Connect, Grow, Thrive

ETAS Journal Editors' Choice Number 45

Using social media in my ongoing professional development

Zhenya Polosatova

ETAS Journal Volume 37, Number 1 (Winter 2019), pp. 38-39. 

I have selected this reflective piece because of its many useful tips for getting started with and making the most of professional development online. Connecting with others is more important than ever. I can attest to Zhenya's views on blogging and social media as a vibrant space to build knowledge and a supportive network of educators beyond the staff room. What better way to alleviate feelings of isolation in a busy or disconnected world? Try it for yourself after reading!

Hannah McCulloch

Using social media in my ongoing professional development

Zhenya Polosatova

This article is a reflective account of how social media has been helping the author to reflect in-depth on her professional experience in teaching and teacher training, and how it has become an organic part of her own continuous professional development ‘toolkit’.

If you ask me what the most significant element of quality ELT professional development is (for teachers, trainers, writers), I would say it is meaningful reflective conversations about the process and result of teaching and learning. For the first half of my ELT career, working at International House Dnipro school in Ukraine, I had regular and numerous conversations in our teachers’ room that brought lots of teaching insights and ideas. I spent many happy years in this dedicated team of professionals engaged in professional development activities and events. 

When I left and continued as an ELT freelancer (international teacher training and curriculum designing), I missed the buzz of our IH staffroom. I was looking for ways to find something similar and equally fulfilling. In 2013 I joined Facebook and Twitter, created a LinkedIn profile, and started my WordPress blog. I was quite hesitant to get started on social media in general, having read a lot about how distracting it can be, how it affects one’s productivity and time management. What I discovered was quite the opposite, and I would like to share some thoughts and reflections. 

What I am (or have been) doing 

Through then 140- (now 280-) character messages on Twitter, I learned that ‘PLN’ stands for ‘Personal Learning Network’. I started following educators from around the world, often sharing or ‘liking’ their resources and articles. I noticed that many of them had a blog of their own, and I started thinking about perhaps writing mine. Eventually, I did. Sometimes I joined existing discussions, and sometimes I started my own, maybe including mini-surveys, especially while preparing for a new training session or a presentation for teachers. I always share my own blog posts on Twitter, with or without a small comment about its content. 

I can say that it was Twitter that introduced blogging to me (and me to blogging, for that matter). I started by following other educators’ blogs and writing a couple of guest posts for others. I then started my own WordPress blog. At first, it was an almost private/secret posting, and it took me hours to hit the “Publish” button. I thought the blog would be my space to recall “the good old days in the school” where we had weekly Wednesday PD Sessions (yes, that’s where my blog’s name comes from). 

I then joined a “Reflective Practice Blog Challenge” where several educators described a situation they wanted to reflect on, and then analysed/interpreted it, shared beliefs and formulated their plans for action. This was accompanied by lots of reading each other’s posts and commenting on them, and where my favourite activity (conversation) took place. Through that challenge, I met amazing people who were as passionate about reflective teaching and learning as I was. On my blog, I started writing about the things that were really important to me: Experiential Learning Cycle and its application for teaching and learning, reflective practice groups, and other trainer reflection posts. 

Blogging has been more than just writing my own posts: it also includes commenting, starting a blog challenge, joining blog challenges, ‘meeting’ people, and lots and lots of reading. The profound conversations can sometimes start on Twitter and then grow into a blog post. Sometimes, I blog in response to something I read in a fellow blogger’s post. Those conversations help us get to know each other, and even though I have never met Hana, Vedrana, Kamila, Svetlana or Sandy in person (yet), I feel we have created warm, friendly bonds. From blogging, I learned what PLN actually means, and how powerful it can be. 

My blog has been around for more than five years now. I have (semi-regularly) written posts, started blog challenges asking a question to the others and encouraged bloggers to respond on their own blogs. 

Recently, I started to interview people or invite them to share ideas in a guest post. After our Reflective practice Group in Dnipro was launched in 2016, I occasionally write about the meetings we have or about the questions I am asked about this form of professional development, which I think brings the ‘right’ kind of readers to me (the reflective and curious teachers who love thinking and talking about their students, the teaching and learning process, the challenges and solutions they face, etc.). 

I only joined Facebook after a public promise made to my course participants in Beirut, Lebanon. In fact, I was not sure if it was a good idea at all until I discovered I could follow Pages of organizations and schools I respected and wanted to stay in touch with. one of such pages has been the International Teacher Development Institute (iTDI) and the amazing people working there. I wrote a couple of short articles for them, took an online course, and have been working on a project that would hopefully engage more teachers in reflection (more about it below, under https://itdi.pro).

I think I am not doing much on Facebook, but there are a couple of things that are essential: for example, a closed group called “RP Group Dnipro”, where we post information about coming meetings, share useful resources for reflective practice, etc. I see it as an additional tool to our face-to-face communication which became especially helpful when I moved to a different city and continued coordinating the monthly meetings from a distance. 

