Two: The Power of Educators on Social Networks

Plymouth Keynote
By foto_mania, Flickr

On April 8th I celebrated my two year Twitter birthday. 100s of members of my Personal/ Passionate Learning Network (PLN) joined me in the celebration online and face-to-face as I gave my Keynote, Wings & Webs: Education Transformation and Social Media, which I’ve included a shortened version below. This was one of 14 presentations I gave in the last 30 days while traveling throughout Turkey, Germany, and the UK meeting 100s of members of my PLN. This will explain my 4 week absence on this blog.

Plymouth was an incredible experience for me. This was the first conference I had presented at in which the majority of the audience were tekkies, had smart phones and netbooks or iPads, had Twitter accounts, and the venue itself had a strong wifi connection. The backchannel was roaring as I gave my keynote livestreamed to my friends on Twitter. And yes, I do refer to several members of my Personal/ Passionate Learning Network as friends even though I have over 12,000 I connect and often collaborate with. I am one of those people who preaches about Twitter and the way it has changed my life so profoundly in just 2 years.

It’s About the Tool

How odd that so many of us will preach, “It’s about the tool,” when we preach that schools and teachers should integrate technology. In the next moment many who say this also speak/blog vehemently against social networks like Twitter and Facebook. I have read many of these posts in the last year and have also heard speakers at the conferences I’ve attended speak against these tools. In some cases they try to encourage other educators to believe these networks are evil and that their feelings of warmth for their PLN are something to be ashamed of or that it is a superficial feeling. I want to clarify now that social media has profoundly improved my experience as an educator. I am a better educator because my PLN has supported, challenged, and collaborated with and shared with me. They have infected me with their passion to be better at my profession. Thank you, friends!

How Do You Use These Tools?

Twitter, Facebook, and blogs are tools and I know that I have used these tools effectively to collaborate and connect with teachers worldwide. That is my choice. Perhaps, those who scream against these tools are really not that social? Perhaps, they haven’t figured out how to use social media tools effectively? Okay, I understand we are individuals and make choices but why do they have to blame the tool? I use social media tools to share a human experience of reaching out to others and make meaningful connections. I have been able in the last two years to do amazing things I would have never been able to do as effectively without these tools, which include:

  • Provide free professional development and resources to 10,000s of educators worldwide in over 150 countries
  • Provide a free curriculum to an educator in Nepal who I also Skype with
  • Travel to 16 countries spending quality time with friends from all over the globe including Turkey, Greece, the UK, Germany, Italy, Croatia, Poland, France, the US, Brussels, Brazil, Japan, and so forth
  • Eat fish and chips with friends I met online on the beach
  • Take roadtrips with friends I met online throughout Poland, Belgium, France, and Amsterdam
  • Provide free weekly webinars to teachers in Iran, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Peru, and other countries where resources and professional development are scarce

I have an overwhelming amount of stories I could share. Everyday I wake up I feel blessed to be part of such an amazing field where we make a profound difference in the world. I guess the reason I feel so passionate about social media is that I come from humble Mexican American beginnings. I am part of the first generation in my family to graduate from college and I have been blessed to travel more than anyone else in my family for generations. I explain more about this in my keynote below.

Social Media Transforms Our Conference Experiences

Social media has transformed my conference experience. I now attend more conferences because I want to hang out with members of my PLN. Before social media, most of the educators that attended conferences weren’t connected to many people attending the conference. This was my reality and I remember experiencing this “alone” feeling. I would get lost among the crowd and feel even more alone. I stopped going to conferences a decade ago because I was sick and tired of the protocols of shaking people’s hands and giving them a mini interview stating why they should want to know me. That’s a conference, though, for educators not on social media. Social media has revolutionized the conference experience. I meet people at conferences and I feel I know them and they know me. They know about my pug, my preference for Coke 0, and much more. We hug at first glance and we spend quality time enjoying the talks and events. We “experience” the conference. I attend way more conferences worldwide as a result of my online connections and I leave feeling I have grown because of the conference and the people I learned from and connected with on a real level. How do you approach that first meet and greet and get to the point where you can just be comfortable enjoying each other’s company? When does a conference become an experience versus an uncomfortable way to just network? Simply, social media. It takes away the leg work.

Power through Social Networks

Sometimes, the connections I make on social networks are to parents, learners, politicians, authors, other teachers, or administrators. We more than connect. We have conversations of what education transformation should be. I have the ability to show these various stakeholders what effective learning looks like. I have the ability to disprove their notions that what matters most is a learner’s test scores or grades. I have the ability to persuade them that mobile learning is a way for students to get outside the walls of their classroom and be active, interacting in a meaningful way with their environments. I believe educator messages about education transformation should go viral in order to transform the way most education systems are worldwide. I shared this in my keynote. Social media is a powerful way to spread these messages. So to the naysayers I say sorry I’m not quitting. I have a world that needs changing and educators collaborating on social media are on a mission to positively impact their learning environments. Social networks may transform decades from now but the worldwide collaboration and human connection educators participate in daily on these networks won’t ever die.

