All posts by Hollis Easter

Nutrient Imbalances in Teaching: Understanding vs. Practice

Finding that something in your teaching just isn’t working right and the students aren’t thriving? Maybe you’re giving them a nutrient imbalance.

Think about protein and fats. You can’t make one from the other; you need both. If you skimp on one, it doesn’t matter how abundant the other is, because they’re not interchangeable.

Understanding and practice are kind of the same way.

Most of the training problems people bring me involve some kind of nutrient imbalance between understanding and practice. It’s a useful lens for figuring out what to try next.

It’s pretty simple to imagine a balanced diet of understanding and practice because most of us have played music or played sports.

In music, you need to practice scales, but you also need to play lots of different pieces and work on understanding how music works. If you only played scales, you’d get bored; if you only worked on full pieces, you’d never improve your playing.

In sports, you need to practice individual skills and fitness, but you also need to work on the whole game, teamwork, and strategy. If you only practiced shooting baskets, you’d be useless to a team; if you only learned strategy, you’d be too slow to compete and too erratic to be much good at free throws.

It’s easy to see that we need balance in music and sports, but it’s a bit harder with other subjects.

The Understanding Imbalance

I love teaching toward understanding. It’s great. I particularly love teaching with discovery learning in rich authentic contexts that help learners construct their own knowledge and skills. I totally dig that!

But unless I’m giving learners a chance to practice what they’re learning, it fades. My wisdom seeps away, their authentic contexts get forgotten, and we’re back where we started.

There are two big categories of understanding imbalance: information overload and understanding-not-demonstrating.

Lecture is the archetypal example of an information-overload understanding imbalance: a grand sage pouring out vast quantities of wisdom from a lectern atop a dais. When was the last time you remembered all the good ideas you heard in a lecture? It’s information overload.

It’s easy to go overboard with discovery in math class and forget that students need to practice using the tools we’re teaching. Often this comes from focusing at length on a single problem. English classes spend hours analyzing a single paragraph or page, really working to understand how the pieces fit together. This is important stuff, but it often leaves students unable to demonstrate the same things they’ve just learned.

Sometimes an understanding imbalance comes from trying to cram a ton of content into insufficient class time. If you catch yourself saying “we’ve covered that”, suspect an understanding imbalance.

In the training world, an understanding imbalance often looks like this: I show the trainees how to use the office phone system to place outgoing calls, put them on hold, etc. I call on a trainee and ask her to demonstrate making a call, which she does. I ask another trainee to show putting someone on hold, which he does. I conclude that the class has learned successfully, and I move on to teaching something about keeping the office secure. This is an understanding-not-demonstrating imbalance.

Often we get into understanding imbalances because they seem like efficient uses of class time and resources. It’s easy to justify this kind of training to stakeholders—look how much we’re getting done! But the progress often evaporates once a bit of time has passed: people are taking in so much information that they can’t remember much of it.

Clues that you may have an understanding imbalance

  • Most of the speaking in class is done by the teacher.
  • Students are mostly sitting still and listening to the teacher.
  • Class time and homework both primarily involve learning new material.
  • Opportunities for providing formative assessment are limited or nonexistent.
  • You’re “covering” material but the students aren’t getting it.
  • You can’t remember your students’ voices or handwriting.

If you have an understanding imbalance, start looking for ways to have students practice where you can give them immediate feedback and guidance. If you can’t spare the class time, revise your homework assignments to provide focused practice, starting with small pieces (drills, simple exercises) and scaling them up into bigger practice.

Use the practice for formative assessment, and make any gaps in understanding the target for your next teaching segment. Then give them more time to practice, and keep assessing.

Remember that covering more material is pointless unless they’re also remembering it.

The Practice Imbalance

This one’s a little harder to see, but perhaps I can explain with an example:

In college, I really struggled in a linear algebra class that was heavily focused on procedures and calculations. Each week, I’d learn a host of new mathematical tools and be given problem sets that required repeating them dozens of times. A few weeks into the class, I was lost—couldn’t keep the methods straight in my head, couldn’t figure out what they were for, was frustrated and angry and upset. I ended up passing the class—barely—because the professor took pity on me, and I developed a fervent hatred of linear algebra.

