Behind every great person is a great teacher
If you’ve ever wondered just how important a teacher is, just ask Michael Furdyk.
“When I was in grade three, I somehow connected with one of the grade five gifted teachers, Ms. Gee, who saw my passion for technology, took me under her wing, and included me in some of her class activities,” says Furdyk. “The confidence she had in me was a huge boost to my self-esteem, and helped me realize that I could accomplish whatever I set my eyes on.”
And his accomplishments are many. In 1997, at the age of 14, Furdyk co-founded MyDesktop.com (later sold to Internet.com in 1999), and then launched BuyBuddy.com in 1999. He was named as one of Teen People’s “20 Teens That Will Change The World.” He’s been interviewed on Oprah, CNN, and MSNBC to name just a few. He has advised global entities and presented at conferences worldwide, including TED.
But Furdyk’s proudest professional moment centers on inspiring other kids. “In 1999, my friend Jennifer and I were brainstorming how we could inspire young people to use technology to learn about and act on the world’s greatest problems,” says Furdyk. “That conversation led to us founding TakingITGlobal a year later.”
The influence of Ms. Gee on Furdyk’s life is still evident. “When I visited Finland for the
Microsoft School of the Future conference a few years ago, a group of us were discussing what made their education system so strong and successful,” notes Furdyk. “It struck me that we don’t value (respect) and compensate (financially) our educators. Sometimes people joke or complain about teaching being a profession that is a last resort – which isn’t true for so many of the amazing educators I’ve met. We need to change how we view, treat, and prioritize those who are ultimately responsible for the success of our next generation. Our economic growth and innovation depends on it.”
And Furdyk is committed to helping educators innovate. “Innovation requires the opportunity to experiment and imagine,” notes Furdyk. “And in many classrooms today, educators are so focused on the rigorous criteria and content provided by government mandates that they’re quite challenged to incorporate some of the ideas they might have into their classrooms. Because of this, I’ve seen many opportunities for innovation being taken on in primary schools, which have less rigorous curriculum imposed on them. But for high schools, there are some exciting opportunities to innovate outside the classroom, and still meet standards. This can happen by engaging students in problems and challenges in the real world – project-based learning. It’s been shown that providing students with a link to an issue affecting a broader community can greatly increase engagement for students.”
Furdyk knows that it can be intimidating to get started with global project-based learning. So TakingITGlobal collaborated with Partners in Learning to create DeforestACTION, a project-based learning program that engages students across the globe to address illegal deforestation as part of their classroom activities. They also recently launched a series of professional development courses to help educators bring these ideas into the classroom.
Tell us how a teacher has influenced you. What made a difference in your education, and how have you put that into action in your life?
About Michael Furdyk
Michael Furdyk is the Co-founder of TakingITGlobal, which provides innovative global education programs that empower youth to understand and act on the world’s greatest challenges. In 2008, he was named by Contribute Magazine as one of 10 Tech Revolutionaries Redefining the Power and Face of Philanthropy. Over the last decade, he has keynoted over 100 events across sectors, sharing his social media expertise and insights on youth engagement and educational reform to audiences in over 30 countries. He sits on several non-profit boards, including the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition, and on the International Advisory Council for Microsoft’s Partners in Learning program.
Website I check every day: Our TakingITGlobal for Educators site to explore the latest global education resources our network of educators have shared
Person who inspires me most: In the education space, I’m quite inspired by the passion of John Taylor Gatto, a three-time New York City teacher of the year who has written a number of books (and an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, where he famously quit teaching) suggesting we re-imagine the purpose of schools and teaching.
Favorite childhood memory: Figuring out how to use my modem to dial in to the library’s newly launched Bulletin Board System (BBS) – I could hold and transfer all the books I wanted to my small library branch, while most people had never ever heard of a BBS before.
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Off to Manila in the Philippines to keynote the EARCOS Global Issues Network conference at the International School Manila.