Sunday, December 16, 2012

Prague Unpacked

Those of you who have been following along with my recent Blog posts know how inspired, recharged and excited I am about my recent trip to Prague to attend the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum. It was an amazing, life-changing event for me but the real question is how do I translate what I learned and experienced into worthwhile learning experiences for my students?
Having spent time with educational leaders and policy-makers from over 70 countries I want to  ensure that I strengthen the connections I made and utilize the pool of expertise I was so fortunate enough to swim in. I am so happy that I had the chance to meet and talk with Lisa Neilsen author of the Innovative Educator and seasoned public school educator who has worked for more than a decade in various capacities. Lisa writes for and speaks to audiences across the globe about the future of education and is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Passion (not data) Driven Learning,” and "Thinking Outside the Ban" to harness the power of technology for learning, using the power of social media to provide a voice to educators and students. She was kind enough to Skype with my students upon my return and share with them her ideas about how they can expand their Doing Business in Birmingham project with a Facebook page.
After having a Kinect in my classroom for two weeks as part of the free trial Kinect Program I know I have much to learn about how to harness the level of enthusiasm the kids have for this device. The US contingency in Prague included several teachers who have been working with Kinect in the classroom for a while to good effect. I will be sure to be following up with Cheryl Arnett, Joli Barker and Adina Pope to help me learn more about how to add Kinect to my tool belt of successful learning technologies. I am also excited to be currently engaged in conversations with several of the talented educators I met at the forum about how we can connect our students in ways that empower them to become powerful global agents of change.
The tag line of the forum was, “Your ideas matter.” My main priority is ensuring that this message is communicated to my students. I asked my kids how they would like to celebrate their success and instead of a regular party, they saw an opportunity to further awareness about their project. They have organized a forum like event for tomorrow night, recognizing the local businesses that made it on to their Honor Roll, appreciating the students who started the project last year and inviting other local businesses to showcase their sustainable practices. They will be handing out awards and certificates and we are thrilled to have closing comments via Skype from Andrew Ko, Senior Director of Partners in Learning, Microsoft. I have never been prouder of my students. If the three days of instruction I missed while attending the forum can be used to help even one child understand and internalize the notion that their ideas matter and that they themselves matter then they will have been three days well spent.
Given the recent school related tragic events in Connecticut, I have spent much time this weekend wondering if such a celebration is appropriate. But I have come to the conclusion that there is, in fact, no better time for our community to come together to embrace our children, celebrate them, cherish them, love them and let them know that they are safe, that they make a difference and that they matter. Tomorrow will provide us all with the opportunity to remember that the world really is a great place to be.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Unpacking Prague Part 3