Two years later, in a computer science class about developing graphics systems, suddenly linear algebra made sense to me. I realized that what I’d been missing was a sense of why this math existed. I’d known how to do it, but it wasn’t until I started seeing what to do with it that it began to gel.

It was a practice imbalance. I was getting instruction on how to do the procedures and loads of opportunities to practice the things I was learning, but no real help with understanding what they were for. Math is, unfortunately, often taught this way. Languages are, too.

If students are practicing but don’t have a sense of how the things they’re working on fit into the larger whole, suspect a practice imbalance. If they’re practicing but aren’t improving, they may be missing some crucial bit of understanding.

Clues that you may have a practice imbalance

  • Students can’t explain how their current activities relate to the whole.
  • The teacher rarely speaks or offers feedback.
  • The students aren’t progressing in ability.
  • If students seek help, the teacher explains using the same words every time.

In my experience, it’s much less common to have a practice imbalance. Most of us were taught in information-driven formats that left little time for practice, so we get stuck in understanding imbalances.

Our students need both activities that increase understanding and opportunities for practice. Dropping either from the instructional diet leaves them malnourished.

Boylston Street (tune for the Boston Marathon bombings)

I wrote a contemplative waltz tune the day of the Boston Marathon bombings (April 15, 2013). Frost and Fire has played it a lot since then, as have a bunch of other bands, and people seem to like it. “Boylston Street” has now been played at dances all around the USA.

I like it best when I get a chance to tell the story behind it, to make it a moment of beauty to remember and honor moments of tremendous fear and pain.

This is the first recording I made, sitting quietly at the piano the evening of the bombings. It’s not perfect. It’s a long way from perfect. But I think it’s still my favorite performance.

Rest in peace, and rest in power, Boston Strong.

Tune copyright 2013 by Hollis Easter. All rights reserved, and please contact me if you’d like to use it.

Witnessing (Our Own) Pain

I shift uncomfortably in my chair, worried that people will notice my fidgeting and take it for disrespect. I’m in Nashville for a national crisis center directors’ conference, among some of the dearest people in the world, hearing lots of important stories. And I can’t sit still.

At the front of the room, Samantha Nadler is talking about her experience as a survivor of suicide attempts, and I want to hear. She’s talking about reclaiming her history, about transmuting her past pain into something that helps others. I wince uncontrollably as she talks about some of the things that happened to her.

I feel ashamed of wincing.

I’m not wincing because of her story, though. After a decade of working the lines at a suicide hotline, I feel pretty comfortable witnessing other people’s pain—bringing compassion, kindness, empathy, and warmth to whatever their story holds. That’s old hat, and like any old hand, it takes a lot to shock me.

No, it’s not that. Today, I am wincing because of the pain in my lower back.

I’ve had Lyme disease for the last three years, a torn meniscus in my right knee for the last four, and a badly sprained back for five years. I’ve had migraines for close to half of the days I’ve been alive. Sometimes Lyme disease gives me neurological pain that feels like someone’s stabbing me, and sometimes the inflammation from all my allergies makes everything else feel like my body might just fall apart.

None of this is new. I’m an old hand at this part, too, familiar and practiced at the ways of my body’s pain. I know it pretty well, know when to be scared and when to just get on with it. I don’t honestly remember what it’s like not to be in pain, and I’m used to that.

But today is different.

Two weeks ago, I hurt my lumbar spine putting my bike rack onto my car. A week ago, it took a turn for the worse. Since coming to Nashville for the conference, it’s often been so bad that I can’t sit still. It’s not that moving helps, really, but it feels somehow like doing something must be helpful, somehow.

I wince, ashamed of my inability to control my body.

I want to wear a mask, to present a calm and unflappable exterior, and my body is not playing along. I’m losing control, afraid that I’m going to start crying and make a scene, afraid that I’ll cry out and take the focus off the people sharing their stories at the front of the room. I’m fighting a battle on two fronts: trying to fight the pain, and trying to deny how scared I am.

As I wince again, I remember what I taught my hotline volunteers this week:

You can’t always fix people’s problems. Sometimes witnessing is all you can do.

