Building Supportive Coach Communities with Twitter
Coaches work in different contexts; some in relative isolation, which can lead to negative impacts on professional well-being and development. But, with the use of social media, we can create a supportive culture of “community” among coaches.
Social media is everywhere. If we’re tempted to dismiss it as only good for showcasing cute cats, it would be a mistake. Social media can be used for professional purposes, too. As a coach in the Higher Education (HE) sector in the United Kingdom (UK), I’ve benefited from involvement in the Twitter-based #coachingHE Tweetchat.
Why the #coachingHE Tweetchat?
Coaching is now a popular staff development intervention in UK HE. Many HE institutions have an internal coaching capability, created and funded through coach training for selected staff. Once qualified, some coach as Learning and Development professionals, while others allocate time from their unrelated “day jobs.”
HE coaches in the UK are geographically dispersed, scattered among a large number of institutions. Many work in isolation, even in their own organizations. So, what does this mean for a coach’s well-being and development opportunities specific to the sector?
These issues didn’t escape the attention of the not-for-profit Staff Development Forum (SDF). Tasked to create conditions for knowledge sharing among its staff and organizational development membership, SDF began exploring innovative ways to use social media to enhance learning and communication among HE coaches.
One result was the #coachingHE Tweetchat, which is also supported by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE). This Twitter chat launched in April 2017 with the aim of exploring:
- How a dispersed group of coaches could be brought together “virtually” in a supportive community
- Whether viable continuing professional development opportunities could be provided and shared via Twitter
- If the resulting collective “wisdom” of the HE coach participants could be captured and preserved for the benefit of current and future peers
I’m delighted that the initiative has succeeded on all three counts. Highly commended in the LFHE Developing Excellent Practice Awards 2017, #coachingHE Tweetchat was praised for its cost effectiveness in facilitating professional development and discussion, as well as its ability to build a sustainable, growing community of coaching practice, the impact of which (due to the open format of a Twitter chat) extends far beyond what can be measured.
Key Ingredients of #coachingHE Tweetchat Success
Here are my top four key ingredients for a successful and effective Twitter chat. Think through your own circumstances to see which might be relevant to you if you want to organize your own.
1) An Effective Organizing Committee
Serving on the #coachingHE Tweetchat committee is voluntary, and members undertake the work alongside the rest of their professional duties, so it requires dedication and enthusiasm. Lead members bring a range of technical, social media and communications expertise, while Champions support them and spread the word among HE coach colleague networks to encourage participation. This makes for an effective team.
2) A Creator/Host with High Interpersonal Awareness and Technical Ability
Significant to a Twitter chat’s success is the host’s rare ability to encourage and create a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere through online interactions. Some coaches are more social media savvy than others, so special attention is paid to new participants for whom the experience might be daunting. This builds a supportive “community.”
3) A Simple Format Supported by Pre Chat Information
The #coachingHE Tweetchat is held for one hour over lunchtime a couple times per semester in Q&A format, with clear guidelines on how to join in. Topics are circulated to Lead and Champion committee members in advance for wide dissemination, and a blog post is published beforehand, containing information and references so participants can learn more and prepare to exchange views. This builds learning.
4) “Wisdom” Preservation
Each #coachingHE Tweetchat is collated into a timeline using a digital tool like Storify or Wakelet. These tools record questions, answers and associated discussions, ensuring the “wisdom” from each Tweetchat interaction is preserved and available to current and future HE coaches. This promotes longevity of learning.
I hope the #coachingHE Tweetchat story inspires you. We really can build supportive coach communities with Twitter, reaching out wherever coaches feel isolated or geographically dispersed, and helping to enhance well-being as well as professional expertise.