Challenges, PLN and Where They Have Taken Me

Image by Diarmuid Fogarty - found on #eltpics on Flickr - Close ups set


A lot of teachers don’t know what a PLN is… Many know what the letters stand for (Personal Learning Network – or Passionate Learning Network as Shelly Terrell says) but don’t see how it works, how they can learn, benefit from it. Inspired by Tyson Seburn’s challenge to the PLN to give a spin-off to the #FollowFriday tweets on twitter (If you’re an educator and haven’t joined twitter yet you may want to read this: “Why Twitter is a Teacher’s Best Tool“) I decided to share my story, how being on twitter, having a PLN and challenges my PLN propose have made me reassess my practices and change some of them, how they have helped me develop professionally and learn.

One of the first blogs I started reading once I discovered the world of Educator Blogs was Jason Renshaw’s (English Raven). If you haven’t read his posts I strongly suggest it. Jason is an Australian educator with fabulous ideas, incredibly sharing and always questioning things, rethinking practices, a never-ending quest for teaching more effectively. And it was also Jason and his blog who have introduced me to many things: tools, books, articles, blogs… and dogme. Yes, I know dogme has been around for a while, but I recently discovered I was completely out of the loop of what was happening on teaching and the ELT world.

See, Jason has a thing for challenges. And I have one for taking them up. I have to admit I find it hard to refuse a challenge. Challenges for me do exactly what they are supposed to: challenge me to do things differently, think out of the box, take risks, venture in new paths. They bring a breath of fresh air, motivate me. And the very first challenge I took was from Jason. An invitation to teachers to teach a different class and try teaching upside down and inside out. In a few words, the challenge was to go into class without a plan, teach it using your intuition and student emergent learning and then, after the class was over, sit down and write the plan. I took the dive. If you want to know how my class went, you can read it on my guest post on Ceri Jones’ blog (I didn’t have a blog at the time, this blog was actually in a way the result of my taking this first challenging and sharing my experience on Ceri’s blog) – The Day Nothing Became Everything.

By the way, the post in which Jason proposed this challenge was my first #FFSpinoff.

What have I learned from that challenge? I learned I don’t need a lesson plan. I learned having the class based on student emergent learning can be a fantastic experience. I learned doing things differently can be fun and effective. I learned going to class without a plan in no way means I am going unprepared (thanks to Jim Schrivner’s reply comment to my account on Jason’s blog). It made me buy Teaching Unplugged and learn more about Dogme. Yes, I’ll be arrogant here and say I think it made me a better teacher. More confident for sure. Definitely more aware of using students’ immediate needs and interests in the class.

Other challenges came along (you can see some of them if you choose the tag challenges on this blog) and I learned from each and every one of them. Some were not related to classes and teaching, like Adam Simpson’s Ten People I Follow on Twitter and Why – it made me aware of some great people I didn’t know on twitter who I started following. Every one of the challenges I took has taught me something, about teaching, about people… So I’ll keep taking them.

Besides the challenges, my PLN has proven to me the amazing power of sharing. Sharing ideas, practices, activities, tools, websites, articles. It has introduced me to amazing educators, like-minded people – some of which have become dear friends. My PLN has been supportive in ways I could never imagine. So I make a point of trying to convince as many skeptics on the power of a PLN to join twitter and form one.

What about you? What have YOU learned from your PLN?


33 comments on “Challenges, PLN and Where They Have Taken Me

  1. Sandy Millin says:

    Hi Cecila,
    Great choice for an #ffspinoff – Jason’s blog was also one of the first I started reading, and it still makes me think. His wandrous whiteboard with waves has been a staple activity for my last week of classes here – all of the students love it 🙂
    My PLN has taught me that there is so much going on in the world of ELT that I had no idea about. Before Twitter, my PD was confined to what the school had to offer + the occasional inspiring one-day conference. Now I have PD all day, every day at my fingertips . Whenever I have a question, I can throw it out on Twitter, and I always get a response. Everybody is so helpful and supportive. I love trying out the new ideas I find here – in fact, next year for the first time in the three years I’ve been teaching, I’m not going to study a new certificate…instead I’m going to spend the year experimenting with all of the ideas I’ve got from you guys.
    A great post! Am about to add it to the introduction to Twitter and blogs which I posted a few months back – if this doesn’t inspire people to join, I don’t know what will 🙂

    • Hi Sandy,

      Your account of what PD was for you before and after twitter could have come out of my own mouth 🙂 That added to what being at a real conference (IATEFL) after having my PLN was… an incredible, amazing experience. Being at a conference with 40 (or so) FRIENDS, people who I had never seen before but knew about… Wow!

