At the top of Maslow's Pyramid

Wow, I am finally surfacing and trying to get my head in gear this afternoon - upon opening up my google reader  and quickly browsing through the ELT blogosphere, I notice many excited reports and reflections on the IATEFL conference which took place in Harrogate this year.

It was, quite simply, one of the best educational events I've ever attended: mega kudos to the organizers, online team headed by Julian Wing and Gavin Dudeney plus the numerous  IATEFL committees  and volunteers who worked so hard at putting something like this together incredibly successfully.   One of the best parts of it all, in my opinion, was Graham Stanley's LT-SIG pre-conference event which was held live, via twitter and also within 2nd Life - I'll blog separately about that later.  But first,

one of the things which struck me most profoundly at IATEFL was something I've been musing on for a while now - covered briefly in my crowd-wise discussion but actually got to see happen in real-time, confirming my thoughts on the process.

It has to do with Maslow's pyramid of needs, so apologies that in just a moment, I'm going to go all deep with you here.

But first allow me tell you a couple of stories:

On the first official day, climbing up the stairs to the conference, I bumped into Jeremy Harmer.  For those few of you who don't know who that is, Jeremy is one of the most influential  and widely  read authors and editors in the field of ELT.  The man who wrote the book on teaching English.  He is also an accomplished poet and edu-blogger.

I apologized to him that I wouldn't be able to attend his session (I was totally gutted) because we were scheduled at the same time.  Jeremy apologized back, saying that he would have loved to attend my talk and   he was interested in the development of e-communities.

Side Bar Confession:
I didn't think he was serious, let's face it: why on earth would the Jeremy Harmer want to attend my swap-shop and musings on the historical, evolutionary and psychological aspects/practical issues involved in setting up e-communities?

But as the conference raced on and all the evening events took place, here is what became immediately obvious: Jeremy was absolutely everywhere.   He attended most of the sessions of his PLN,  attended the LearningTechnologySIG's preconference event, via 2ndLife, tweeting back like the rest of us towards the external twitter community and was very much, not just a professional guru in our field but authentically interested in what we had to say, think and how we teach:  he was above all, an engaged, active, excited member of the Educational Community of Practice.

The second story has much more to do with me and my decisions about which sessions to attend and it wasn't just me I saw doing this...

There were, at the IATEFL conference, a number of very, very famous and important speakers.

Presenters, globally renowned for their years and years of contributions to ELT, prize-winning authors and glorious trainers who I couldn't believe I'd actually get the chance to see live... and then there were people like me who do what we can, train teachers on a small scale, spend most of our time in the classroom  but many, many of us there were spending  hard-earned pennies on an educational event (some presenting, others only attending): money which would normally be earmarked as holiday funds.

In just about every case, whenever there was a clash between one of my PLN (whether from Twitter or from an educational yahoo!group or Ning I belong to) and a famous author, I found my feet walking me towards the member of the community.

One morning, after staying up 'til 4am, there was an 8.20 session.

A slap of ice-water on the face, deep breaths to wake up and a quick jog took me down to the conference centre on time.   There was simply no question that we would be there and his room quickly filled out as the rest of us, bleary-eyed, twitterers and blog-readers stumbled in - some without our first coffee.   When he asked us why, didn't we already know what he was talking about (it was on PLNs) the answer was simple.

Nik Peachey is someone who has provided us, for free, for years, with so much content and ideas through his blogs and explorations of the web2.0 that we were there to thank and support him.

He is a member of our PLN.  Wild horses wouldn't have kept us from going to see him live.

A couple of days later, when schedules began to severely clash, I missed two community members' sessions back-to-back, sessions that I really very much wanted to attend - I got grabbed into a conversation I couldn't get out of - I was genuinely sad and upset about that.  Still am, so they better be at Brighton next year :).

So, anyway, what has all this got to do with Maslow and when am going to stop gushing and get serious?

Lindsay Clandfield's Pechua Kucha discussed his worries about the me, me, me aspect which just about everyone sees when they enter Social Media but undoubtedly, that is for me, just one minor step along this journey.   

When Maslow made his pyramid, he forgot the top of the triangle.  And as it has been missing, through this blog post, am putting it on now.

Beyond personal self-actualization lies the actualization of community.

(cc)Karenne Sylvester, 2010:  adaptation from by factoryjoe on wikimedia commons)

What social media and the web 2.0 is doing, most profoundly is that it is working on the we, we, we.

The IATEFL 2010 conference in Harrogate confirmed it: there is a deep need within humans to support a community they co-create.