We teach them to connect with suffering whenever they see it, to gaze with kindness and candor on the tough stuff that callers bring us, to be unafraid as they stand shoulder to shoulder with callers in intense pain. We say “steer toward the pain”.

We ask them to witness other people’s pain, and to do their best not to look away.

It occurs to me that I could try the same approach on myself.

I am afraid. But I start doing my best to pay attention to what’s actually going on with my body, to accept the fact that—right now—the pain is huge and terrifying and overwhelming all my defenses, even though my armor is usually pretty good. I can’t bring myself to accept the pain, really, but I start trying to accept the fact that it is happening.

And, almost miraculously, the process starts to work.

As I write this article upstairs in my hotel room, my back is still killing me. It’s excruciating even through painkillers, but we’ve moved the fight onto my turf. By choosing to witness what’s happening, by looking clearly at it, I’m no longer trying to deny that this is happening right now. I’m not fighting a war on two fronts right now; there’s just the pain and the fear. But I don’t have to spend energy pretending it’s not happening.

I want to go back downstairs, to sit with my friends in the karaoke bar and maybe sing a song or two. I want to dance. I want to stop hurting. I want to know why this keeps happening. I want to stop having Lyme disease.

I’m not sure I can do any of those things tonight. But by witnessing the pain honestly, by looking into the abyss and gazing unflinchingly into it, I gain a measure of power.

I may not be able to change the pain, but I can change how I meet it.

We teach this to callers, and sometimes I think we need the lesson too.  Sometimes witnessing is all we can do, and often it’s enough. I am in pain. I can’t fix that right now. But I’m going to meet it on my terms.

And so, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to head back down to the karaoke bar.

Nix the Just

“She’ll be fine… she’s just feeling a little sad.”
“I’m just upset.”
“Mom’s just acting irrational because of what happened last week.”
“Women just care about good maternity leave benefits because they’re selfish”
“Suicidal people are just seeking attention.”
“He just wants attention.”
“She’s just a janitor.”
“People are just freaking out about Ebola because they don’t understand it.”
“I’m just a beginner.”
“You’re not sick, you’re just being a hypochondriac again.”
“She’s at the nurse’s at camp, but it sounds like she’s just homesick.”

Just has a lot of meanings. It can mean that justice was done, or that someone abides by just laws; that something just happened recently; that someone understood just what you meant; that you just barely missed your flight; or that you’re just angry about one thing among many.

All those things are just fine.

In this article, I’m mostly just concerned with one thing: the way people use the word “just” to subtly minimize, denigrate, de-emphasize, put down, marginalize, other, attack, and ridicule people’s lived experience. And we just need to nix that use.

There are many legitimate uses of the word “just”, but I think you’ll find that, if you just listen carefully, speakers often use it to shade their meaning and to imply, subtly or not, that the person they’re talking about just isn’t worth that much. That their concerns don’t deserve full consideration and that they are irritating or unpleasant and therefore not worth hearing.

Often the “just” serves to simultaneously downplay the concerns and sabotage the reputation of the person. The other day, I overheard someone saying “She’s just asking the waiter about gluten because she needs to lose weight”. Notice how it attacks the person and also ridicules the person’s worry? “She probably just cares about gluten because all the hipsters are gluten-free now”. Never mind that a lot of people have life-threatening conditions like celiac disease and gluten allergy.

It seems like people sometimes throw a “just” in there to give themselves social permission to express a thought that would otherwise be too offensive. I remember a lot of news stories and comments about how the protests in Ferguson, MO were “just a bunch of angry unemployed black people complaining instead of trying to get jobs”. That’s a really offensive statement, and I don’t think we should grant social absolution for it just because someone sticks a “just” in there.

Sometimes people use “just” to imply that something difficult is easy. “Losing weight isn’t hard; you just close your mouth and don’t eat any more calories”. Decades of metabolic science and tons of lived experience disagree, but that doesn’t matter: apparently it’s just a question of willpower.

Nix the just

On some level, it doesn’t even matter whether the speaker intends to minimize the other person’s conditions—because “just” gets used that way so often, people hear the slam even when it’s not there. That makes “just” challenging for good communication: it’s often misinterpreted.

So there are two things to do:

First, pay attention to your language. Notice whether you’re dropping “just” into your speech, and ask yourself whether it needs to be there.

