by Marisa Pavan
When I joined Twitter in 2009 I was lucky enough to come across Shelly Sanchez Terrell and to find out about her blog “Teacher Reboot Camp.” As I read her posts about motivating students through the use of technology in the classroom, I remember feeling excited about the possibility of introducing these innovations into my own teaching practice. Almost as soon as we started interacting through Twitter and through comments I made in her posts, Shelly encouraged me to develop my Personal Learning Network (PLN) online so as to grow professionally and improve my teaching practice. Twitter was my first social network, and meeting educators there was like opening a window on the world. I was part of an endless exchange of teaching experiences and opportunities all which could help me update my teaching practice. But it was the initial interactions with Shelly that gave me the confidence I needed to reach out and interact with other educators.
Probably the first thing I really learned from Shelly was the importance of leaving my comfort zone. I remember when Shelly invited me to write a guest post on her blog. It was shortly after we started interacting through Twitter. I felt really excited and honoured to have received the invitation. Shelly gave me the freedom to write anything I wanted to about edtech and my experiences. She also offered me all the help I needed to write my post. I did not have much experience at the time but I felt confident enough to give it a try. After about four hours, I finally finished my first post To Use Edtech or Not: That is the Question In the post, I describe how technology was rarely used at the time in classrooms in my country and how interacting with my PLNers helped me learn how to bring tech tools into my classroom. As I received lots of really positive comments on this post, I felt inspired to start my own blog: Linguistic Consultancy. I thought it would allow me to share my experiences and reflect on ways to improve myself as a teacher. From my first post on helping my students devise language learning goals, to posts on the skills and attitudes we need to help students develop through the learning-teaching process, I’ve come to see how I can use the lessons of personal growth that Shelly shared with me to also help my students grow as independent learners.
And it was from positive feedback from Shelly and my growing PLN that eventually led me to using Facebook as a tool for professional development, a tool which has proved even more helpful to widen my PLN and increase my level of interaction with a global network of educators. I’ve been in touch with educators from Switzerland, Japan, Brazil, Greece, Italy, the UK, and Turkey among others. I still remember when Cecilia Lemos from Brazil first introduced me to the use of word clouds, a tool I still use in my classes. The fact that she encouraged the readers of her blog post on the topic to not only read about word clouds, but to actually join in a blog challenge and use the tool themselves, helped me see how blog posts could be interactive and about creating a sense of conversation and community.
One of the most surprising things has been how reaching out to teachers in other parts of the world eventually brought me closer to the teachers at my own school. I started to share what I learned through my PLN with my colleagues and they have also brought technology into their classrooms. The first tool I shared with them was PBworks. I created a wiki for the school staff, which the other teachers and the director of the school have found helpful to share material and to communicate. And even though we are in the same building, we’ve begun, after some initial reluctance, to use Facebook as another means of communicating with each other. I’ve worked at the same school for 26 years, but once we started communicating online as well as offline we’ve been having a more fluent exchange of ideas. My colleagues and I can ask each other questions anytime, regardless of our class schedule, and I’m always ready to offer my help on anything they might need.
But even with my expanded PLN, and the growing sense of community at my school,
I still look to Shelly for inspiration and a leading hand. In March of 2014 I attended Shelly’s iTDi course and I learnt how to further my use of technology in my teaching practice. I walked away from the course with the ability to share videos, reading passages, and dictionary links in my classroom. The more I grow, the more I realise that for me, Shelly Sanchez embodies the very spirit of mentoring and support. She has amazing leadership skills and I feel blessed have her at centre of my PLN. I have never met Shelly in person, but I’d love to be able to meet her one day. Until I do, I will try to do my best to foster the same kind of support and ability to grow and change that Shelly helped provide for me.