The conference was very much not just about only saying hey to our old-new friends and sharing hugs (how quickly we all knew each other) nor was it about how wonderful, wonderful it was to smile in real time at Vicky Saumell and giggle with Jamie  from China, to talk blogging with Nik Peachey over a beer (how cool) or to listen to Shelly and Ozge as they went through their presentation in the apartment for the 20th time (fantastic, fantastic -best presentation of the conference) or to bossily tell Marisa and Shaun to pay attention to our real-life discussion too, not just to one with the 2ndLifers, or to share a cigarette with Emma  Herrod and Scott Thornbury; to find out how nice Luke Medding is in real life, to attend Candy van Olst's presentation of dogme in Business English settings or to get one of Ken Wilson's massive bear hugs, to  rehearse my PK with Sue Lyon Jones, to congratulate Lindsay Clandfield on his mega launch of Global,  to play with Tamas' little Sophie and break bread with Amanda, to have Jamie Keddie profusely worry about me and whether or not I'd make it up to the stage without fainting beforehand; to quickly converse with storyteller Jan Blake and  with Herbert Puchta on the value of non-self-promotion via twitter... but also, also more importantly

how we did not forget our twitter friends 

and how we felt connected to the PLN members who could not there  in person.

We truly didn't want them to miss out on a single moment of the excitement we were going through;  we really didn't want them to miss out on the learning we were receiving so we let them know what was going on... we didn't want them to miss out on how well our fellow community members were doing as they stood up, sometimes for the first times, in front of large crowds and shared their knowledge so....

we shared and shared and shared. And we tweeted and we tweeted.

Collectively, both inside and outside the IATEFL conference, we continued to work at building and strengthening our amazing global community of educational practitioners and I'm so incredibly proud to have witnessed this and in my small way, been a part of all that growth.

Useful links related to this posting:


32 Responses to “At the top of Maslow's Pyramid”

  • Tara Benwell says:
    April 14, 2010

    You got to meet Tamas' Sophie! No fair! I read his great blog about her. So sweet. Love this little tale, Karenne! I really enjoyed watching your PK from home in Canada while I chatted with others watching the stream via iatefl online AND tweeted with folks in the audience (I still haven't seen a photo of the shoes, but Shelly Terrell did promise one.)Josef and I are both wondering if your Crowd Wise presentation was taped. So much to catch up on via all of the great IATEFL stuff that is coming available. I don't know what to watch/read next. Maybe I need a list!
    Thanks again for keeping us all in the loop. We'll have our beer together one day I'm sure!

  • Anonymous says:
    April 14, 2010

    Dear Karenne,
    Posts like this make it even harder to face the reality that I missed this wonderful event. But thanks to the IATEFL online team and the many tweets that flew out of there I could, at least, soak up some of the atmosphere and enjoy the workshops.

    Very much enjoyed your PK and all the others.


  • blog-efl says:
    April 15, 2010

    Wonderful post, Karenne, and one that expresses succinctly the excitement that those of us who have been connected on Twitter felt at attending the IATEFL conference and meeting each other.

    You also have hit the nail bang on the head about Jeremy Harmer, but it's no surprise I suppose if you think about it. You can tell from the work he's done in the past and what he's written that he's deeply concerned and interested in teaching and teacher development. He's noticed that Web 2.0 technologies such as Twitter and Second Life are fabulous development tools that can bring people together in ways that would be otherwise difficult to do.

    It is truly a great thing though to have him and other established ELT names taking to social media, etc - we now need to take what we've seen at the conference and help the teachers who weren't at IATEFL and who weren't connected online to see the value of it.

    Finally, thanks so much for your kind comments regarding the Learning Technologies SIG PCE. I was very pleased at how well everything seemed to flow and that the technology just worked without much faffing around. It was also a nice format and the discussions in Second Life were just as animated as the ones in the room at Harrogate. I have to say that the success of the event was largely due to Gary Motteram's efforts, who put together the timetable and a great set of speakers.

  • Shelly Terrell says:
    April 15, 2010

    Great post Karenne! Way to tie it in together with Maslow's Pyramid.

    Tara, Beth Cagnol got the heel shot and you can find it here

    Aren't they brilliant?

  • Luke Meddings says:
    April 15, 2010

    Hi Karenne, thanks for the namecheck and the 'in real life' - I'll try and be nice online too!

    Seriously, it was great to meet you and I'm looking forward to more doing more online IATEFL catch-up at the weekend, including your PK.

    As someone who also 'invested' in the trip this year I think the free online access makes it all the more worthwhile, feels like us 'live' delegates are putting something in as well as getting a lot out by attending.