Sometimes you need just the right word, and sometimes it’s just ridiculous to parse language too closely. But a lot of times, the “just” is extraneous, minimizing, disrespectful, or confusing. Take it out.

Second, if you find that you’re habitually tossing “just” into your speech and writing, ask yourself why. Interrogate your use of language and see whether there’s some thought pattern in there that needs to be addressed.

And, if you’re not sure that the word needs to be in there, just nix it.

Social Media Guide for #crisisdir14: How to Participate

Quick links: How to make a Twitter account and how to use your new Twitter account. Hotline Directors’ Reading List. See also my posts about suicide prevention and my posts about crisis hotlines.

Read the Storify curated list of all tweets from #CrisisDir14 here.

Social Media at #CrisisDir14

We’re going to try out some social media strategies at the 2014 NASCOD/CUSA Crisis Hotline Directors’ Conference. This will help NASCOD and CUSA members who can’t attend still feel connected, and it will also amplify the messages from the conference to a far wider audience. We hope you’ll join us!

“Social Media” (or “SoMe”, abbreviated) means different things to different people. This is a quick guide to what we’re planning for the conference, and I hope it’ll answer most questions. But if you’re left with questions, please ask! If you want to try this but need a quick tutorial first, ask one of the SoMe team at the conference. We’re glad to help.

By integrating the conference with social media, we’re hoping to make it easier for people to start conversations about the things they learn in Nashville and to keep talking after everyone goes home.

Official social media channels

  • Twitter:  live reporting of conference coverage; info during presentations and talks
  • Youtube: recorded and/or live content based on conference with speakers or participants
  • Instagram: pictures and short videos of live event
  • Facebook: sharing content with wider network of family, friends, and colleagues

You are, of course, welcome to use other networks as well. Historically, most of the discussion during the conference happens on Twitter and, later, on Facebook.

If you don’t have a Twitter account yet, I made a guide on how to set one up and then how to use it.

Official hashtags

Most social networks allow searching by “hashtags”, which are like labels for organizing ideas. To help everyone stay in conversation and hear each other, we’ve chosen official hashtags for the conference and supplementary hashtags for each workshop session.

You can copy and paste the hashtags directly from this page into your Tweets.

Master conference-wide hashtag (click to follow in real time)

  • #crisisdir14: Include this hashtag in every post about the conference, whether or not you also use others.

Supplementary conference-wide hashtags

Use these, if you so choose, when you’re talking about the subject or group in question. Remember to include #crisisdir14 in every post. Click any hashtag to follow it in real time.

Schedule with hashtags

Friday, October 24th

  • Social Media: Your Best Frenemy
    9—10:30am Central

    April Foreman, Ph.D  (@DocForeman)
    #SPSM #SoMe
  • Innovation in Outreach: Telehealth and Remote Capability
    10:45—11:45am Central

    Jennifer Armstrong, Lisa Eggebeen, Liam Barry
    #innovation, #telehealth, #remotecap
  • Funding Strategies & Current Legislation: Implications for Crisis Providers
    12:10—12:45pm Central

    Presenter: Richard McKeon, Ph.D, MPH
    #SAMHSA, #ExcellenceAct, #mhmwellness
  • LivingWorks’s New Program: “Suicide To Hope”
    12:45—1:30pm Central

    Bart Andrews, Ph.D (@bartandrews)
    #LivingWorks, #StoH
  • Survivors of Suicide
    1:30—3:00pm Central

    Scott Ridgeway, MS, Cindy Johnson, Karol Chastain Beal, & Samantha Nadler (@foughtforhope)
    #TSPN, #SOS, #attemptsurvivors, #LivedExp, #SPSM
  • Selling Your Crisis Program: Effective Marketing Materials
    3:30—5:00pm Central

    Natalie Stone
    #marketing, #crisiscenters, #crisispro

Saturday, October 25th

  • Crisis Centers’ Response to Local Disaster
    Pat Morris, LMHC, CDP & Ron White, MSA, LICSW
    10:15—11:45am Central
    #crisisint, #disasterresp
  • The Way Forward — Attempt Survivors Support
    11:45—1:00pm Central

    Shari Sinwelski, MS, EdS, & John Draper, Ph.D
    #NSPL, #attemptsurvivors, #LivedExp
  • World Cafe
    1:00—5:00pm Central

    Molly Brack & Michael Reading


Strive for quality, not quantity. Aim for reporting things of professional interest to those who aren’t in the room.

