Passion, Potential, & Heroes That Fail Us

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 11.35.32 PM“The number one benefit of educational technology is that it empowers people to do what they want to do. It lets people be creative. It lets people be productive. It lets people learn things they didn’t think they could learn before, and so in a sense it is all about potential.” – Steve Ballmer


Some of you have heard my story. Yesterday, we celebrated my father’s birthday. My father’s passion was that his daughters be part of the first generation of Sanchez to graduate from college. We grew up in a poor neighborhood speaking Chicano English (CHE), in a city with the 2nd highest teen pregnancy in the US, in which Latinos at the time rarely graduated from high school. My grandparents dropped out by 3rd grade. My father has never had money and still struggles. For him to achieve this dream meant he had to cheat the system. My sisters and I all have our degrees. We broke a generation cycle and perpetuated new ones.

My father has always referred to me as his “pioneer.” I was his first born. I’m used to not having precedents, paving the way. I inherited passion and drive from him and I’ll always be incredibly grateful.


I, also, feel incredibly blessed to live at a time when technology strived to achieve the noble goal of putting the most powerful learning and communication tools in the hands of all people. Each day, we are starting to see that anyone, anywhere around the world has the potential to impact the world. I am the result of that potential. Fifty years ago, I would not have been able to share my passion with the world as a member of my race, gender, or social class. I am the first in my generation to have the access and the tools to inspire my world. I don’t take this mission lightly. My passion, sharing, and collaboration are the reason movements like The 30 Goals Challenge, #Edchat, and the Reform Symposium E-Conference exist. Each year, I am blessed to be able to inspire 100,000s of educators worldwide.

I’m Sorry, I Failed You

I am one of the pioneers of my profession, as an educator, female, minority, and technology leader. My passion and sharing have paved the way. Mostly, I get it right. Sometimes, I get it wrong. This year, I’ve gotten it very wrong. I’m sorry. We hold the weight of the messages we spread. No matter how defeated or broken we feel, we do not have the right to share messages that wound or hurt. I’ve seen too many of my heroes fall and never apologize or take the responsibility for their actions. I’m still healing from a very tough year, one I will gladly take, because I’ve also experienced so many magical moments. They say you learn best from failures and mistakes so I feel more confident in continuing this journey.

I want you to know I will commit to continuing the edumovements I help organize. And I will commit to inspiring. However, you should also know today begins one of the toughest trials for my family. I’ve made decisions to enable me to go through this. As my community and friends, please don’t ask questions or make colored assumptions.

A Generation Lacking Heroes

Now is the most critical time we need heroes and role models to make us feel the weight of our potential. Anyone, anywhere in the world has the potential to be viral. They can be the next Idol, X-Factor, Youtuber, Viner, Meme, gif, trend, or hashtag. They carry that potential with them everyday. It’s a staple of our digital society that shapes our routines, habits, and communication. Kids and teens already use it to impact millions with the messages they spread. They don’t have my 50,000 followers. They have 100,000s  to over a million. The most followed Viner is 15 years-old with over 6 million followers. They have the power to incite their followers to action. Their followers create memes and videos they spread. I struggle with my public role and choices everyday. I can’t imagine what a teenager or child in my position experiences.

The education system has failed them. Even now as they craft their next 6-second video, tweet, snap, post, status update, hashtag, and meme they won’t carry the weight or compassion of their privilege and position to be the first generation able to create viral action and messages. The movements they incite have the potential to heal, inspire, or destroy people. We will feel this as another cyberbullying incident or sexting scandal arises. Our schools don’t care. Policies and curriculums don’t change to include digital citizenship. They rather waste time on teaching to tests, banning devices, and filtering. We have taken one of the most noble experiences and achievements in history and turned it into something ugly. Schools did this, not technology.

Justin Beiber, is the most famous pioneer of this digital society. He took on his leadership role at age 12, being discovered on Youtube. In one of his earliest interviews, he shared, “My world got very big, very fast and based on a lot of sad examples—people expect me to get lost in it.” Sadly, his words  became the prophecy of his generation.


BIO. (1974). Justin Bieber Biography. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 31 Mar 2014].

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Shelly Terrell

Shelly Sanchez Terrell is a teacher trainer, instructional designer, adjunct professor, and the author of The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers: Small Steps to Transform Your Teaching and Learning to Go: Lesson Ideas for Teaching with Mobile Devices, Cell Phones and BYOT. She has been recognized by the ELTon Awards, The New York Times, the Ministry of Education in Spain, and Microsoft’s Heroes for Education as an innovator in the movement of teacher-driven professional development and education technology. Recently, she was named Woman of the Year 2014 by Star Jone’s National Association of Professional Women and awarded a Bammy Award as a founder of #Edchat, the Twitter chat that spurred over 400 teacher chats. She has trained teachers and taught learners in over 25 countries and has consulted with organizations worldwide such as UNESCO Bangkok, The European Union aPLaNet Project, Cultura Iglesa of Brazil, the British Council in Tel Aviv, IATEFL Slovenia, HUPE Croatia, and VenTESOL. She shares regularly via, Twitter (@ShellTerrell), and Her greatest joy is being the mother of Rosco the pug.


  1. Hello Shelly,
    My name is Larry and I’m in the Alternative Masters of Secondary Education program (General Science) at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama. I am new to education; however, I want to help be a part in changing the way our schools use technology. With all of the resources available today, we should be striving to incorporate devices into our curriculum, not banning them! Thank you for taking the time to share this post!

    • Hi Larry,

      Thank you for dropping by and leaving this message. You say, “I want to help be a part in changing the way our schools use technology.” And with that mindset, you will be. It takes us in our classrooms making those decisions and also striving to learn how to use technology effectively. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, which already shows you’re the kind of teacher striving to learn more and achieve more.

  2. Hello Shelly,

    You said it right but your story seems touching. Technology is the new future and students potentials and knowledge are constantly being challenged because its convenient, accessible,, flexible and work well for students. Students work at their own pace in design and can be changed and updated tentatively.

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