  • Lindsay Clandfield says:
    April 15, 2010

    Hi Karenne,

    As always, it was great to see you and I'm so glad to read that the conference lived up to and exceeded your expectations. It certainly did mine.
    I think you are also right about the actualization of the community and that this conference was an important part of that. I made the ME ME ME point in my presentation a bit tongue in cheek, because I realise that in many instances it is going beyond this. And I really like the way you change ME ME ME to WE WE WE. There was a lot of WE at the conference.
    This makes me think of another possible post: 6 ways to get from me to we.
    Interesting to note that, if we did indeed get to a self-actualisation of the group then it was via a massive face to face tweet-up. Could that be something important for emerging ecommunities I wonder?

  • Gavin Dudeney says:
    April 15, 2010


    What can I say? Brilliant post, accurate reflection of what happened. Me old mucker Jeremy is a die-hard technphile these days, and a great champion for us to have on our side. And he seems to sometimes be able to produce as much as Shelly!

    Wish I'd had more time there in terms of f2f, but needs must and all that. It gets worse every year as the online coverage gets better :-)

    Like so many other hundreds of people, I think we all had a grand time and I look forward to Brighton next year. Hope to see you, and everyone else, there!


  • Vicky Saumell says:
    April 15, 2010

    Dear Karenne,

    Since I arrived from Harrogate, I have been trying to catch up with all the blogging and tweeting about the conference, as well as with the sessions I missed, which I can now watch or read at Harrogate Online.

    It was of course my intention to write a post conference blog post for my own blog. But since there have been a few these last days with similar views (yours, Gavin's, Shelly's, Ken's), I have decided to wait some time and see how it all sinks in before I write about this amazing experience.

    I have felt professionally and emotionally touched by this powerful community and I would like to give something back which is worth reading.

    So, congrats again on the wonderful work done both at Harrogate and here!

  • Marisa Constantinides says:
    April 15, 2010

    Well, ma belle,

    It was a magnificent experience, wasn't it, and it was magnificent while we were going through it too, not just in retrospect...

    I loved this post and how you tied it all together with adding that little extra something to Manslow's pyramid.

    We are social animals, after all, and it is through our social groups that the best learning takes place.

    I think our binding force, twitter, i.e. technology, let's spell it out, made this all the more possible, all the more exciting and all the more gratifying. It will be hard to replicate such joy on such a grand scale, but then that's what we all thought after ISTEK and this one was even bigger.

    On a more personal level, I feel priviliged to have had the opportunity to spend so much time with you and Shelly and Ozge. Four strangers sharing a flat may have spelt disaster to most people, but to me - and I think to the rest of you - it felt like I had known you all my life.

    I shall treasure the memories of all these bright days at Harrogate, even you shaking me out of sleep to run to Nik's talk at some crack of dawn hour... you were right and it felt good to be there.

    I shall also treasure all the other moments, our heart-to-heart conversations, your absolutely beautiful poetry, your breathtaking shoes...

    Thank you for putting down these great memories in such a moving way for us all to remember.


  • Randi Harlev says:
    April 15, 2010

    Hi Karenne,

    This is an amazingly sensitive post; surpassed only by the passion of your Pecha Kucha presentation.

    I love your extension of the Maslow model - sounds like a great hypothesis for some serious research! Would love to collaborate, should you really decide to take it on!

    Hoping for more f2f meetings in the future,

  • Clare says:
    April 16, 2010

    Hi Karenne

    I completely agree with you about the community aspect. When I hear Seth Godin talk about linchpins, I sort of agree. But recently I've been thinking about how much impact (and forgive the buzz-wordy name I just made up!) "virtuous communities" have - not just on teachers themselves, but also on learners.

    I'm sure this is not a new concept, but it struck me recently how students in my small town see me in their state school, take private English lessons from a friend of mine (who I've also worked for, and who I update on their progress at state school), watch MTV, download songs from the internet (I know, I know) and end up having a sort of reinforced sense of the importance of English. Every factor in their English learning is reinforced by another... if you know what I mean.

    I'm not sure about this, but it seems to me that this constant reinforcement from different elements in a community help students not only in their learning, but also in knocking down any of their resistance to learning. (Sorry, drifting on to another half-formulated theory of mine...)

    But, back to your point! I have a foot in two camps, so to speak, so don't tweet / comment as often as I should, but the community of educators on Twitter / NING networks is immensely powerful in so many respects - development, change, education... I've said it before, but will say it again - educators are the nicest bunch of people I think I've ever met - whether offline or online!