My Plymouth Keynote


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Shelly Terrell

Shelly Sanchez Terrell (@ShellTerrell) is an award winning digital innovator, an international speaker/consultant, and the author of Hacking Digital Learning with EdTech Missions, The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers, and Learning to Go. She has trained teachers and taught English language learners in over 20 countries as an invited guest expert by organizations, like the US Embassy, UNESCO Bangkok, Cultura Inglesa of Brazil, the British Council in Tel Aviv, IATEFL Slovenia, HUPE Croatia, ISTEK Turkey, and Venezuela TESOL. She has been recognized by several organizations and publications as a leader in the movement of teacher driven professional development as the founder and organizer of various online conferences, Twitter chats, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Two of the projects she co-organized were shortlisted for ELTons, #ELTChat and the Virtual Round Table Language and Technology online conference. She was named Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women, awarded a Bammy Award as a founder of #Edchat, and named as one of the 10 Most Influential People in EdTech by Tech & Learning. Her greatest joy is being the mother of baby Savannah and Rosco the pug. Shelly has an Honors BA in English with a Minor in Communication and a specialization in Electronic Media from UTSA, a Masters in Curriculum Instruction ESL from the University of Phoenix, and a CELTA from CELT Athens. She regularly shares her tips for effective technology integration via Twitter (@ShellTerrell),, and on her blog,, which has won several awards and recognitions as one of the top ESL, Edtech and Elearning blogs. Find over 400 of her slide presentations at


  1. Hi Shelley. This was a very thought-provoking post, as it really explores how social networking breaks down international barriers between real people.

    As educators, the relationships we form via our Personal Learning Networks deeply affect our teaching, and us … as people.

    I agree that social media has the potential to change the face of education in our world, and I certainly hope that by sharing posts like this, and blogging my own reflections, that we can spread the word about its benefits. I believe this is particularly important here in Western Australia, where Personal Learning Networks are relatively unknown, and poorly understood.

    Having a PLN, and engaging with teachers around the world via Twitter has changed me – it has made me more collaborative and reflective teacher, and helped me build relationships with people both on the other side of the world, and on my own doorstep.

    Using social media to learn and connect in education encourages and inspires us, as teachers, to become empowered life-long learners.

    For those interested, I’ve blogged on a similar theme here:

    What the heck is a PLN?
    The People of my PLN Voicethread Project

    Keep up the great work Shelley. We need people like you to keep spreading the word, and we’d love to have you present here in Western Australia one day!

    • Hi Michael!

      Thank you for sharing your resources and thoughts. I agree that having a PLN has also made me more collaborative and reflective. I will definitely be penciling in Western Australia at some point. Hopefully, this year! Fingers crossed πŸ™‚

  2. Hi

    This reads like an answer to this post: – there definitely seems to be a PLN debate going on… As always, there’s truth on both sides of the coin… I added a reply to Gavin’s post saying how maybe I’m getting a bit less out of twitter than a year or so ago (which a lot of people seem to be saying), in my case I reckon it’s down to information overload – I’m trying to find ways to better manage the firehose-like stream of information. I’ve got to admire the way you manage to juggle it all!

    However, there’s no doubt that I’ve managed to get loads of great information out of it – and have been able to find opportunities for discussion and collaboration, that simply didn’t exist in my personal sphere previous to that. The conference factor is also true… By all accounts, IATEFL in Brighton was less twitter-mad than the previous year’s event – but it still meant that I could have conversations that I wouldn’t otherwise have had – I share your dislike of having to do the mini-spiel on who you are at conferences. I think these connections exist on different levels, I agree with Gavin’s point that these connections are not always going to have great depth – but I wouldn’t expect them to and I have found some great people that I probably wouldn’t otherwise have met. I also found people to share fish ‘n’ chips on the beach with πŸ˜‰

    So what’s the conclusion… There are limits and issues, but there is also great potential… You just have to find what works for you.

    • Hi Phil!

      Thank you for your comment and congratulations again on the news! Celebrating at IATEFL with your wife and you was a highlight. I’m going to address two points.

      First, I didn’t want this to seem like a response to Gavin’s post because this has been a response to a number of posts and conversations I have had with several people in the last year. It appears to be the year of Twitter bashing. Of course, I am exaggerating. However, I thought I should finally speak up because many people have asked me to and at the time I couldn’t exactly frame my message.