      Thanks for adding me to your post. Let’s keep trying to show people what this is about.


  2. […] Challenges, PLN and where they have taken me – a blogpost by Cecilia Lemos […]

  3. Thank you for the inspiring post. 😉

    I have recently become interested in the transformative possibilities provided by Twitter and online PLNs. I admit I’m still “lurking”… which makes me rather embarrassed as I feel I’m sponging things off people without giving anything in return… :$

    Anyway, like you, I also subscribe to the view that PLN should stand for “Passionate Learning Network.” I think passion is the strongest driving force in change. And witnessing how much passion comes across in 140-characters tweets truly is exhilarating!

    I have taken advantage of many articles, tools, activities and whatnot from teachers all over the world. However, the one aspect that has made the most significant difference for me is… PASSION. And I certainly feel that my own passion for teaching has been reawakened! 🙂

    • Hi Marcus 🙂

      The inspiring post is my pleasure…from an inspiring PLN of which you’re part of.

      Please don;t feel bad about “sponging”things off people… That’s what twitter and PLNs are all about…sharing. I am sure you share as much as you can 🙂

      But you’re right when you say passion is what drives us…. My PLN is filled with passionate teachers… and I like to think we make a difference.
      Thanks for stopping by 🙂


    • Tracy Brady says:

      Don’t feel bad about lurking! Sometimes it takes a while to build the confidence to start replying and putting your own thoughts out there. It helped me to remember that all of these wonderful teachers int he twittosphere with all of their great ideas are still (for the most part) just teachers like me trying to do their job better. Best of luck to you!

  4. Great post, Cecilia. The term PLN is bandied about so much, it’s starting to lose its meaning. One thing I hear a lot now is people talking about ‘the PLN’ , which is fine when people are referring to ‘their’ PLN, but not if they have one big social club in mind that people are part of or not. This is why people have to build a PLN, and it’s something that takes time and involves active participation and hard work. It’s not just about joining a Ning or pressing a button.

    How did it start? Well, first there was the idea of PLE (Personal Learning Environment), which was a reaction to the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) represented by platforms such as Blackboard or Moodle. The VLE is all very well, but the big problem with it is that it is institution owned. You join when you are a student or employee of an organisation or institution and then when you leave (because you change jobs or stop studying at a particular university, etc) then you will probably have to leave the VLE. This usually means losing all of the learning content you have contributed and becoming divorced from the people you have connected with. Not ideal as it means you have to start all over again somewhere else.

    A PLE, on the other hand is owned by the teacher or student and is all about ‘small pieces loosely joined’ (i.e. a collection of tools that work for you. Soon after the popularisation of the PLE, people started to realise that it wasn’t about the tools, it’s about the people – The idea of a PLN was born.

    Perversely, I have subsequently seen organisations trying to hijack the popularity of the term PLN and use it for what really is a VLE – I went to one presentation at a conference where the presenter talked about how her university was building a ‘PLN system’ to help their students – what they were in fact doing was building another VLE (i.e. a learning environment that was owned by the university) – bizarre, and totally missing the point!

    The benefits a teacher can gain by building a PLN and how best to do it are the reasons why a group of us have started the aPLaNet project – to raise awareness of what this can do for teachers who are reluctant or who don’t know how to begin :

    Well, Cecilia, I started off writing a simple comment, and ended up writing half a blog post 🙂 Perhaps I’ll expand upon this on my own blog.



    • Hi Graham,

      Thank you so much for your comment…as you might have realized I am not that savvy on technology yet, so I learned about PLEs and VLE s from your comment – I researched them afterwards. 🙂

      You’re very right when you say building a PLN takes time and work – I still work hard at building mine! And this may scare some people a bit, but if they had any idea of how worthy it is!!!