  • Adam says:
    April 16, 2010

    It was lovely to meet you, however briefly. I also had a great time in Harrogate, which is practically my home town.

    There was such a contrast from the last time I attended, in 2006.

    I've cobbled together my own thoughts on the event over at my blog.

  • Nicky says:
    April 16, 2010

    Loved this post, Karenne, and I'm still suffering from withdrawal symptoms after Harrogate. Thank God for twitter and blogs like yours :-)

    I caught your PK online - and it was everything and more that I had been told. Fabulous stuff!

    Dying to get to IATEFL Brighton already...

  • admin says:
    April 16, 2010

    What a wonderful post,Karenne!!I'm so happy to meet you f2f and spent time with you at IATEFL!
    You've certainly rocked with your amazing pecha kucha and with this brilliant post!!
    Looking forward to seeing you very soon! We've a lot to learn from you!

  • Jennifer Verschoor says:
    April 16, 2010

    Dear Karenne,

    Thank you not only for this great post but also for allowing teachers that were not able to attend IATEFL to feel part of the conference.

    Yesterday in the teacher´s room I spoke about IATEFL and how I was able to follow all your tweets. Nobody at school understands the power of Twitter. It is so hard to talk about twitter.... you need to start tweeting to understand it.

    Warm regards

  • Ammar A. Merhbi says:
    April 17, 2010

    Great post Karenne,
    I felt your excitement when reading your post especially when I got to the part(s) where you expressed your sadness on not attending some of your PLN presentations.
    It is amazing how PLN is actualized in real life and how genuinely and sincerely you would meet and greet each other.
    When reading someone's posts and tweets for some time , and especially when commenting on their updates, there is a bond that is created beyond professionalism. A bond that is even more genuine than real life friendship.

    Cheers to that

  • Anne Hodgson says:
    April 17, 2010

    I had the pleasure of attending IATEFL last year, before the age of the PLN, so it was a very interesting contrast to be attending virtually and tweeting and summarizing the offerings in various forums.

    Now, IATEFL did a great job of bringing the conference online. But I like to call a spade a spade. So I'm with Nathan: Not attending is just that, not attending. By attending online you get lots of content, but little buzz. I enjoyed chatting with Sara and Stew and Mark and Anna, but we were claquateurs along the wayside. So at least for me the name of the game is, save up my money and go to the next event.

    April 19, 2010

    Yesterday, I started answering these and in a wonderful "multi-tasking" moment when the W-lan suddenly cut out on me, I switched cables from the main laptop to the netbook which I was uploading a video into youtube and then promptly lost 45 minutes of replies as the blogger comment box collapsed.

    So this time I think I will answer you each individually! :-)


    Thank you so much for watching it live! You've no idea how much it means to me to know that... it's a really warm feeling knowing that I have friends out there who care enough to see me do a poem on a stage, albeit with a rather shaky voice.

    No, crowd-wise wasn't taped, but as soon as things settle down a bit (manic around here at the moment) then I am hoping to do an online version!

    Take care,

  • harmerj says:
    April 19, 2010

    Hey Karenne,

    sorry it took SO LONG to post a comment here.

    I enjoyed reading your post. Yes it WAS like that.

    s for me - well the reason that I went around with the Twitter flock is because they/you taught me things, things I don't have much experience with. And there's an energy coming from you lot which is inspiring when you have been in the business as long as I have.

    IATEFL 2010 made me feel younger!!!

    Keep it up high-heeled PK-er!


    April 19, 2010

    @Nathan, next year hope you'll be there too!!! But am very glad you got to feel some of the atmosphere and appreciate our tweeting back about the workshops we were attending :-).

    Thanks - I agree re Jeremy, absolutely, but it was such a pleasure to witness this. Tessa Woodward's plenary talked about the kind of teachers who stay effective - the tinkers and those motivated to continue learning and Jeremy definitely falls int that category. Was an absolute pleasure to meet him live - and incredibly inspiring!

    April 19, 2010

    @Graham (cont./)
    Oops I forgot to mention Gary's amazing organization - will be sure to discuss this in the blog coverage (and will send you guys the notes from the day - sorry, catching up on lots at the moment).

    @Shell :-)

    @Luke, you too!

    April 19, 2010

    @Lindsay @Randi

    Actually, the idea of the top of Maslow... has been brewing for a while now and it has something to do with a hurricane!

    In 2004, my parents lost the roof - in fact, 80% of all homes were destroyed in Grenada. When I finally got in touch with my family I found out that Daddy, after tying a tarpulin to delay damage, was coordinating an effort to bring rice in to the island via his brother in Barbados. My mother and father were actually living in the car at that particular moment and so I had to wonder why Daddy's primary concern was for the poor.