Dissent is allowed. Different points of view are allowed. Shoutouts and compliments are allowed. We’re not promoting a party line here.

If possible, write your posts so others are more likely to share them and amplify our message. If you’re tweeting, don’t use all 140 characters so others can add comments when they RT what you said. (Read this if you don’t understand that).

When referring to a person, cite their name or Twitter handle. If you aren’t using full names, use their last name.

“Social media helps us get the word out to distant supporters” — Hollis Easter
“We need broader conversations with more participants” — Easter
“Infinite seats at infinite tables” — @adkpiper

Link salient points (statistics, ideas, numbers, concepts) to the person who said them.

“Hollis Easter: we need to credit people with their ideas”    (good)
“@adkpiper says it’s important to give credit for ideas”    (good)
“@adkpiper: credit idea creators”    (good)
“we need to credit people with their ideas”    (less good)

Thank people for participating, sharing your posts, Retweeting, etc.

Finally, remember to interact with the people in the room with you, not just the folks listening back home.

List of social media participants

Here are some folks you can follow to start the discussion. If you’d like to be on this list, send me a message on Twitter (@adkpiper) or leave a comment and I’ll add you!

  • @adkpiper: Hollis Easter, hotline director from northern NY, SoMe team member
  • @Atoes84: Amelia Lehto, hotline director from Michigan, SoMe team lead
  • @BartAndrews: Bart Andrews, clinical director from St. Louis, MO
  • @battle4justice: Jennifer Battle, hotline director from Houston, TX, SoMe team member
  • @deseraestage: Dese’Rae Stage, founder of Live Through This
  • @DocForeman: April Foreman, co-founder of #SPSM
  • @foughtforhope: Samantha Nadler, coordinator of TN Suicide Prevention Network.
  • @icarol: iCarol Software, software for call centers
  • @lttphoto: the Live Through This photo project about attempt survivors
  • @notsoshye: Shye Louis, hotline director from Rochester, NY, SoMe team member
  • @trnrtom: Tom Buckley, hotline director from DC metro area

We look forward to talking with you!

Oh, and please contribute ideas to the Hotline Directors’ Reading List. Thanks!

Some parts of this article include words from Amelia Lehto’s social media guide for the conference. Thanks, Amelia!

NASCOD conference banner

Instructional Design Means Advocating for Learners

People often ask me what an instructional designer is. And, because instructional design is a weirdly broad, eclectic, applied field, it’s often hard to figure out what to say. How is an instructional designer different from a teacher, different from a tutor, different from a subject matter expert (SME)? I’ve started thinking of it this way:

Instructional designers are there to advocate for the learners, always.

When there’s a conflict between the needs of the learners and the needs of the content, our job is to find a way to make sure the learners get what they need. It’s the domain of the SMEs to decide which topics matter and what’s on the table for content, but then it’s our job to fight for the learners, using all we know about memory and cognition, instructional strategies and technology. We need to make sure that it’s possible for actual humans to take in, assimilate, and use all the information and experiences we’re providing.

It’s our job to fight against adding one more module to the lecture, to always place ourselves in the learners’ shoes. To find ways of helping them learn the content, not just “get through it” or “cover it”. To propose ideas for different teaching strategies, to suggest ways of using technology and multimedia to assist with high cognitive-load topics, to ask “how can we make this better?”.

We’re there to build bridges between subject matter experts and learners, and to make sure the bridges are wide and strong enough for the learners to safely walk.

We’re the ones who are supposed to notice what’s unclear, to see which topics clash and are likely to cause cognitive interference, to notice the assumptions underpinning instruction, and to patch the holes. It’s our job to find assessment and evaluation strategies that check what learners can actually do and that provide honest measures—and, in doing so, encourage people to really learn.

We share many of these jobs with other professionals. But I think the relentless focus on the learners is a primary thing that defines good instructional design. Unlike teachers, we aren’t usually delivering instruction directly; we’re navigators, making sure the ship is pointed the right way.