      The second point you bring up is information overload and that is something I failed to address in this post. When I went back and reread bits to Ceci I thought bummer I forgot to address the “not so pretty” parts like where I have had to tell myself to limit my time on social media tools, try to find a balance, try to ensure I keep that balance when I tend to want to overindulge, and make sure I spend time with friends and close the phone. I have to make choices and decisions daily about my social media use and many of these aren’t difficult decisions but for most of us we struggle with them. Perhaps, there is something in our society that makes us be a bit addictive? I am not sure but I believe that several people are tuned off to social networks because they feel they spend too much time on them. This time issue and information overload is in the way we approach these tools and I would admit a majority of people struggle with this including me. I have to filter daily and I miss something or something gives and I feel guilty. I don’t know why but I do. I have had to try and just get over that and remind myself when it no longer becomes fun or inspirational but becomes a burden I need to stop and find that balance again.

  3. You certainly practice what you preach and you play such an important role in introducing others to the new possibilities available. Your 30 goals project was not only a great reflective tool for me but an introductory course into the benefits of having a world wide staff room!

    • Hi Naomi!

      Thank you so much for your support! You are a star and its educators like you that I’m referring to in the post that have inspired me with the work you do πŸ™‚

  4. Hello Shelly,
    Your post is absolutely amazing!Thank you very much!
    You say: “I believe educator messages about education transformation should go viral in order to transform the way most education systems are worldwide.”
    And one more thing: “…educators collaborating on social media are on a mission to positively impact their learning environments.”
    I do believe that!

    • Hi Galina!

      Thank you for leaving a comment. I hope this post sheds light on the other side for those who use these tools in positive ways and gain because they do use these tools positively πŸ™‚

  5. Hello there Shelly,

    Always good to read your posts and feel your positivity. I guess it’s a case of the old clichΓ© of horses for courses. A few, entirely personal, factors contributed to my leaving twitter and I certainly don’t ever want to paint twitter in negative shades for other folks.

    I can say that I have spent a lot less time online (mostly because I’m running around moving home etc.) but I have, out of that necessity, been more particular with my time online. It’s a good discipline for me and I seem to have used my twitter time wisely in getting to know which blogs to follow for my purposes. I now spend more ‘quality’ time reading and thinking about those posts.

    Thinking about Gavin’s twittercide and posts as Phil mentioned… I thought he was only ever saying what was right for him at the time. I can’t recall him ever being prescriptive.

    Like you, I’ve gained a great deal from building a network of good ELT folks – not least a rather fun meal with you at Carluccios! πŸ™‚ I’ve simply chosen to build on those friendships/ relationships outside of twitter. May all of us who want what’s best for ourselves, for our teaching and, especially, our students… continue to choose the paths that work best for us and be happy in that choice. πŸ™‚

    • Hi Victoria,

      I want to apologize. My post was not in any way intended at you and not a response to Gavin’s post as I told Phil. I understand points of Gavin’s post and read previous posts in his blog that lead to his decision.

      The problem with online communication is that words can be misunderstood. Your decision to leave Twitter I had no problem with and don’t have a problem with anyone’s choices as to what social networks they join or leave. I do have a problem when the leaving of social networks becomes prescriptive like you mentioned above. I think reflecting on the decision is important and also shedding light on why the tool didn’t work. However, I have heard keynotes and respected folks try to persuade others to follow suit or prevent them from joining social networks. I link in my post to the great debate Nicky Hockly was a part of where she defended educators on Twitter.

      This post is to offer support for educators who feel they have to justify their feelings for being part of social networks. I truly believe in the power of educators collaborating on social networks to change the world through reforming education policy. I thought it was about time I speak up that it is okay to collaborate and gather on social networks and present an alternative view. Meeting you was a very special moment in my life.

      Your friend,


  6. Dear Shelly,

    Your post is very inspiring and I think I have already learned a lot from reading your posts and your attitude to learning and teaching. I started using Twitter and I connected to people I have never dreamed of meeting, partly because of you.

    Good luck with your work, I am looking forward to your posts!


    • Hi Monica!

      It was great meeting you in Barcelona and I was really inspired by your enthusiasm and excitement when joining Twitter. Thank you for your work in the aPLaNet project. I mentioned it in my Plymouth keynote!

  7. oops!!!

    I’ve just re-read my comment. It was in no way supposed to sound defensive. If anything, I meant (rather clumsily put, I agree) to say that we can all gain from social networks in many different ways. I’m still benefiting from the contacts and friends I made through twitter. I’m simply doing it through different channels now.
    Always up for more Carluccios, as you know. πŸ™‚

  8. Hi Shell,
    Long time no speak! I don’t know how I missed all that backchat & livestream – although, having said that, I have had a few problems with the ‘puter & don’t have Tweetdeck running all day. That must have been the reason. Plus, I’m trying to spend less time on Twitter! πŸ˜‰
    Anyway, thanks for this post. You’re simply the best!

    • Hi Chiew!

      Miss chatting with you. It’s been a crazy adventure this year on social media. I know we are all scrambling to complete projects, etc. Thanks for the comment. It’s educators like you that do so much on social media that inspired this within me.

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