Last Saturday I was in Prague Castle for the culminating event of the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum. Entering the Spanish Room with over 500 other educators, school leaders, policy makers and press from around the world I was awe not only of my elaborate surroundings but also of the caliber of the people I was with.
I was one of 20 educators competing for a chance to win one of 18 Global Forum Educator Awards in the following categories: Collaboration, Knowledge Building, Beyond the Classroom, Cutting Edge Use of IT, Teacher as Innovator and Change Agent, and Educators Choice. But it doesn’t really seem like a competition at all. It is more of a gathering of likeminded people to celebrate innovative teaching practices and the work that educators are doing all around the world to effectively integrate technology into learning.
In the preceding days I had the opportunity to connect, learn and collaborate with some of these amazing teachers and I was staggered by the work that they do. Coming from a school were technology is abundant, it was a humbling experience to learn that some teachers around the world have only their own personal digital devices to share with their students. And they are managing to do groundbreaking things that are not only changing kids’ lives but the lives of others within their local communities.
Sarah Freda Adei from Ghana presented a project about child labor, which is prevalent in her community. Students researched the impact labor has on the victims’ well-being first hand and the result was that some of those victims enrolled in school!  The Glimmer of Hope project presented by two teachers from Jordan enabled students to deepen their scientific knowledge by embarking on a mission to spread awareness about early detection screening for breast cancer, thereby saving lives. Ayodele Odeogbola from Nigeria has been working hard with students to address issues such as vandalism, bullying, examination malpractices and drug abuse amongst teenagers. These projects and many more like them that I saw at the forum, highlight for me the need to put technology into the hands of children for it enables them to become powerful agents of change. That’s why the Spark a Child’s Digital Future is such an important initiative and I would urge you all to donate.
Being able to connect and learn from global educators at the forum is an invaluable experience and I will be taking many new ideas and friends back to my classroom. I was also fortunate to be able to spend time strengthening established friendships and building new connections within the US team. Cheryl Arnett and Melany Neton are two of the most wonderful educators and warmest ladies I have had the pleasure to meet and made me laugh non-stop. Julie Hembree led us on an amazing adventure through Prague and our conversations continually pushed my own thinking and learning. June Teisan, Alex Beels, Robin Lowell and Sherry Hann were our booth buddies and taught me so much about how to engage students with unique and diverse needs. Sarah Collins and Jo Spark share my interest in teaching kids to be responsible stewards and I learned much from them about how to help students motivate their peers. Gregg Witkin, Joli Barker, Jennifer Bevill, Jamie Ewing and Todd Lavogue inspired me with their passion for teaching and their zest for life and learning was infectious. Please learn more about what these stellar educators are doing with their students here or in the Partners in Learning Network.
A week later I find myself at home, sitting on my couch and contemplating being named a winner amongst these Olympian educators. I feel the weight of the responsibility heavily. I have the responsibility of living up to the standard of work my peers are producing all around the world. I have to maintain my own commitment to learning and sharing with and from others. I have to let other teachers know that the work they do matters.  I have to keep learning about new technologies and how they can be employed to prepare my students to be productive and successful global citizens. And I will do it all with a recharged spirit and unprecedented enthusiasm thanks to the energy I have absorbed from these wonderful people.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Unpacking Prague Part 2

Many educators feel isolated in the teaching profession, left alone with their students, figuring out new curriculum and new initiatives independently, frequently re-inventing the wheel without the support of other colleagues because of the lack of shared planning time. Classrooms become islands cut off from the mainland school community. I am fortunate to work at Birmingham Covington School, a building that actively supports teaming, collaboration and developing professional learning communities. I work with and learn from amazing colleagues every day and feel very much connected to the wider school population.  After attending the Microsoft Global Forum in Prague however, I realize that even an innovative building like mine can become an island, isolated from other innovative schools with whom we can share and learn and grow.
Covington was selected as a Microsoft Pathfinder School this year and at the forum we were fortunate to connect with school leaders from similar schools around the world. Organized into a smaller global cohort of schools, we were introduced to our mentor school, Botany Downs Secondary College in NewZealand. BDSC has already been through the Pathfinder process and for the next year will serve as our guide as we focus on leading innovation, applying human-centered, design-led innovation strategies and processes to address issues of importance to 21st century leadership and learning.
After building connections within our coaching teams we explored global trends currently shaping education. We discussed the value in asking disruptive questions and possibility thinking, “The impossible-what nobody can do until somebody does.” This was followed by presentations from leading experts on issues such as personalized learning, game-based learning, 1:1 Learning, project-based learning, virtual learning and learning environments and spaces. Over the course of the next few days we had opportunities to sit in small groups with people like Chris Gerry, the designer of New Line Learning and Cornwallis Schools in Kent, Larry Rosenstock founder and CEO of High Tec High , and Donald Brinkman , champion for the Just Press Play Project to name a few. To engage with these leaders on such an intimate level was an honor and provided invaluable opportunities for us to learn about future focused possibilities and how they relate to BCS.
By the end of the week my head was simply spinning with ideas and notions that I had never even previously considered. I was just at the point of overload when Simon Breakspear, an educational researcher, consultant and leader in adaptive leadership, pulled me back from the edge. He identified five key strategies for successful global practice.
 Question in the Pursuit of Better-smart may have all the answers but stupid has all the interesting    questions
 Embrace Permanent Beta Mode-we are always looking to improve, to make things better
 Harness Your Network- connectivity makes it easier to create ideas in conjunction with others
 Develop a Bias Towards Action-just get going, consider the minimal viable product
 Reframe Failure-fail fast, fail forwards
The year ahead is going to be an exciting time to be a part of BCS. Having been afforded this wonderful opportunity I know our school leaders will embrace adaptive mind frames to continue to drive change in our community. As we commit to action, sharing and reflection with our new global colleagues we will be contributing to the new play book for change in disruptive times. How utterly cool is that!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Unpacking Prague