We’re experts in how people learn. We may not know the subject area, but we know learners—and like the Lorax who speaks for the trees, it’s our duty to speak for the learners. 

If You Ask Me Why I’m Sometimes Depressed

This is a short piece I wrote today, thinking about how we often expect people with depression and other psychiatric disabilities to justify their experiences. We ask them “why”, expecting that they’ll have an answer. Who would expect a good answer to “why do you have cancer” or “why hasn’t your torn meniscus stopped hurting”?

I hope that when you read this, you’ll hear it in the voice of someone you know who struggles with depression. These words are mine, but the thoughts belong to many.

“If you ask me why I’m sometimes depressed”
by Hollis Easter

If you ask me why I’m sometimes depressed, I will ask you why you’re sometimes tired.

If you ask me where my depression comes from, I will ask you where your hunger comes from.

If you ask me why I haven’t learned to just be happy yet, I will ask you why you haven’t learned never to need the bathroom anymore.

If you ask me why I’m being snarky, I will ask you why you think I shouldn’t be snarky about fielding constant exhausting questions about things my body does without my control.

And if you ask me why I’m not just over it already, I will ask you why you haven’t learned compassion yet. What more important lesson is there?

In the end, the deeds of men are as footsteps upon the sand—we will leave no lasting mark. Sometimes, the way we make our journey together matters more than where we go. Let’s walk with kindness.

Using Twitter At Work: Basic Concepts

This is part two of my guide for using Twitter at work. If you don’t have a Twitter account yet, read Part One first and then  before continuing. 

Brief overview of Twitter concepts

Twitter has some specialized jargon, terminology, and customs that, like anything, take a bit of getting used to. The first day may be a little rocky, but you’ll get comfortable really quickly. Most Twitter users are really friendly, so feel free to ask questions.


Tweets are the atoms of Twitter communication. They’re short statements, no more than 140 letters long, that usually express a single thought. It might be an idea, it might be a link, it might be a question.

With 140 letters, there isn’t room for much depth in any single statement. This keeps people pithy and concise; the nuance comes from how people jump in and add thoughts. You can certainly send multiple tweets explaining your thought, but the 140 letter limit enforces a certain fluidity of conversation.

It feels really awkward at first, but you’ll get used to it.

Followers and Following

By default, Twitter only shows you information from people you follow. To follow people, click their username and then click Follow. From then onward, you’ll see the things they post publicly. (there are a few caveats you’ll figure out, but nothing big).

Unlike on Facebook, following is not bidirectional: just because you follow me doesn’t mean I’ll follow you. It’s customary for people to “follow back” the people who’ve followed them (meaning that they follow you), but it’s not mandatory or automatic.

When you’re new and haven’t posted much, people may not follow you right away because you’re an unknown quantity. Get posting and give people a sense of what you’re interested in, and they’ll follow you. They’ll also check out your bio to see whether they want to hear what you have to say.

You can always unfollow people later if you want.

Interacting with others via @mentions

When you send a tweet with someone else’s username in it (like mine, @adkpiper), they’ll receive a notification that you’ve interacted with them.

If they have a smartphone with the Twitter app installed, they’ll get a notification on their phone; otherwise it’ll show up the next time they log into Twitter.

There’s a blue “New Tweet” button on the Twitter page, and you can click it to start a new tweet. Alternatively, if you want to respond to someone else’s Tweet, there’s a reply button underneath each tweet (looks like an arrow pointing left) and it automatically inserts their username so they’ll get the message.

Once you’re a little more familiar with Twitter, you’ll want to read my guide to understanding how @mentions work and how different tweet syntax affects visibility and notifications.


Twitter is searchable, in real time, worldwide. To facilitate conversations, Twitter users add ‘hashtags’ to their tweets, which makes them show up whenever someone searches for that hashtag. Hashtags always have a pound sign/hash (” # “) at the beginning, so: #suicide, #climatechange, #edchat, #school, #spsm.

If you type #spsm into the search box on Twitter (usually looks like a magnifying glass), you’ll get a list of all the recent tweets that have included that hashtag. Often there’s a choice to see either Top Tweets (chosen by some algorithm) or All Tweets. I always choose All.