Another exciting initiative currently emerging on Facebook is a Global Reflective Practice Group. Teachers and/or group facilitators/coordinators from various parts of the world meet on a voice chat platform and talk about learning, teaching, beliefs, challenges, etc. At the time of writing this article there have been two meetings, and we are still figuring out the best format and logistics, but it is a wonderful idea I am fully supporting. I am now wondering if this is an online project, or face-to-face, or a mix? Where does social media end and our reality begin? 

Also, I co-created and co-manage an Edu Hub page on Facebook. Edu Hub, or Educational Hub for English Teachers, was created by the members of our RP Dnipro group in an attempt to bring an ELT event to our city. As a result, we have run two “Teacher Sharing Days” and actively promote our initiative as a non-sponsored conference, not representing or advertising a specific language school or publisher. It is an event for teachers from various educational contexts to meet, share ideas, learn, collaborate, start new projects, chat, reflect, etc. We have just had our third event in November 2019. 

The most interesting thing to me is seeing how social media works as a small personal system. For example, after publishing a new post I usually share the link on Twitter. Sometimes it sparks conversations immediately, and sometimes it takes time for my friends and colleagues to respond. Some posts don’t have a response at all, but I value the chance to share my ideas or feelings. 

Online life and “real life” 

What’s interesting is to observe how my online PLN has impacted my real-life community and professional development. I started making a list of the things I noticed, and this is what I have so far: 

1) Reflective Practice Group Dnipro is a monthly face-to-face event, but we use our social media group for event logistics, meeting preparation, Q and A, picture sharing (making those who missed a meeting feel jealous). This part of our communication became especially vital when I moved to a different city and the group continued functioning as normal. 

2) My colleagues from Ukraine started reading and commenting on my blog. I also interviewed three of them for my blog. Hopefully, more are coming. I feel that this turns my blog into a space for more real conversations and letting more voices of fellow educators be heard. 

3) I met amazing people at conferences, and then they joined my social media space. For example, the post about “Conversation method” was born after I attended the author’s demo lesson at Innovate ELT in Barcelona. 

4)  My conference presentations for colleagues have become wider with the help of the pre-session conversations I hold on Twitter and/or blog. In addition, my post-presentation reflections are now more meaningful and have readers! 

5)  I had a chance to work with amazing co-trainers on the courses in various parts of the world, and we then stayed in touch via blogging and Twitter (and even co-facilitated a webinar once). 

Mike Griffin: https://eltrantsreviewsreflections.wordpress.com Linda-Marie Koza: https://reflectionpools.wordpress.com/ Wilma Luth: http://teachandreflect.com 

6) I had a chance to meet some of my PLN-ers in person: for example, in Baltimore at TESOL International Convention, in Kyiv at IATEFL, etc. I also hope there will be a couple more meetings like this in 2019. 

Finally, and perhaps, equally importantly, my online learning and developing has brought several amazing projects into my working universe. For example, in January 2019 I bumped into the colleagues I know in person and via social media at an iTDI course. The course was called “becoming a (more) Reflective Teacher with John F. Fanselow” and was a combination of live sessions and written assignments in between, completed individually and in pairs. The course was not only insightful and thought-provoking to me as a teacher and teacher educator, but also gave me a chance to be involved in co-creating a resource for teacher educators to help teachers to look at their own teaching without judgement. The working title for the project is “A Journey into Reflective Teaching”. It is developing slowly but is one of the most exciting and challenging projects I have worked on. 

https://itdi.pro/itdihome/advanced-skills-course/becoming-a- more-reflective-teacher/ 

Social media has become an organic part of how I am learning about teaching, learning and living. As I mentioned above, I was really skeptical and hesitant to get started, as I feared it would become a major distraction and waste of time. I have to confess that I was wrong. I now see that it is a way to connect with like-minded professionals from around the globe, and for a freelancer like myself, it is a vital tool to continue a conversation, share ideas and compare opinions. By the way, this article would have never happened without my Twitter account. 

I am grateful to the ETAS Team for inviting me to write this article and helping me reflect on the journey I have had so far. I hope this inspires some reflections in the readers, and perhaps we will hear of new blogs soon? 

About the author

Zhenya Polosatova has been working in ElT since 1998. She is an affiliated faculty member with SIT Graduate Institute and a freelance consultant with World Learning/SIT, working on teacher training, trainer coaching, and curriculum design projects. She has run courses and programs in Eastern Europe, North America, and Asia, and facilitated courses for teachers online. Zhenya is a Reflective Practice Special Interest Group founder and coordinator. Her passion is reflective practice and creative thinking. When not on a project, Zhenya runs, hikes, or blogs at Wednesday Seminars. 

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