Just over a week ago I was frantically tearing my house apart looking for my Green Card, horrified at the thought that I wouldn’t be able to attend the Microsoft Global Forum in Prague. Today, after an amazing week in the Czech Republic, I find myself unpacking as a Global Forum winner and I realize that this is going to take a really long time. I’m not just unpacking a suitcase; I’m unpacking an event, a life changing event at that. It’s going to be a while before I can truly process my thoughts and feelings about my experiences because I’m utterly overwhelmed by how much I have learned and how much I have grown as a result. So I am going to indulge myself and unpack slowly and publically via this Blog-I apologize in advance. J
My biggest take away from last week is a profound sense of gratitude. Microsoft brought together over 500 of the most innovative teachers, school leaders, education leaders and government officials from 80 countries. Having the opportunity to meet and talk with these people about their work is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am committed to forging strong and lasting relationships with as many of them as I can. Continuing the dialogue through the PiL network and via social media can only further enrich my journey as an innovative educator and ultimately have a positive impact on my students.
At the forum it was announced that Microsoft has committed to another five years of the Partners in Learning Program, investing $250 million in their vision of  capacity building for educators as they work to transform current education systems. $75 million will be used to help bring digital access to young people and educators in developing nations through initiatives like Spark a Child’s Digital Future. Beginning in Kenya this program will attempt to help children gain access to the tools, experts and resources they need in order to be able to succeed on a global level. I am beyond grateful to be involved with a company who demonstrates such a commitment to improving the lives of children all over the world.
Beyond corporate initiatives I have been moved by the commitment to education on the part of individuals at Microsoft. Anthony Salcito is Vice President for Microsoft Education and he is a prominent figure at the forum. As well as delivering keynote speeches he was frequently available at the forum to answer questions and celebrate alongside teachers, educational experts and government officials. His personal commitment to education is evident through his DailyEdventures Blog and the passion with which he describes his hopes and dreams for the future of education. He has a unique talent for making members of his audience feel like he is talking to them individually and inspires everybody in the room.
Lauren Woodman, General Manager Microsoft Education Program, was a model of grace as she hosted the final awards ceremony. Her appreciation for educators is undeniable and it must have been a particularly proud moment for her to have her own mother be present as part of the US team. I was fortunate to attend the Global forum last year in Washington and was astounded to receive a handwritten thank you  note from Lauren within weeks of returning home.
Sophie Tual, Worldwide Marketing Manager at Microsoft, had obviously worked tirelessly to organize an outstanding event that made everybody there feel like royalty, especially with the culminating awards ceremony at Prague Castle. Sophie seemed ever present despite her work responsibilities, taking time to speak to participants and learn about their projects. She wore a permanent glowing smile which lit up a room and made connections with people that she maintains beyond the event through Facebook and Twitter. Her level of enthusiasm is contagious and her appreciation for educators and students obvious.
Rob Bayuk and Carrie Hoople Hispsher are key players for the US team as they spend months preparing and guiding educators through the forum process .Always ready to answer questions and help  make the experience memorable for everybody they provide unending support and appreciation. I was thrilled when the bus leaving for the airport at 5am on Sunday morning was flagged down by Carrie so she could say goodbye and wish us a safe journey home. She is a wonderful caring lady who I am proud to call my friend.
I will forever feel indebted to Microsoft for inviting me to take part in this event. I urge every educator to join the PiL network as soon as possible and begin learning from amazing educators from around the globe. As a company Microsoft has established an irrefutable dedication to education, the individuals I have mentioned have helped me to remember that teaching is indeed a noble profession. Thank You.