Retweets (RTs)

You’ll see a Retweet button under other people’s tweets. It just means to share that tweet, automatically and with attribution, with your followers. The button looks like two arrows in a square. People sometimes call this an RT.

Retweeting usually doesn’t constitute endorsement, although it sometimes does. It’s more like a signal boost. People retweet things because they think they deserve a wider audience, and it’s a big part of how information moves quickly through Twitter.

There’s danger in retweeting too many things—when I follow people on Twitter, it’s usually because I want to hear their thoughts, not someone else’s. So make sure you’re contributing your ideas, too.


There’s a Favorite button that looks like a star under each tweet. If you click it, it’ll send a notification to the tweet’s author (and any other users mentioned in the tweet) that you favorited it.

Favoriting (yes, a verb) a post usually means you agree with it, think it was insightful, or want to compliment its author.

Note that other people won’t usually see that you’ve favorited a tweet, so favoriting a tweet doesn’t amplify the signal or pass it on to your followers. If you want to share the tweet with others, use a Retweet.

Twitter chats and question/answer formats

Groups of interested people meet at prearranged times on Twitter to talk, usually for an hour, about their shared fields. These are coordinated by the use of a common hashtag. For example, #spsm is suicide prevention and social media, which meets Sunday nights.

So if you searched #spsm at 10pm Eastern time on Sunday nights, you might see something like this:

  • @docforeman: Hi everyone! Welcome to #SPSM, talking about suicide prevention and social media! #spsm
  • @docforeman: Tonight we’re talking about how law enforcement can help with suicide prevention #spsm
  • @adkpiper: Glad to see so many people here tonight! #spsm
  • @SPSMChat: We’ll use a numbered Question/Answer format tonight. #spsm
  • @SPSMChat: Q1: Everyone say hi—let us know whether you’re law enforcement or a suicide intervention person #spsm
  • @adkpiper: A1: suicide intervention but I’ve trained a lot of LE people #spsm
  • @officerjames: A1: law enforcement #spsm
  • @sgtmike: A1: I’m a sergeant in a small police force in northern NY #spsm
  • @Atoes84: suicide intervention hotline person in MI! #spsm
  • @docforeman: psychologist and pirate-hat-wearing suicide interventionist #spsm
  • @SPSMChat: Q2: What would you like to see from collaboration between LE/suicide people? #spsm
  • @adkpiper: A2: better connections so we can back each other up and feel comfortable with each other #spsm
  • @Atoes84: A2) more trust that when we call LE they will take us seriously #spsm
  • @sgtmike: A2 not to be left holding the bag when we have a suicidal person and nobody knows what to do #spsm

You’ve got to include the #spsm hashtag in each of your tweets or it won’t show up in the chat. Feel free to jump in and participate!

The question/answer format means that the moderator will post numbered questions like the “Q1” and “Q2” tweets above, and people responding put “A1” and “A2” before their tweets. You’ll find it becomes intuitive pretty fast.

Tweetchat moderators will often post a transcript of the chat after the hour has ended.

Finding people and Tweetchats

The quickest way is to search on Twitter for keywords that interest you and see if any #hashtags come up repeatedly. Often the hashtags will have the word “chat” in them, like #edchat, #msmathchat, #lrnchat, etc. Here are some to get you started.

  • #spsm (suicide prevention and social media): Sunday, 10pm Eastern
  • #hcsm (health care communications and social media): Sunday, 9pm Eastern
  • #mhsm (mental health and social media): Wednesday, 8pm Eastern
  • #BPDchat (borderline personality disorder): Sunday, 4pm Eastern
  • #livedexp (lived experience): no listed time
Instructional design/teaching-related
  • #lrnchat (learning and instruction): Thursday, 8:30pm Eastern
  • #guildchat (eLearning): Friday, 2pm Eastern
  • #educoach (performance coaching in education): Wednesday, 10pm Eastern
  • #profchat (professors and higher ed): Tuesday, 8pm Eastern
  • #musedchat (music ed): Monday, 8pm Eastern
  • #edtechchat (educational technology): Monday, 8pm Eastern

There are lots of others. If you have suggestions for tweetchats I should list here, tweet ’em to me or leave a comment!

