Saturday, January 18, 2014


I was so excited today when my sister called to let me know that she has booked an apartment for us to share in Barcelona, Spain, in March. It’s been a long time since I got to visit with my sister, nephew and brother-in-law and it’s so important for not only me, but my own children to spend time with family: the people who love and support you, laugh and cry with you, inspire you to be the best version of yourself, and ultimately let you know that you matter.

I am fortunate enough to be visiting Barcelona at the invitation of Microsoft. As a member of the Microsoft Expert Educator Program I will be attending the Education Global Forum event. The Microsoft in Education Global Forum recognizes and celebrates the achievements of educators who are preparing students for life in the 21st century. Each year, the Microsoft in Education Global Forum brings together participants from more than 700 of the world’s most innovative educators, school leaders, and education leaders from 75 countries. Unbelievably, this will be my third time attending and I cannot express my gratitude enough.

The event provides me with the opportunity to participate in cutting edge professional development activities, learn about new and up and coming technologies, hear lectures from industry experts from around the globe, and study schools that are developing sustainable models for system change. Most importantly, it provides me with the opportunity to share and learn from my peers from every corner of the earth. Over the last three years I have developed relationships with teachers who inspire and teach me every day. They have become my family: the people who love and support me, laugh and cry with me, inspire me to be the best version of myself, and ultimately let me know that I matter. Being a member of the Partners in Learning family has not only transformed my teaching but also helped my students gain a deeper understanding of their role as global citizens.

Before I joined the PIL Network, it was difficult to find a classroom to reach out and connect with. Now, when my students need help or support, have questions or are curious to learn a new perspective, it is easy for me to look to my PIL family and find a classroom to visit. The world has been opened up to my students and we are able to Skype with classrooms in my PIL family on a weekly basis. Through these interactions they are learning to build creative, intuitive, trusting and collaborative relationships with others. Their communication and collaboration skills are growing exponentially and they are becoming more caring and thoughtful citizens, inspired to change the world. They are growing in their own global family.

The trip to Barcelona will be inspirational and restorative for me both personally and professionally. The time I spend with my families will sustain and uplift me for the following year, enabling me to be a better parent and teacher. I encourage all educators to join the Partners in Learning Network, to connect with people who will enrich both yours and your students’ lives. In doing so, you will become a member of very special global family.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


There is much educational “noise” about learning for the 21st century and the need for U.S. schools to prepare our students to compete on an international level. Talk of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is predominant, along with project/passion based learning and innovative teaching design. Many educators are making great strides in these areas but in order for them to achieve optimum success, to truly forge the global citizens we hope our students will become, it is critical that we include empathy on the list of key 21st century skills.

Empathy enables us to stand in somebody else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes. Educators are increasingly challenging students to identify real world problems and develop creative solutions to those problems but how can they do that effectively if they have no empathy for the end user? Unless we help students build creative, intuitive, trusting and collaborative relationships with others, their solutions will based upon their own perceptions of what the end user needs, not what they actually do need. Empathy enables students to integrate other people's perspectives with their own. It is the ability to identify with others; it forms bonds, develops leadership, and brings about a level of self-awareness that helps us find meaning and purpose in our lives.

So where do we begin? With active listening. Active listening is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying, but more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent. If we can learn to actively listen we leave little room for assumption, interpretation or doubt. If we can learn to remove distractions and fully focus on the speaker we will be more able to listen to content and match the verbal and non-verbal clues to understand both the content and the emotion of the person’s message. We can suspend our own frame of reference, avoid judgment and let the speaker know that they are being heard and understood.

I am fortunate enough to have a school counselor who was willing to come and teach my students and me a lesson on active listening. We all learned so much, particularly about how to create an atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding. We witnessed first-hand how a speaker is more likely to be open and honest with you if he knows he is speaking to an empathetic, active listener. And that’s powerful.

I believe my job as an educator is about helping young people to become effective human beings and rounded individuals, able to make a positive contribution throughout their lives. It is about preparing them for their role in society, to be able to know and manage themselves. But doesn't that begin with me? To help my students make the necessary leap of imagination needed to walk in someone else’s shoes I need to learn how to do it too. Building empathy is my own personal goal this year, it’s the goal I have for my students, and it is my wish for everyone.

If we could all develop empathy for each other, for our students and colleagues, family and friends and for those we have yet to meet, wouldn't our world to be a happier, loving and more unified place? Empathy helps us to see and understand how others may be struggling. This can inspire us to develop solutions or a commitment to help. We are more likely to become more caring and thoughtful citizens, and this is how we change the world.