      Thanks for providing a link to the #aPLaNet project. I have been to a couple of webinars and round tables about it and think what you’re doing is fantastic! I know it’s EU based, but would love to join it. I strongly recommend any person to check out the project’s website and Facebook page, especially those who are still unsure of how valuable a PLN can be.

      If you do blog about this, please let me know so I can share a link!!! Thanks for the comment Graham. Hope to meet you again sometime!


  5. crazykites says:

    I find my PLN can give me a breath of fresh air every once in a while. Can you imagine trying to keep up with the scene exclusively by reading books? Very long, and books are about a year behind, aren’t they? I think I’ll take up some more challenges from now on. Kirsten

    • Hi Kirsten,

      No. After building a PLN, meeting many face to face, learning, sharing, developing because of them I could never imagine trying to keep up with the scene in any other way. After joining this twitterverse, blogosphere I have discovered that I was missing out soooo much. I had no idea of many of the techniques, approaches, discussions going on in my field of work!

      Glad to hear you are going to join more challenges! I might have one comming up. Stay tuned!


  6. Anastasia says:

    Hi Cecilia!
    Thank you for an inspiring post!
    I should say I started getting to know what PLN means when I accidentally found a web page for a conference, ISTEK in Turkey, a year ago, then Burcu Akyol’s blog, Ken Wilson’s blog, signing up on twitter and actually attending the conference in April 2011. Since then I’ve been around many edu blogs, reading, taking notice of useful ideas, tools, etc. In fact it’s a discovery path for me as a teacher and I’m happy to be able to use its benefits for the sake of my students. I don’t think, though, that I’m giving back to other teachers much yet as I don’t have a blog (yet!), but hope to set up one soon =)
    So what have I learned from my PLN ? Teachers face the same challenges in their classes no matter where they teach; sharing is an important skill for this profession; your PLN, even if you have met a few people from it f2f like me, is a very supportive and inspiring group of like-minded people.


    • Hi Anastasia!

      Thank you for finding the post inspiring… It’s funnt how the PLN seems to find you instead of the other way around, isn’t it? In your case it seems to be the case… You were drawn to building a PLN. And don’t worry about the feeling of not giving back enough…it usually eases off with time – I had the same feeling in the beginning. And llooking forward to that blog!

      One of the best things I discovered after setting up a PLN was, as you said, that it shows us students are students wherever they are, wherever they are from…And the sharing we have is fantastic! your view of a PLN and mine are very alike 🙂

      thanks for sharing your views!


  7. DaveDodgson says:

    Ah, Ceci, I think the only challenge you could never take up would be a challenge not to do challenges! :p

    Seriously though, as everyone else has said, connecting with other teachers, sharing ideas, finding out that everyone faces the same struggles regardless of context and finding the impetus/encouragement to attend and present at events like ISTEK and VRT are all things that would have been a lot less likely to happen without my PLN.

    And the challenges – they are always good to reflect on what we do and why or as a way to try out something different. Along with Jason’s various challenges and Adam’s ’10 People….’ one, the shared dogme conversation is a favourite of mine as is the Wordle blog challenge. 🙂 Speaking of which, we should repeat that soon – fancy hosting it?

    • Hey Dave,

      You know me too well… find it impossible to resist a challenge 🙂 Your idea of a challenge to resist challenges seems life something I would resist for sure…let’s hope no one proposes! 😛

      Something you mentioned and that I really learn a lot from (and would probably never have found out about) were the inumerous webinars and online conferences. Amazing PD there!

      As for the wordle challenge – yes it was really great. If you think it’s time for a new take, I’d be honored to host it!


  8. Vladka says:

    My dear Cecilia!

    I am sorry it took me so long to read and reply to your blog post but let me tell you something – what an incredible and lovely way to sum up what PLN and challenges really mean to many of us. You know, I try to convince and inpspire my colleagues that there are amazing people out there, lots of inspiration and support and opportunities to learn with and from others and also way to discover the power and joy of being a teacher/educator. And you know what dear Ceci? It all changes the world/life that may seem to many teachers little, insignificant and lonely. It is not when you are willing to collaborate, share and open up your mind a little 🙂 …and make amazing friends.

    Thank you Ceci for this lovely and inspiring post and can’t wait to read the next one 🙂


    • My Dearest Vladka 😉

      Nothing to be sorry about 🙂 I have been very bad at reading blog posts recently, with the amount of work the end of a semester brings… Hopefully as July comes in I’ll be able to do some serious catching up ;-)!

