Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Interview with Shelly Terrell: Teacher, Leader, Blogger, and Social Media Consultant

As an educator and social media superstar (my words, not hers), Shelly Terrell has presented at numerous conferences on the subjects of Personal Learning Networks and Social Media. She is not only a sought after resource on Twitter; @ShellTerrell is an inspired classroom teacher. More than bringing just a philosophical understanding of teaching and learning to her blog, Teacher Reboot Camp, she brings a passion and a lifetime of personal experience that fires up her many readers. In this interview, Shelly Terrell shares her insights from her work in Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) and social media.

Will: Who is Shelly Terrell? What got you into education, and what turned you on to social media?

Shelly: I am foremost an educator with the passion to urge students to become life-long learners. Currently, I teach English language learners of various ethnic backgrounds and ages at a language institute in Germany. I am also the Vice President of Educator Outreach for Parentella.com. I am a freelance technology trainer, blogger, social media consultant, and the proud mom of a pug.

I never wanted to be a teacher in a structured environment, but I always had a passion for helping students believe in themselves and achieve what they stopped dreaming. I began attending a Christian church in the inner-city of San Antonio. Immediately, I volunteered to help teach children and teens. What I saw was heartbreaking. The majority of the youth were poor and suffered from gangs, parents who were druggies, teen pregnancy, alcoholism, and criminal records. The way we helped them was as a community and I saw this approached worked, because if enough passionate individuals reach out then they do make a difference. This is what drew me to social media. There are so many passionate educators willing to reach out and collaborate to help improve education. Daily, I get to feel their passion and it spurs me to fight for a better education system. The exciting part is that I'm in Germany and daily I interact with 1000s of educators from around the world.

Will: What are PLNs, and how do they relate to social media?

Shelly: I define a PLN as a Passionate Learning Network, but the official titles are Personal/ Professional Learning Networks. PLNs consist of people we choose to provide us with support, professional development, and resources. We may meet them first at conferences or online, but we continue to collaborate and communicate through various social media tools, such as Twitter. The PLN theory is based on George Siemens' Connectivism theory. Part of the allure of using social media for professional development is that the individual makes choices on how often to participate, when to participate, who to connect with, and what to contribute and learn. The individual gets to decide how they want to learn. This can be through reading blogs, online journals, attending a live chat with their favorite author, watching a TED talk, or debating an issue with other educators on Twitter. Social media is free, accessible 24/7, and provides the educator with access to the world and experts in any area.

Will: What do you say to educators interested in getting involved in social media?

Shelly: Educators should start with who they already collaborate with locally. PLNs can begin in the school with the teachers that one already collaborates and communicates with in their environment. Adding the social media component just makes it easier to collaborate with during the busy school year. Choose the best social media tool your comfortable with, learn it, and stick with it. Educators do not have to know all the social media tools. They just have to know how to effectively use the ones they find effective. Several of these social media tools and resources are listed in the We Connect wiki and project.

Will: Why use social media as an educator?

Shelly: These tools help educators self-reflect on their pedagogy, instructional methods, and beliefs about how students learn. The most effective educators continually self-reflect and are continuous learners. I think we stop becoming ineffective teachers when we stop our passion for learning. We can use these tools to collaborate with other educators and subject matter experts (SMEs) in our field and help students to find primary resources for answers they need. For example, any educator can ask a question on Twitter and within an hour have several resources already researched and tested by others. The bigger our PLN, the faster we get the resources we need when we need them. You can even ask authors and famous people on Twitter questions and get it from them. You can visit an author's or keynote speaker's blog and receive more information about an issue. Social media tools make it easy to receive such valuable resources when we need them.

Will: What's in it for the rookie educator? Are there any drawbacks to this kind of interaction at this level?

Shelly: When you're a rookie, it is often difficult to receive advice, support, and resources from those at your school, because they are busy. However, social media provides new educators with that support. They have people to bounce ideas off of or ask why a lesson went wrong. These educators are experienced and want to help.

As far as drawbacks are concerned, many fear they are going to spend too much time on social media, but this is up to the individual. I believe that we all have the ability to practice self control. Another fear educators have is with privacy and we should be concerned about this. We should know what privacy settings and security issues the tools we are using have so that we can deal with spam and other security issues.

Will: In terms of developing a PLN, what should an educator look for? Do you see this being primarily for educators who are very knowledgeable about technology? Or can educators who low-tech navigate through the various web 2.0 and social media tools?

Shelly: Educators should reflect on what type of resources and knowledge they want and need to know. Then, the educator will know which individuals will best suit these needs. I like to include a variety of professionals in my PLN. In my PLN I include astrophysicists, authors, speakers, teachers, engineers, parents, and so forth.

When I first began using social media, I was not very knowledgeable about technology. I was familiar with computer hardware and software, but I did not know the majority of the web 2.0 tools. I think those who don't know so much benefit the most, because they hunger to learn about these technologies. I found several people who helped me along the way. I just had to get over my fear of asking.

Will: What is the number one question educators ask you about PLNs?

Shelly: The number one question I receive is, "Why Twitter?"

Will: Any final thoughts?

Shelly: These are two of my favorite quotes:

"If the child is not learning the way you are teaching, then you must teach in the way the child learns" - Rita Dunn, Learning Styles Inventory theorist.

“I’m going to retire in a world in which my students will run.” Dan Meyer, educator.

Our students live and work in a world where social media is the norm. Daily, a majority of our students are on sites like Facebook, Myspace, Youtube, and more. If we are not teaching our students how to use these tools responsibly, then they won't use these tools responsibly. We need to step out of our comfort zones and learn these tools in order to successfully educate our students and prepare them for the world they will influence. Their impact on the world is based on how well we equip them.


  1. Great interview Will and I have even more respect and admiration for Shelly than I did before! I am so grateful for the amazing PLN we share on Twitter and I love the idea of interweaving so many valuable viewpoints here on your blog! Kudos!

  2. Will,

    Thank you so much for the interview. You ask tough questions! It is a pleasure being included in such a great blog!

  3. Shelly,

    You are welcome. Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. Hopefully, the readers will be curious enough to do more research on PLNs.

  4. Nice Interview
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