and learning is fine to begin with, but essentially with Twitter, you get out what you put in, meaning if all you do is read other people’s tweets, but never reply or start your own discussions, you’re missing out. ‘Joining the conversation’, as one says, will allow you to get the full benefit of Twitter and life will never be the same again! In a nutshell, the MFL Twitterati = a staffroom without cynics, a place to reflect, experiment and discuss with supportive experts in their field 24/7. Heaven!

For those teachers saying ‘I haven’t got time for this’, my reply would be to check out the MFL Times, a free daily e-newspaper made up of stories harvested from the links sent by language twitterers from around the world. How cool is that! For the more adventurous among you, you may wish to take part in one of our regular video conferencing sessions where we discuss the issues of the day from the comfort of our own homes. All you need to get started is a microphone and webcam (if you’re not too shy) and go to the sign up wiki to put in your details and join the meeting. The MFL Flashmeetings started in 2009 and there have been twenty or so to date. By clicking on the link you use to join a meeting you can watch the replay as everything is recorded making a permanent and valuable resource. Each Flashmeeting normally gets over 100 views, sometimes more, proving their worth I feel.

The latest example of the collaborative power of the community is the introduction of MFL Twitterati Dropboxes where invited members can freely share their digital resources whilst still retaining the copyright. The brainchild of MFL Twitter stalwart Amanda Salt, the Dropboxes (organised by language) have proved a huge success and invite requests appear daily from newbies wanting to join!

To get a flavour of what all the fuss is about, I’d like to set you a challenge, namely to read the MFL Twitterati’s tweets for 10 minutes every day for the next week and see if you find anything helpful you will be able to use in your lessons. As you can access Twitter on a mobile device as well as a computer you could do this during some dead time during your day such as waiting for the bus or having a coffee break. I can guarantee that by taking ‘the 10 minute challenge’ you will unearth at least one gem of an idea that you can either put into practice straight away or you can adapt to your own tastes. Want to hear about useful government documents, Ofsted guidelines, eBacc initiatives, primary languages consultations etc as soon as they are published? Join the MFL Twitterati! You could also do a search for the hashtag #mfltwitterati which is now being used by language teachers globally. Cool!

I created the list MFL Twitterers to give language teachers a helping hand to ‘get’ Twitter by giving them a ready-made community to follow. Over 530 are subscribed to the list to date so my plan seems to be working. Mwhahahah! Some users really like using Twitter clients such as TweetDeck on a PC or Tweetbot for iOS devices as you can have the list as its own column making it easy to read when you have a spare moment.

Last term, I ran a course for Network for Languages London called Get Inspired, create and share with social media. If you would be interested in attending this course in the future just get in contact with Network for Languages London or send @languageslondon a tweet … I’m @joedale by the way. See you on Twitter!