I look forward to talking with you on Twitter. Again, I’m @adkpiper.

Using Twitter At Work: How to Get Started

Why use Twitter?

Because tons of professional conversations are happening there, in real time, and you can’t benefit from participating unless you’re part of the chats. Twitter lets people around the world share ideas fast, and it’s not just people talking about what they had for breakfast.

People in the vanguard of their fields, the innovators out at the leading edge, tend to be rare. That makes it hard to find communities of like-minded innovators. Twitter means they can all talk to each other, in real time, for free.

If you already have a Twitter account, skip ahead to my Basic Concepts page.

Getting started — create an account

To get started, click this  link (which will set you up to connect with me) and click “Sign up” in the top right corner. It’ll take you to a signup page.

Full name

It’ll ask you for your full name. If you’re planning to use Twitter for work, it’s good to use your actual name, but this is up to you. Twitter doesn’t check or verify it. Whatever you put in this field gets displayed to other Twitter users.

Email address

You’ll get periodic notifications when people follow you on Twitter; choose the email address you want Twitter to send them to. (You can turn them off later if you want). This is also the email address for resetting your Twitter password, should you ever need that.

Create a password

Choose a password that you don’t use for anything else.

Choose your username

You’ll be identified on Twitter by your username or “handle”, which always has an @ symbol at the beginning. I am @adkpiper. Think of it like a nickname that gets displayed along with your full name (as entered above) whenever you say things on Twitter.

Many people use their real names as their usernames, like @deseraestage. Others use invented names like mine. It’s up to you. Pick one that’s as short as possible so it’ll be easy for others to type.

People do form impressions based on usernames, so be advised that if you choose @ilovebloodandgore or @backstreetboys4evarrr as your username, people will notice.

Create my account

Click to create your account. It’ll sign you in to Twitter and probably invite you to add a picture and a short bio.

Short bio

Write a few words about who you are—make them related to what you want to use Twitter for. As of this writing, my bio reads: “Learning geek, math enthusiast, teacher, musician, instructional designer, former CS guy, suicide/crisis hotline director. Working toward becoming a polymath.


You don’t have to upload a photo, but most people do. I’ve noticed that people without photos don’t seem to get as many followers. If you’re trying to connect with people on Twitter, it works better if they can get a sense of who they’re talking to. So add a picture!


The general custom is that everything on Twitter is public—it’s a conversation that anyone in the world can drop in on. Frame your statements with that in mind.

It’s possible to lock your account so that only people you follow (more on that in the next page) can see the things you post, but most people don’t do that. I use Twitter for public conversations and use other social media for private ones. It’s up to you, but I encourage you to leave your Tweets publicly viewable.

Next steps

Once you’ve gotten your account set up, head to my Basic Concepts page to learn how to use your new account.

Waiting to Talk Isn’t Listening

“What do you think I should do?”, she asked.

I had no idea what she was talking about. I’d been getting ready to ask about something she’d said earlier in the conversation, but I was lost when she asked me what to do. I had missed a conversational swerve somewhere.

Her first few words had sparked an idea for me, and I was off and running inside my skull, weighing options and making plans. I came up with some really great insights! I was getting ready to tell her about my ideas—but during that whole time, I wasn’t really paying attention to what she was saying.

I was waiting to talk.

We all do this. We get distracted, we get excited, we meet a thought on our mental safari and spend a few seconds running it down. Nothing wrong with that.

But when it becomes a habit, we’ve got problems. When we trade dialogue for sequential press statements, nobody feels connected and there’s no possibility for change—and if there’s no connection and no change, there’s no point to the conversation.

When everyone’s just waiting to talk, you don’t have a conversation—you have a tennis match.

So when you catch yourself not listening, when you notice that you’ve started just waiting to talk, do your best to reconnect. Apologize if needed—chances are good the other person noticed you were absent. And get back into it.

Remember that the point of conversation is to connect, to share information, and to change things. That has to start with connection.

And if you don’t want to actually listen to what the other person is saying, it’s worth asking whether there’s any point to continuing the conversation. What’s the point of talking if nobody listens?

I started a new Facebook writer page. Would you come visit and Like it? Thanks!