      I know exactly how you feel, and yes! Having a PLN really changes your outlook on things, definitely broadens your horizons… It’s easier to find like-minded teachers, fantastic teachers who are doing great things that we’d never hear of or meet if it weren’t for social media and PLNs. It really changes the experience of taking part in a conference – as we well know 🙂 You’re a dear brilliant member of my PLN and I am sooo happy I got to meet you and spend time with you face to face 🙂 Looking forward to the next time! And until then, we’ll keep sharing, learning from each other, supporting each other. Because that’s what PLNs do.

  9. Gianluca says:

    Your post is worthy of high praise and will turn out to be very helpful to all teachers who wish to continuously improve themselves. However I was wondering, as an advanced English student, whether it was correct to say “So I make a point of trying *to convince* as many skeptics on the power of a PLN *into* joining twitter and forming one.” or if in presence of “to convince” wasn’t right to use “to” instead of “into”, hence letting the latter to be used in order to express the same idea but by a phrasal verb. In this case it would be : “to talk into”.

    I hope you’ll soon dispel this doubt of mine.

    I really enjoy reading your brilliant posts, you could not even imagine how they are helpful to me too.


    Gianluca, Maths teacher, Italy.

    Nb: I sent a message to you on Youtube because I didn’t know how to directly contact you. As I already said to you I would be honoured if you decided to follow me on Twitter. Thanks a lot.

    • Hi Gianluca,

      Thank you for your messages and such a positive feedback! And yes, you are right about the use of the preposition on the post, thanks for bringing my attention to it! I’ll change it as soon as I finish replying to comments 😉 When I write my posts I write so fast most times – too many ideas flowing, can’t stop the flow – that some mistakes slip by. I count on friends to let me know about them 🙂 hope that doesn’t discourage you form reading my blog!



  10. Tracy Brady says:

    Loved the post! I tweeted this thought yesterday: I have learned more from my PLN in 2 months than in 15 years of traditional PD. I have interacted with some fabulous, progressively thinking educators and administrators, who have challenged me to step up my game. I have been directed to webinars where I have learned an AMAZING amount, and actually given brief talks on 3 occasions. I work in a district where collaboration is mandatory, and yet too often unproductive. Morale is very low, and my PLN has truly breathed new life into PD for me.

    • Tracy, I remember reading that tweet yesterday and thinking to myself how fortunate I am to have a ‘virtual staffroom’ filled with passionate, experienced educators from whom I can learn and be inspired at the very beginning of my career.

      Cecilia, great post! It has truly captured how I feel about my PLN and how it’s inspired and engaged me.


      • Hi Andrea,

        Thanks for your feedback. I feel overwhelmed by how many people felt inspired or saw themselves in what I wrote. Yet another proof of one of the PLN’s benefits: support and feedback.

        Sunny regards,


    • Hi Tracy,

      The situation (collaboration being somewhat mandatory yet ineffective / unproductive, low morale… well, it’s very familiar to me too.And what you have learned from your PLN and how it made you develop and become a better, more resourceful and knowledgeable teacher resonates as well.

      Thanks for sharing your story 🙂 Truly inspiring!


  11. Luciana says:

    I’ve been following you for a while and always get delighted by your thoughts and the way you describe your life as a teacher. That’s just the idea, you are always a teacher. I was once late at night talking to Barbara Sakamoto via twitter and I asked her: “Do you ever sleep? Have any family?” Refering not only to her but to all teachers who are always on Twitter, Facebook, blogging, “webinaring”. I was amazed (and still am) by the way you work-live (how do you call it?), but mainly by the fact that you do have families, and sleep. Well, having a family, working 40 hours a week and taking a post-graduation course, I’m still trying to organize my time, but couldn’t avoid leaving a comment here to congratulate you for the great post. Thanks!!!

    • (blushing) Wow, thanks for your kind words Luciana 🙂

      It’s funny you say that…maybe one of the reasons I love twitter so much is that there are many insomniacs like me, and people from every time zone I can imagine in my PLN, so I can chat and learn at any time. That and the obvious fact there are so many like-minded people there… 😛

      Yes, I do have a family – 2 kids – and I work Godknowshowmanyhours a week. I am currently taking a post-gradution course. And I have a life as well… I guess I really do sleep less than most people 😉

      Thanks for the comment, support and feedback!


