“Worldwide, teachers feel like elephants in chains. They can’t move anywhere with the guidelines and curriculums and policies thrown upon them. They feel like they can’t take risks.” – Shelly Sanchez Terrell, USA
If you are one of the many educators around the world who participates in and benefits from #EdChat, you have Shelly Sanchez Terrell to thank. When Terrell, along with colleagues Tom Whitby and Steven Anderson, created #Edchat, “I don’t think we envisioned the way it would propel the movement for online professional development in education,” Terrell says. “Thousands of educators worldwide gather every Tuesday to debate and discuss a topic they voted on. We have heard from the community that it has been inspiring and that what they have learned during the chats has transformed their instructional practice.” When I caught up with her recently, she noted that the discussions have led to widespread collaboration among the participants on a variety of projects, including free online conferences.
Terrell also created the 30 GoalsChallengeforEducators, and she is committed to helping teachers connect with great ideas and with each other, all with one primary goal: improving education. According to Terrell, “The 30 Goals Challenge is in its third cycle and has had nearly 10,000 educators try to complete 30 short-term goals in a year to improve their instructional practice.” When we spoke, Terrell shared with me the origin of the idea three years ago, when her passion for social networking and the power it had to change lives inspired her to propose the idea on her blog. The goals are outlined on Terrell’s website, TeacherRebootCamp.com, each year, and together, participants reflect on accomplishments and support each other through various social media platforms, such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Google Plus.
On an even larger scale, Terrell organizes the ReformSymposiumE–Conference, a free online e-conference in which over 4,000 educators participate from over 100 countries. Keynote speakers have included leaders from the top-ranked Finnish education system, and all presentations, keynotes, panel discussions, and interactive events are recorded and archived. At the next conference, Terrell told me, speakers will include students who have used social media to facilitate positive change in their communities.
Ultimately, Terrell’s work is all about getting educators to take risks. “Worldwide, teachers feel like elephants in chains,” she says. “They can’t move anywhere with the guidelines and curriculums and policies thrown upon them. They feel like they can’t take risks.” By providing a support network, free materials and the power of collaboration, Terrell has
done just that.
In today’s Daily Edventure, I talk to Shelly Sanchez Terrell about her passion for social networking as a means to improve teaching practice, and her insight (based on meeting educators in 26 countries) that as far as technology and risk-taking are concerned, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
I believe in the ButterflyEffect. Edward Lorenz, a meteorologist, proposed that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil could set off a tornado in Texas. I believe that action, no matter how small, can have a great impact. Therefore, I believe we will never be able to quantify
or understand the change until years down the road. I do know that thousands of educators are inspired by these projects and this inspiration is carried into their classrooms where it impacts thousands of students. If we can inspire thousands of students to be continuous learners and enjoy learning, this will have a great influence on the world. Over 400 educational chats on Twitter have begun as a result of #Edchat. Various educational leaders like Diane Ravitch, Alfie Kohn, Michelle Rhee, etc. have used the hashtag, #Edchat, and I have word that many lurk. Those who influence educational policy are seeing that teachers using social media are congregating and they look at the stream. I’m not sure if it influences decisions at the national level but I do know
many principals and educators who are now using social media in their schools, have lifted bans on technology, and gotten their students connected with others worldwide as a result of participating in each of the projects I mentioned. I am willing to be patient and see how history is made by what we do now.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
We need to finds ways to inspire our learners. This means we need to feed ourselves with inspiration daily so we don’t walk into our classrooms burnt out. Teaching is difficult and stressful. I tackle the stress by building a support network. The educators I connect with online constantly provide me with inspiration, support, and guidance. I think every educator is more powerful when they begin connecting online with other educators.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
I believe in being an example so I run workshops and classes the way I advocate teachers should effectively integrate technology. I believe in a student-centered and task-based approach to technology integration. I believe students should use various technologies to create, explore, collaborate, think critically and problem-solve. I also believe students should be moving around and learning with all their senses. I get my learners of various ages worldwide to use their digital devices to do things, like create a digital story, blog, go on a scavenger hunt, create a podcast, interview someone, mindmap, etc. I wouldn’t call this innovative, because I think this is good instructional practice. One activity I often do to show teachers the power of technology is to have them get into groups of four, take out their mobile
devices, and share with each other an image they took and begin a discussion around that. I have done this with audiences of up to 800 and I never prepare participants for this activity. I usually follow that up with, “Congratulations! You just participated in a Bring Your Own Device activity. Now, how much did that cost us for a room full of technology?”
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
Fear. Fear influences society to support bad educational policy. Fear has led to a curriculum focused on standardized test results. Fear influences teachers to teach to the test or in a traditional way. Fear influences the banning of social media and technology in schools. Fear is one of the main reasons why we see how bad policy negatively impacts our students and don’t do anything to change it.
What is your country doing well currently to support education?
I was excited that the Department of Education designated August as Connected Educator month and collaborated with one of the founding fathers of online educator communities,
SteveHargadon, to host a variety of free social media events for teachers.
