I was waiting until Christmas to post this post, but then I realized that would not be appropriate at all. Christmas is a time for giving gifts, but this is a post about heartfelt thanks and is better suited for Thanksgiving.
I wrote the following about a month and a half ago. It’s the story of how one little response to a comment changed my life.
I’m a new blogger and I started blogging less than a month ago. The entire concept of a PLN was alien to me and Twitter was a strange new world. I entered this world because of one man, Jamie Keddie. I was a big fan of his site, TEFL Clips. It got me using video in the class, something I had never done before. All it took was the quick link to Savevid that let me download YouTube videos to my laptop. In my unconnected and computerless classrooms suddenly I could bring in my laptop and do video lessons with my students. The fact that one person was making all these great lessons and sharing them with teachers was very inspiring. I started to make my own video lessons.
After using a number of the lessons, I posted a small comment under one of the them on the reasons I liked it. To my great surprise, I got an email the next day thanking me for my comment and asking some simple questions about how I use video. I sent him the lessons I had made using his site as inspiration. Looking back with some chagrin, my lessons were a bit messy with lots of mistakes, but I think I’ve worked most of those out. The lessons in question are now posted on my lesson plan page for teachers to use in their classes.
Anyway, after that, we emailed back and forth a few times and he informed me about an ELT conference in Istanbul being hosted by Burcu Akyol that he would be attending. He asked if I knew about it or thought about coming. I was shocked, an ELT conference in my city? I didn’t even know these things happened outside the private colleges. He then directed me to Burcu’s blog and said I should try out something called Twitter.
Well, I got on Twitter and didn’t do much with it for a while. I looked at Burcu’s blog and followed her blogroll links to others. I was simply amazed that there were all these people blogging about ELT. At the time I was working at a terrible school and I’d previously worked at schools where people were professional, but no one was really interested in ELT or developing. Suddenly there was an entire world of full of people interested in the same things I was. Not only that, they were actively interested in helping each other become better. It was amazing!
Soon after, the conference came around and I went to it. I had never seen something like that in Turkey before (or anywhere else I had worked for that matter). I didn’t even know that level of professionalism even existed here or that a school would actually pay to develop and train their teachers. I thought, “Wow, this is what I’ve been looking for.” I talked to a lot of people at the conference and found it was a mixed bag. Some people were more into it than others and, to the people who were non-plussed about it, I felt some surprise. I was thinking, “You don’t know how lucky you are to have a school and director that cares enough to do this.”
But the highlight of the conference for me was finally meeting Jamie Keddie in person. Here was a person who I knew was passionate about teaching and sharing. It was a far cry from what I was experiencing in my current teaching environment. I got to see his plenary, go to one of his workshops, and talk a bit about my experiences with him. For me, it was a great experience.
Also at that conference I got to meet the drama king himself Ken Wilson and attend one of his workshops. I hadn’t even known he was a big name in ELT or that there actually were big names in ELT before going to the conference and starting this blog journey. Ken Wilson gave the best workshop I’ve seen to date and his style has greatly influenced the workshop style I use when training my own teachers now. On top of Ken, I also got to see plenaries by Gavin Dudeney and Nina Lauder, both of which were fantastic.
After the conference, I was jazzed up. I wanted to become part of this world and try to connect with other teachers who shared my passion and commitment to teaching. One thing I really realized after I went to the conference and started looking at a lot of blogs was that many in the field of ELT have mostly taught in environments very unrelated to what I was used to in Turkey. They simply didn’t face the same challenges or obstacles. The dynamics in the classrooms were different.
I made my decision right then to start my own blog to try and help out and connect with teachers specifically in Turkey. I can’t say how successful I’ve been in that as my blog is still quite new and I’ve only had one commenter from Turkey so far, but I’m hopeful for the future.
