PLNs in action – a brief personal account

I have decided to give twitter a second go a bit more than a month ago. After having misunderstood the full potential of the tool, I had simply abandoned it. However, after a while, I decided I should really try to understand it and make proper use of it. This second attempt at twitter was successful, and I’m so glad I found the right people to learn from. I still remember it was only then that I finally learned what these three letters, PLN, stood for. And even though I hadn’t actually met any of these people face-to-face, I learned a lot from reading the tweets of certain people such as @kalinagoenglish, @ShellTerrell and @burcuakyol. These were highly influential people in motivating me into starting my own PLN. Oh, and the weirdest thing is, I don’t think they even know that. I have been following them for a while now, and have even exchanged a word or two with them, but that was it. They were teaching me without even talking to me.

I guess this is what has happened to me in other online sources of professional development I’d been participating in. One of the tools I had been using, and that changed quite a bit my way of looking at teaching was the Dogme Yahoogroups. I have never written a word there, but I’ve been following the discussions diligently for more than five years now. I consider myself a Dogmeist, but this is something for another post. As an English teacher for about 13 years now, it was just a great opportunity to be able to be on the same list as my favourite authors, such as Scott Thornbury, whom I had the chance to meet in person and take a picture with while I worked as the Master of Ceremonies in the 2006 Braz-TESOL in Brasília (thanks to Shaun, whose twitter account I can’t find right now). Mr. Thornbury wasn’t the only one I met whom I’d been anxiously waiting to meet. I had the chance to meet Penny Ur and Luke Prodromou, among others whom I had the chance to attend sessions from, such as Leo Van Lier. It was just like looking at all those books you’ve always read – but now there was a real face to go with it.

Anyway, going back to Twitter, I learned from the three ladies I mentioned above that there were others I looked up to that I could find and follow on Twitter. Ken Wilson, for instance, has been responsible for one of my dearest projects in ELT – a drama club. It sounds as something easy to be implemented, but it really wasn’t. I got the idea after attending a 3-day workshop given by Mr. Wilson in 2000, at another Braz-TESOL conference, this time in São Paulo. It was through Twitter that I learned Ken had started a blog, and it was on his blog that I could, 9 years after that lecture, thank him. I also started following other important people in my teaching career, such as Jeremy Harmer, Scott Thornbury and Gavin Dudeney. And I learned that there are tons of interesting people online, and the major benefit of PLNs is that you can learn from anyone. I read in a blog post (by one of these people I mentioned – can’t remember who) that technology, blogs and twitter have made it posible for everybody to be heard equally. And there is so much can we learn from all people who are willing to collaborate online.

I took the advice passed on by some bloggers and tweeps and started to slowly build my PLN. It’s not about how many people you’re following, or how many visits you get on your blog; it’s all about how you’ll benefit from those you’ve decided to share with to learn and grow professionally. This week, two posts inspired me to write this one: Shelly Terrell wrote a post about PLNs, and the Chickenman (I’m sorry, I just love this name!) wrote another one on using Skype in the classroom. Just like the drama club idea, these aren’t exactly ideas that required a lot of thinking to come up with. It simply makes sense. Yet, it takes dedication to write about them so neatly and in such an organised way. And this is the kind of people I’ve found online.

It was through #edchat that I met lots of people from my PLN, and this week I truly saw it in action. I finally had my first two skype sessions with people from my PLN. One of them is an English teacher (@bealup) from Argentina whom I met through the Virtual Roundtable Ning. And I’d learned about this ning through Shelly and her tweets. I had the chance to show her around the basics of Twitter, and I hope she’ll benefit from it as much as I do. The other person is an educator whom I met through #edchat, @BrianDowd. We’ve also waved together for a while and it’s been a priceless cultural and educational exchange. Having had the chance to Skype with these people this week I’m sure I’m on the right track of what I’d set off to do when I decided to give twitter a second chance. And the examples above are just two out of the many other things I learned from my PLN, such as a lively discussion about assessment on Wave.

The same thing is true with this blog. I created it also to be a place where I could voice my opinions and help myself overcome writers’ block. Slowly, I’ve been able to receive some comments and exchange ideas with other people who have also helped me grow as a teacher – and I’m talking of a month and a half experience.

I also have to thank a person I’ve had the chance to work with, @feedtheteacher. The fact that we had worked together and are friends also played a role in showing me the benefits of building my PLN. If all this has happened to me in a couple of months, I can only look forward to what is yet to come.