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
We need to be open to lifting bans and teaching kids how to be better digital citizens. We
need to get rid of standardized tests and support portfolio-based measures. We need to provide all students with Internet access. We need teacher training programs to stop teaching in traditional fashions while teaching us theory that knocks this style. In most teacher training programs we learn what effective teaching is by reading theorists, such as Vygotsky, Friere, Piaget, and others. The irony is the way we are taught and trained rarely models these examples and so teachers pick up bad habits.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
I think schools need to embrace social media and provide the parameters, guidelines, tools and training to get their students and teachers connected, communicating, collaborating and creating online. Many of our students live in a microcosm in which their thoughts, morals, actions, and learning are heavily influenced by the community in which they grow up. However, we live in a flat world and I have seen the stereotypes and limited thinking that has made worldwide collaboration ineffective. If we tear down the walls and introduce students to what is happening around the world and get them collaborating with peers worldwide, then I truly believe we will equip future generations to care about and problem solve world problems.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
Get connected with other educators on social media. I created the WeConnectWiki to help. There is an enormous community of educators online who are willing to support you with their experiences, knowledge, and passion. You can find many by following the #Edchat and #NTChat hashtags on Twitter. LisaDabbs is the creator of #NTChat and she also has created an online mentorship group for new teachers through various social media platforms.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
I truly believe in the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) or Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) movement. Schools that are allowing students to BYOD/T are allowing their students to learn with the tools they take home. This is empowering for students because it means when they go home they know their device can be used for learning anywhere and everywhere. This is an important mindset if we want our learners to be lifelong learners.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
Fast Internet access. It doesn’t matter the device, but every child should have the ability to explore their passions and connect with others who share their interests. With Internet access any person in the world has the ability to learn anything from experts and those in the field. Some of the best universities in the world offer free classes online. I think mobile devices are paving the way for access but access is extremely important.
- Birthplace: San Antonio, Texas
- Current residence: San Antonio, Texas
- Education: In addition to my CELTA, I hold an Honors BA in English and a minor in Communication with a specialization in Electronic Media from the University of Texas in San Antonio and an Honors MA in Curriculum Instruction ESL from the University of Phoenix.
- Website I check every day: Twitter
- Person who inspires me most: My Personal/passionatelearningnetwork inspires me daily and also my grandfather. He grew up in a time when Mexican Americans didn’t have many options especially when they knew very little English, had hardly any formal education, and had hardly any money. He never let these obstacles deter him from achieving what he desired. He traveled for work as a migrant worker sometimes and did various jobs. He was a beekeeper at one point. Eventually, he saved enough to open his first barbershop in San Antonio. He had one of the most successful barbershops in the city that existed for 56 years. He also built two houses on property he bought here and they still exist. We lived in one growing up. He also rebuilt classic cars, had rental properties, had a wonderful garden, and was a great cook. I think about all he achieved in life without the education and freedoms I am now blessed with and I know I have no excuses for achieving what I desire. A person can achieve a lot in life once they realize literally nothing can stop them.
- Favorite childhood memory: I don’t really have a favorite but I do cherish the times that I spent with my grandparents when I was a child. We lived in the house next door to my grandparents. These were the two houses he built. My parents worked very long hours and when my mom would come home at night to pick me up I would pretend I was asleep so I could stay with my grandparents. In my house we weren’t allowed to speak or learn Spanish because my parents were punished at school for speaking Spanish but my grandparents always spoke to me in Spanish. I wouldn’t have learned Spanish or about my culture if it hadn’t been for them.
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Possibly Istanbul and definitely Washington, D.C. I travel nearly every month for work and usually to a different country. This year I traveled to my 25th country, which was Israel in July.
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? Now, because of this question! also laughed at my pug who is next to me sprawled out and snoring loudly.
- Favorite book: I love reading so this is hard to narrow down but I really enjoy books by Haruki Murakami who is a favorite for the Nobel Prize in Literature. I also loved Man of La Mancha by Cervantes and The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo.
- Favorite music: I love all kinds of music and surround myself with music as much as possible. Three of my favorite voices are Nina Simone, Maria Callas, and Otis Redding.
- Your favorite quote or motto: I also surround myself with inspirational quotes which I bookmark on my Pinterest: InspirationforWorldChangers. I’ll narrow it down to three.
- Your life is your message to the world, make sure it is inspiring. ~ L. Lee
- Love the life you live. Live the life you love. ~ Bob Marley
- I have lived nearly fifty years, and I have seen life as it is. Pain, misery, hunger … cruelty beyond belief. I have heard the singing from taverns and the moans from bundles of filth on the streets. I have been a soldier and seen my comrades fall in battle … or die more slowly under the lash in Africa. I have held them in my arms at the final moment. These were
men who saw life as it is, yet they died despairing. No glory, no gallant last words … only their eyes filled with confusion, whimpering the question, “Why?” I do not think they asked why they were dying, but why they had lived. When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. To seek treasure where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be! ~ Don Quixote, Man of La Mancha