    My father said: in a disaster you know who you are.

    It was something I mullied over when reading books on crowd intelligence and communities of practice, how it seems that sometimes there are those who pull a community in one direction or the other and how this must be, in fact, an intrinsic psychological need...

    And when you think about it, everything happening today, online both the incredible good and the internet threats which plague us are just mirrors of our wants - our lives be it from the days of the jungle or the days of building towns out of dry pastures.

    So in fact, I really do think Maslow left that part off the pyramid.

    Yes, Randi - if you can tell how to study this or research it further I'd be up for some cooperation.. as long as it can be called "Kalinago's top of the pyramid :-)" LOL.

    April 19, 2010

    @Gavin, thanks for your comment.

    Yes, it must indeed be quite difficult to juggle so many responsibilities and remain available for friends, new and old.

    Hats off to you and the rest of the online team.

    April 19, 2010

    @Vicky, it was so incredibly nice to meet you in person! Am looking forward to your blog post on Harrogate once the passion has died down! If it ever does :).

    @Marisa, my lovely... what can I say, I thought that was one of the most special parts of the experience sharing the apartment, jerking you awake, chatting to you about things that really matter not just the world of ELT - it feels like you, Özge and Shelly are my sisters :) now.

    April 19, 2010

    @Claire, with you on that and I loved reading your thoughts on the processes you've been noticing. I truly love it - how English is spreading so easily through real life: it's very, very interesting and as educators, as Jeremy mentions above, it's an amazing time to be in: the twitter flock is indeed buzzing - love that new word of yours "virtuous communities"

    You too! I am so incredibly sorry I missed yours and Beth Cagnol's workshops - promise you'll be presenting next year :(

    April 19, 2010

    @Nicky, Thank you so much! I was very, very, very nervous. I have to confess I like hiding behind my computer screen to being on stage, though I have tried to cobble together a version with the slides which I'll post up hopefully tomorrow.

    I'd write see you in Brighton but actually I hope I see you presenting before then - dunno how, but hope to anyway!

    April 19, 2010

    @Ozge, you are my cutest Virtual Sister - :) don't tell my real sister.

    April 19, 2010


    Thanks so much for your comment, am so glad that you enjoyed my post full of the glee of the event! I know what you mean about people not getting twitter :) and in a sad way, I'm like don't worry, I have a secret weapon to knowledge: I have people like Jen Verschoor in my PLN!

    April 19, 2010

    Hi Ammar,

    I love this:

    "there is a bond that is created beyond professionalism. A bond that is even more genuine than real life friendship."

    I think you're right. I think that when we blog and comment on each other's blogs and we follow up this by tweeting with each other, we create a deep emotional professional bond - like having an intimate group of peers who may not always agree with but always, always learn from.


    April 19, 2010

    Anne - yup saving pennies is the name of the game around here when it comes to attending conferences - my biggest tip is renting an apartment and sharing it with others. It was only 600GBP for the four of us for six nights (so 150 each... which I think is the cost of one night at the holiday inn)!

    April 19, 2010

    @Jeremy, you are quite simply awesome. Nothing more to be said, really, except that having you in our PLN: you being who you are and we being who we are is UNBELIEVABLY motivating and inspiring. You will keep us reaching and searching and exploring and changing and tinkering and challenging and growing.

    We are really very lucky to having you fly with us through twitter.

    Oh, I did say I wouldn't gush anymore, didn't I :). I promise I didn't gush like this before you impressed the socks off me, is all.

  • Anonymous says:
    April 28, 2010

    Hi Karenne

    Oh my goodness! Thank you so much for including my name in manogst all those august and notable worthies! I feel very humble and grateful to have you mention me.
    And wasn't Harrogate grand! I just wish I had had time to go to and do all the things I wanted to go to anda do. I shall take leave for the week next year so I can really become part fo the community.

    Many thanks again adn hopeful see you in an around or out and about!



Visitors and Regular Readers


FEEDJIT Live Traffic Feed

Communities of Practice

Directories, catalogs and Back Links

Adult Blogs - Blog Catalog Blog Directory Add to Technorati Favorites

The EFL ESL Blog List - ESL/EFL/TEFL Teaching Jobs and Teacher Resumes

International Blogging Directory

Recent Posts

Simply Conversations

Pedagogically sound materials designed to get your students actively talking:

Free Samples
Conversation Control

General English
Business English

Learn more on why these work