[As always, this post is available to all and all are always welcome, but this one is, like many of my posts will be in the next ten days, especially  intended for those attending the Annual Conference of the National Association of Independent Schools]

If you are new to Twitter, or contemplating taking the plunge, a conference like NAIS  is a great place to start (in every way but one).

To start, just go to Twitter.com and spend 3-5 minutes (at most) creating a profile.

The NAIS conference, or any big conference, is a great place to start Twitter because you immediately have a conversation to follow and a stimulating forum to join.  To enter the NAIS Annual Conference “feed,” simply type into the search box on top this: #naisac11, and hit return.   (this is called a “hashtag”, using a pound sign in front of a term in Twitter; another great hashtag for independent school educators is #isedchat).

That’s all; that’s all you need to do to experience powerfully and valuably Twitter for the three day NAIS conference.  By doing this, following the #naisac11 feed, you will be monitoring an ongoing flow of thoughts about the conference:  suggestions for good sessions, great takeaways from speakers, amazing quotes, links to websites related to the presentations,  and much more.    Often, for instance, when a speaker makes a reference to a great resource– a useful website, or a valuable book or article–  others in the session on Twitter will quickly shoot out the link, which is very helpful.  Click on the link to open it in a new tab, and then bookmark it for the future.

You don’t need to make any tweets yourself: many people begin as just observers, and many remain that way for a long time (or always).  That is fine. 

During general sessions especially, I encourage you to monitor the Twitter  “back channel,”  practicing mental multi-tasking as you listen, evaluate the speaker’s ideas, and compare your own thoughts to what others are saying about the speaker.   This is an amazing way to add another whole intellectual dimension to your experience of the AC; for me, I gain so much more perspective this way on the importance and validity of the presenter’s ideas.

One small note: don’t be too nasty.   It is fine, fine, fine, to offer criticisms of the ideas, intellectually, but there is no need for flaming.   We are all a large community, and all working hard in this field, and we all deserve each others’ respect and support (but not agreement!).   (This is advice I would offer in any case, but I am especially motivated to so being myself a presenter this year!)

If you like, as you follow the #naisac11 feed, you can click on the names of the people whose tweets especially interest you, hit “follow,” and then you have them forever in your main, “timeline” feed (or you can also easily drop them, without them even knowing you are doing so).

And by all means, if you are ready to join in the stream, jump in.  You can “retweet” what others are saying, and you can reply to people, saying back to a tweeter your own agreement or alternate thought– just use the retweet or reply buttons beneath each tweet. Or write your own original tweet, just knowing that if you want it to be in the feed, you need to add into your tweet the magic code, #naisac11.   Remember, and this is cool: even people who don’t follow you will see your tweet if you enter the hashtag (#naisac11).   This is also a great way to build your own followership, because people seeing your contributions to the hashtag feed will be intrigued or impressed, and choose to begin following you!

The only reason not to jump into Twitter, other than that it is a little addictive, is a vice which is simply an excess of its virtue.  Because it creates an additional channel of communication in what is already a bit of a frenzy, it can add to that “drinking from a firehouse” aspect of a big stimulating conference.  There is already lots and lots of information to process; there are so many people I want to talk to and listen to, so many thing things I want to write, and so many things I want to listen to– all at the same time– that adding Twitter can be a lot more cognitive activity to process.

One additional option on Twitter– if you like, please  follow me, then click on my “lists”– and click on “NAIS thinkers”, and then click on follow this list.   You can then click from your twitter home page over to this list any time you like, and see the flow of about 150 great people inside of NAIS– even when they don’t use the hashtag.   If you are ready to start making your own list of whom to follow, you can click on the list of people I follow in this list, and just start clicking follow to everyone who interests you.