Luckily, at the time I made my decision, I had a two week break in between jobs. I had thankfully completed my contract at the wasteland of my last school and had gotten a job at what I believe to be one of the top 3 schools in Turkey. I poured hours and hours into setting up the blog. Using Burcu’s blog as a guide, I got my own wordpress blog and really started digging into all the people on her blogroll and started following the twitter contact lists she had so nicely posted for people. At the same time, I started commenting a lot on others’ blogs and getting into a ton of wonderful discussions. I realized that Jamie wasn’t an anomaly and that most people that ran blogs engaged in dialogues with their readers. In fact, people even commented on the comments and got into great big discussions. On one of Karenne’s posts she even said I had good ideas and thanked me for stopping by. How cool was that? I had never been told before that my ideas had any value, at least by anyone with experience that wasn’t a new teacher.
I posted a new blog post every week and to my utter amazement people actually found it and linked to it in their blog. These two people were Alex Case and Karenne Sylvester, both people whose blogs I was amazed by and who were quite famous in the blogosphere from what I gathered. I simply couldn’t believe it. Google hadn’t even found my blog yet (it still hasn’t for some reason unbeknown to me) and yet they had obviously found my blog, liked it, and mentioned me on their own blogs.
My other surprise was when I got a comment from someone who wasn’t a co-worker. It was from Darren Elliot. I was only 3 posts in and another person had found my blog and even taken the time to comment on it. I was quite honored that these three people had taken the time to stop by, link to me, and/or comment. It meant that all the time and effort I had put in wasn’t for nothing. I thought it would be months before people even noticed my blog and here I already had visitors, and famous ones at that.
Well, I was quite pleased with the way things were going. I kept posting every week and then, yesterday morning, I posted my Keepin It Real lesson idea. We had a work party last night and when I came back home with my wife, I of course went to check my email as I usually do. In my inbox I found 4 comments waiting for approval on my blog. They were from Karenne, Alex, Darren, and Jeremy Day. I was so happy. They had come back to my site and they had liked my idea or at least felt it was worth commenting on. It was a great honor and so here I am, inspired to write this post now. Thank you all very much for the help, guidance, confidence, and inspiration you have given me. It’s absolutely amazing that there are such intelligent and caring people out there and that they are not only willing to share their ideas with the world, but to help out the new people on the block as well. Already in my short time as part of the twitter and blogospheres I have developed so much as a teacher and it is because of you guys. Thank you so much.
Present Day: Well, that was a month and a half ago now. Now I have many more members of my PLN. Some are big names and some aren’t.
There are Larry Ferlazzo, Shelly Terrell, and Ozge Karaoglu that are some kind of sharing gods. They are always linking to tons of useful stuff on their blogs and on Twitter and generally just happy to share. I’m in awe of the amount of time they put in online.
There are also my teachers Teresa Hanlon and Thomas Christie. Teresa is one of the most positive people I know and always always goes that extra mile for her students. Tom has really creative ideas in his classes and is always willing to share.
There is Andy Hockley who is always good for a laugh, a counterpoint, or some information on reflective teaching practices.
Last but not least, let me not forget Diarmuid Fogarty who is always able to turn a critical eye towards any subject.
There are of course many many more and I couldn’t possibly list everyone here, but please don’t feel I’m forgetting you.
After that night I thought it would be great for some of the people who had helped me out so much to be featured with a guest post on this blog. I thought I was still too new though and I hadn’t gotten enough of my own material on the site yet, so I wanted to wait a bit. Now I feel the time has come. After this week I will be posting some guest posts from some of the people above. In the short month in a half since that night and in the 3 months since I started blogging I have met so many wonderful people that have helped me develop and grow. Some I’m in touch with more than others. Some people I only follow on Twitter while others I meet for coffee. I value each member of my PLN and appreciate everything you have done.
To think, all this started because someone sent me a short email about a comment on their blog. The little things are so important and none of us should forget the difference we can make in another teacher’s life by doing something so small. Making other teachers welcome and helping them to start their own PLNs is something we should always think about when we get a comment on our blogs or when someone follows us on Twitter. We can make a difference .