  12. seburnt says:

    I’ve learnt that there’s a great number of dedicated and insightful ELT community in Brazil!

    • And I learned it doesn’t matter if people live a lon gplane ride away, you can learn from, interact and collaborate with them 😉 Even watch old movies with them once in a while and have a blast!


  13. Dina Dobrou says:

    Dear Cecilia,

    Keeping some words from your post and the comments made on here:
    «A lot of teachers don’t know what a PLN is»…
    may I add:
    «And an equal amount don’t even want to find out» which is sad, condemning something you haven’t seen in action.

    « I try to convince and inspire my colleagues that there are amazing people out there» as Vladka says, only validates the above.

    One might think I’m exaggerating, but honestly, words are not enough to describe how my life changed after I joined twitter and started building my PLN.

    Following a post on twitter I travelled to York on a free seminar organised by Berni Wall where I met you and Shelly.

    I learnt about amazing web tools to use in class.

    I interact with colleagues in an international staffroom.

    My class (in Greece) connected with a class in the US through Skype because of teachers I met on twitter.

    And yes! I made new friends! Having a PLN «really changes the experience of taking part in a conference» to quote you…:)

    Thanks for a great post Ceci! x


    • Dearest Dina,

      you gave some great examples of how the PLN and interacting on twitter and social media have helped you develop as a teacher and your practice as well. need I say more?

      Thanks for your feedback Dina – always 🙂
      Ceci xx

  14. Marisa Pavan says:

    Hi Ceci!

    Great post! I love challenges too and feel really bad when I don’t have time to take them. They’re so helpful to make me reflect. I’ve learnt a lot from the members of my PLN and I feel fortunate to have come across such a group of passionate educators from different corners of the world. I’d be unfair if I mention some of them (including YOU) because I don’t want to leave anybody out. Anyway, one of the most significant teaching was how to apply technology in my classroom and I’ll be forever grateful for that. At first I felt anxious to share it with my colleagues at the school of English where I work but I’ve learnt to be patient. Even if I haven’t been able to make my colleagues aware of the importance of joining Twitter, little by little they´ve seen the importance of using wikis for the collaborative, encouraging value they have.
    Thanks for all your support!
    Hugs from Argentina!
    Marisa (@Mtranslator)

  15. Hi Marisa!

    I agree with you on both counts… I never imagined there was a group of such passionate, like-minded educators around the world and more importantly, that I could communicate, interact and form bonds with them. My PLN is the most supportive (My RAISEN as Ken says), rich groups of peers I have ever come across and I’m forever thankful for that 🙂

    I used to get more anxious and upset about not being able to “infect” as many people from my peers at school about social media and the benefits it brings, but just like you I have learnt you have to give them time… Every once in a while I am surpriseed by one of them joining twitter. 🙂

    Thanks for YOUR support and input, always.
    Huge hugs and kisses from Brazil,

    Ceci xx

  16. […] Challenges, PLN and Where They Have Taken Me   A lot of teachers don't know what a PLN is… Many know what the letters stand for (Personal Learning Network – or Passionate Learning Network as Shelly Terrell says) but don't see how it… Source: […]

  17. […] Image by Diarmuid Fogarty – found on #eltpics on Flickr – Close ups set   A lot of teachers don’t know what a PLN is… Many know what the letters stand for (Personal Learning Network – or Passionate Learning Network as Shelly Terrell says) but don’t see how it works, how they can learn, benefit from it. Inspired by Tyson Seburn’s challenge to the PLN to give a spin-off to the #FollowFriday tweets on twitter (If you’re an educator and haven’t joined twitter yet you may want to read this: “Why Twitter is a Teacher’s Best Tool“) I decided to share my story, how being on twitter, having a PLN and challenges my PLN propose have made me reassess my practices and change some of them, how they have helped me develop professionally and learn. Challenges, PLN and Where They Have Taken Me […]

  18. […] the ‘Personal’ bit that counts the most ple PLN I was writing a comment on an interesting blog post by Cecilia Lemos about what having a PLN has done for her, when I realised that this comment deserved to be expanded […]

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