Friday, 12 July 2013

Shameless Ana or what happens when a teacher puts herself out there

Photo by Sebastián Suarez Meccia
One of the most inspiring people I have listened to is researcher/storyteller Brené Brown. She shared her findings on the Power of Vulnerability at TEDx Houston 2010. Even though she was not satisfied with her performance, the talk was so enlightening that it has become one of the most watched on (more than 9 million views). That’s why she was invited to give another talk at the 2012 TED Conference in Long Beach. This time she focused on Listening to Shame.

What is Brené´s message? Her research shows that connection is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives and that in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, deeply seen , VULNERABLY seen. Brené encourages us to face imperfection, to have the strength to love ourselves no matter what, and the courage to let go of who we think we should be and become who we really are.

What am I really like?

Well, most people think that because I’m a teacher and work with others I’m an extrovert, but in fact I’m not (in case you are interested my personality type, according to the Myers-Briggs test, is INTJ). I suppose saying I’m an “outgoing introvert” would be more appropriate. I’m challenged to put my feelings out there and when I feel insecure I usually wear my armour- nice and tight.

Of course this affects my professional life. I prefer interacting with students, the people I am familiar with, rather than with a wide circle of colleagues. I feel the classroom is my territory and I am comfortable there. I enjoy the autonomy and creative freedom making decisions on my own gives me.

However, a few months ago, I began asking myself: What would happen if I shared my points of view, if I let others scrutinise my work? Would I feel confident enough to face criticism (or applause)?

Shameless Ana

“You can be amazing, but if you do not share it, no one cares”, says actress/photographer Maya (better known as “Shameless Maya” on Youtube). With her bold an “ in your face” style Maya convinced me - I should embrace vulnerability and become “Shameless Ana” . After months of doubt I embarked on a journey of personal and professional development.

The first step was to give a presentation in front of more than 100 EFL teachers. Yes, I decided to start sharing classroom experiences with complete strangers. I knew making my reality visible was necessary to grow as a professional so when my colleague and ex-high school classmate Carla Raguseo told me about a conference in Villa María, Córdoba I decided to apply for a place in the “Teacher’s Forum”, and I got it. Carla and I gave our presentations on My 24th ( you can read a detailed post describing our experiences in her blog).

I talked about Facebook in education and how I am using it with colleagues and students. The presentation was well received, so much so that the topic was mentioned in an article published on the UNVM website. And then, something amazing happened, a local newspaper got interested in the story, I was interviewed and an article was published. The impact of a front page story with a lovely photo was huge. My face, and my ideas, were everywhere!! A couple of days later, my students and I were interviewed, this time at school, and the story was...on TV! If you want to know more about this “media boom”, have a look at the brand new blog Carla and I have created and the article I wrote on my experience.

What have I learned?

Embracing your vulnerability, taking off your armour and sharing what you know (and what you DON’T know) is a powerful experience. It leaves you “naked”- and I know, that’s hard- but your ability to be okay with that can bring surprising results.

If you are still in doubt, just remember what Marianne Williamson says “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us…Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do…And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Friday, 1 March 2013

1 year, 6 blogs and...a wonderful prize!

In December 2012, almost a year after creating this blog, I decided to take a long break from it. In fact, I hadn´t been able to post anything for almost 2 months. I was tired, had run out of original ideas and needed to recharge my batteries. Don’t misunderstand me, I LOVE the blogging process (reflecting, writing, rewriting, editing, finding the right picture to illustrate the article, etc) but the truth is last year I ended up having... 6 blogs! Although I wasn’t in charge of every single aspect of all of these projects, I felt responsible for them and what was (or wasn’t) published. 

Anyone who has tried blogging knows how much time and effort it requires, especially if you want to feel proud of the final result. Well, anyone but me! At first, I thought I would be able handle everything but I couldn't have been more wrong. After months of trying to keep a balance between online and offline living, I discovered that as much as I would have liked to be wonder woman, I was not. Finally I had to lower my expectations and assess my priorities. This is what my mental priority list looked like:

  • My personal life (my boyfriend, family, friends)
  • My job
  • My studies (“Especialización Docente en Educació y TIC”, a post degree course)
  • 2 of the blogs I was in charge of (this one wasn’t so relevant )

2 important blogs with a common objective

As part of “Laboratorio Pedagógico”, a project the Ministry of Education had chosen me to coordinate at school, my students and I decided to set up a students-run blog, one which would help them express their ideas and show how talented they are (I know my students are talented, because ALL PEOPLE ARE). As all of them should be able to contribute and parents should be able to read, the blog was set up in Spanish, our mother tongue.

We decided to cover important school news, publish interviews, surveys, videos students created, photos, and much more. The project was so ambitious, I felt a little intimidated. But, guess who weren’t? My students! The only problem was they needed guidance on what web 2.0 tools they could use to say what they meant.

That is precisely why I created “Laboratorio 2.0”, a blog which focused on blogging! The truth is I had to set up a blog as part of the course I had enrolled on and I decided helping my students was what it was going to be about. This site also had to be in Spanish (all students and teachers taking part in the project had to be able to understand it, regardless of their level of English). 

Organizing our work  and... getting a prize!

How did it all start? As soon as I knew “Laboratorio Pedagógico” wanted student-generated content  to be published online, I decided to involve all the school community. I asked for the headmister’s permission, told colleagues about it and asked all students for ideas. As many teeenagers had been working with blogs as part of the English class (with me,of course) creating one was the most popular idea.

Once we agreed on what to do, it was necessary to form a team of dedicated students to be in charge of the blog and its content. I invited everybody to a meeting during the lunch break the following Thursday but I was very clear about one aspect: those taking part would not have better marks or privileges, they had to consider the idea only if they wanted to share what they knew or wanted to learn more about technology. I also warned students the project would require some of their free time. 

14 students turned up the first day (most of them  were 14-15 years old) and as soon as I evaluated their knowledge and we discussed their tastes, we divided the tasks among the group members. The ones who knew the most about technology became blog administrators (and, just in case, I became one,too) and those who loved art were in charge of illustrations and design. There was obviously a team of writers and another one with journalists and interviewers. From that day on, each person knew what to focus on and “El blog de los alumnos de la EES Nº 572” was born.

We decided to keep on meeting once a week, every Thursday during the lunch break. I created a facebook group so that we could keep in touch and the other blog,“Laboratorio 2.0”, to explain what I didn't have time to when we met. It was soon after this that one of the boys, Guido, told me about a blog contest held by the most important newspaper in our area, La Capital de Rosario. As we fulfilled all the requirements, we decided to take part in it and that was a great motivation for all of us. During the following weeks the team brainstormed ideas, took photos, interviewed teachers, filmed and typed. We did all the work with mobile phones, my laptop (which I took to school as frequently as I could) and some digital cameras. Sometimes we worked during school hours or breaks, but we frequently continued after class. 

By December, I must confess I was awfully tired. The school year was finishing ( with all the work it implies), and I kept on helping the blog team and trying to update the rest of the blogs. Luckily, it was then that we found out we had won the 2nd prize in the contest, which meant we would be interviewed, and a brand new laptop and digital camera would be given to us so that we could continue working during 2013. How did my students feel? They could hardly believe the news! It was a tremendous self-steem boost. They understood they could produce quality material professional journalists and educators appreciated. I was SO PROUD of my team!! If you want to have a look at the newspaper article,click here

My experience was amazing but pretty exhausting. What do you think about it? Have you ever helped students create their own blogs? Would you like to? And what about taking part in competitions? How motivating can it be? Please, share with us any ideas, tips and tricks.