What about you? Have you been working on building your own PLN?

PS: OK, so, now, I only have to learn how to keep my posts shorter than 500 words. As a new blogger, I’ll allow myself to write some more.
PS2: I hope people are OK with my writing their name here. If they aren’t, then I do apologise. Just let me know and I’ll immediately delete it from the post.

8 thoughts on “PLNs in action – a brief personal account

  1. Henrick,

    Your story mimics my story with social media. I decided to give Twitter a second try after not really find its value the first time. Now, I learn from so many, including you, and I have met so many wonderful people as well! I really enjoy your personal stories and how you didn’t get to thank Ken until 9 years later on his blog. Everyday I am amazed how we can personally thank authors and presenters we have learned so much from. We can actually have conversations with them! This just simply amazes me!

    1. Hi Shelly,

      It is funny that we sometimes are not at ease when approaching people we have so much to thank for, especially when these people are in the media. I’d had the chance to thank Ken personally in an event he attended in Brasília, but as he was one of the big stars of the event, I just couldn’t get to talk to him as there were people all over him. Technology has made all that way easier. It’s also enabled for people who are not book authors (in our field this is like being a rock star, I guess) to share and get to know one another. There were so many other people I thought about when writing this post, but I’ll have a chance to write about it later.

      Oh, and the picture with Scott is a funny story. When we took the picture (there were two MCs in the event) he said he usually takes lots of pictures with people in these events, but he doesn’t really get them. It took me so long to get it to my computer, that I still haven’t sent it to him. 🙂

      I’m looking forward to learning even more from and sharing with you. Kudos to you!

  2. Henrick,

    I just signed in to Twitter, saw your most recent tweet and came thinking this was the post you mention at the beginning -why you gave Twitter a second chance. I found something more (I’m still going to go to the other one). There’s so much feeling in the way you tell your experience (I hope my Spanglish make sense); I’m still discovering the world of PLN, and you’re making it much more enjoyable and easier. I feel I keep thanking you but it’s not everyday I find people like you or the ones you’ve introduced me to and I appreciate it a lot.

    I’ve belonged to various discussion lists and yahoo groups for professional development for about 10 years now and overall had a similar experience to yours. I now read with great interest about Business English and Legal English teaching, and have never written to either group. Or to the Extensive Reading group, which I follow with delight,not to mention the Learner Independence group of TESOL Arabia and their amazing moderator -who I hope to meet in the flesh one day.

    I feel I’d like to say something more meaningful, but can’t articulate it. Your post takes me back to my early days as a teacher and attending conferences for the first time, and, it occurs to me now, probably PLNing face to face. Those were very good times for me as a teacher, and I’m glad I can say they’re not over -just taking place somewhere else.


    PS: Don’t worry about the number of words. It’s nice to read the post exactly as it is.

    1. Bia,

      One of the the best thing about the world of PLNs online (and face to face) is that we’re all willing to share and grow together. It’s not about anything else. I even mentioned that to Gavin one day, “If someone does something just for fame’s sake, he or she will eventually be left out of the sharing and learning circle.” I’m glad to hear I’m making it easier to you, but it’s just because you’re doing the same for me.

      The reason for never writing to these groups is, to me, two-fold: 1) we sometimes haven’t got the time to get truly engaged in the discussion; 2) the people who write and discuss things on these lists sometimes have said it all. 🙂 Is this how you feel as well?

      We’ll definitely be together online for much longer. After all, we’ve now got a project to work on and try to implement, huh?! 🙂

  3. Henrick,

    Thanks for your words.
    Yes, that’s mostly how I feel about writing to the groups. And we do have a project! Looking forward to working on it.

  4. It’s interesting, its seems that my initial experience was quite similar to that of many others then–a first foray into the unknown resulting in a “WTF?” type reaction, then a later realization of the true purpose of the tool. I’m still slowly getting it together, learning to use the different functionalities of the site, but must confess that I’m now more or less a convert. Nice blog, BTW!

    1. I guess we’re both beginners in twitterville then. I’m still trying to figure out what it’s for. Fortunately, it seems lots of teachers are there to collaborate, which makes it way easier. As you said, many of these teachers seem to have had the same initial reaction we had and are now sympathetic to newcomers and willing to help!
      Thanks for the compliment on the blog. I’m checking yours out in a while.

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