“I may be one teacher but I’m no longer going to stay silent about the things important to my country and world of education. I love my students and as I look at children everywhere, I want them to have teachers who love teaching and who love them.” – Vicki Davis, USA

To Vicki Davis – teacher, blogger and parent – the future of education depends on one very simple action: sharing.  “My Mom was a business education teacher (like me) and taught me to type, so at 130 words per minute, it doesn’t take me long to share,” says Davis.

Sharing ideas, innovative teaching, empowerment and encouragement is at the heart of Davis’ work as a teacher, author and her award-winning blog, Cool Cat Teacher (voted the Edublog Best Teachers Blog in 2008, just one amongst a long list of awards). Along with using virtually every type of technology out there – wikis, blogs, tumblr, podcasts, Twitter, Facebook, avatars – to safely connect her students in rural Georgia with students throughout the globe, Davis co-founded the ground-breaking Flat Classroom Project with teacher Julie Lindsay. “We started with 23 students studying the trends in Thomas Friedman‘s book, The World is Flat, and now have thousands of students across six projects – from kindergarten to college – collaborating every semester,” says Davis.

The Flat Classroom Project has been hailed by educators, policymakers and media alike, won ISTE‘s Online Learning Award and is now included in the third edition of Friedman’s book (Davis and Lindsay worked with Friedman on the chapter called, “If it’s not happening then it’s because you’re not doing it”). The Flat Classroom Project birthed other award-winning collaborative projects including, the NetGenEdTM Project (with Don Tapscott), DigiteenTM, and the Eracism ProjectTM. Now, in an effort to help other teachers start global collaborative projects and move to a flat classroom, Davis and Lindsay recently wrote their own book, Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds. 

Teaching and awards appear to run in the Davis family. In fact, Davis’ daughter Susan has her own blog and created a Kodu game and several videos that she animated using paint.net. She won a regional Georgia award for the National Center for Women & Information Technology program (NCWIT) and recently accompanied Davis to the 2012 ISTE Conference where she helped Davis present on attracting women into STEM fields.

Davis believes strongly that teaching is a noble calling, and says that it has always been her love. Yet, it was her professional life prior to teaching that profoundly shaped the educator she is today. “Before I was a teacher, I was general manager for Cellular One in Albany, Georgia during the flood of 1994,” she says.  “Our cellular network was the only one working during the life-threatening hours, so I think that empowering my staff to keep the network running and get phones into the hands of those who desperately needed them… saved lives.” Davis and her husband also helped lead the recovery efforts when three tornadoes ripped through her hometown of Camilla, Georgia in 2000, when over 250 homes were damaged. “These two things showed me that even if I feel that I’m just one person, that just one person can matter,” says Davis. “I want to instill this desire to ‘do something’ in my students. I want them to matter and have passion-based projects where they can make a difference like @apps_for_autism and @ebookbelle – these are both my students who are making a difference in the world before they are out of high school.”
Indeed, Davis believes her students have the ability to change the world. And her students believe it, too.

I am honored to share today’s Daily Edventure, Vicki Davis.

Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?

Although in my 11th year teaching at a small private school in South Georgia, prior to coming here, local public schools asked me to help teachers understand how to use technology to reach their students.

I’ve always been blessed to attract brilliant friends. Their writing, stories, and research are part of my personal learning network (PLN) I read daily.

Sadly, many in public education live in fear for their jobs. It isn’t enough any more to not tell a lie, we have to tell the truth and it is my goal to speak the truth, common sense, and cooperation in a world where many have got it so wrong based upon the emails and conversations with teachers who want to be heard.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

Teachers who are excited about their classrooms send me messages that make me happy.
Those letters, tweets, and blog comments keep me going and sharing. I want teachers to know they are important, noble, and that they can do it. I want to be the encouragement that teachers need as they struggle through the juggle.

Who was the teacher who most influenced you?

Dr. Phil Adler at Georgia Tech. He personalized learning like no one I’ve ever known, but also taught a massive amount of material without ever having a test or project using Socratic learning techniques. Reflecting upon his teaching style encourages me to be different and challenge my students to do and be more. 

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

I live, breathe, and use technology. When students take my courses, they make movies, learn about the composition of visual images, blog, use social media, design websites and more, all based upon the objectives of a project. One of the things I’m most excited about besides the Flat Classroom, NetGenEd, and Digiteen projects, is the Passion-based project. Students take 1/5 of their time in my class to spend on a personal interest project using technology. Websites have been built for community organizations, video animations have been created, and more. Their work has opened doors for them that I couldn’t fathom. I’m doing this in all my classes now.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education today?

Standards in education should NEVER mean standardization of the pedagogy. The innovation that happened in computing happened when ports and interfaces were standardized. However, computing devices and software are so varied! Teachers must be “teacherpreneurs” and customize their classrooms.

The best opportunity for innovation will happen if we allow and expect innovation and personalization in every classroom by harnessing the power of teachers and students. I believe the “on the same page” movement can stifle innovation and in fact, is stifling it. Learning should be personal and powerful and push every student to reach a little further. It isn’t a no child left behind world but should be an every child move ahead scenario.

My local community (Albany, Georgia) was rocked with a cheating scandal to which I responded in a Washington Post article. I think that in order to do well on tests, many educators are focused on the test instead of teaching. This is drubbing the life and love out of the classroom. We need balance and common sense.

Teachers must be held accountable to cover the standards, but must be set free to teach.

We can do this by “flattening” our classrooms in five ways (See Once you go flat, you never go back):

  • Information – Help students learn how to build a personal learning network (PLN) using the devices they own to connect beyond the textbook to the people, communities, and current events happening around topics of study. Students may have technology in their hands, but many are sadly lacking in the ability to connect it with their heads using search and RSS.
  • Location – Students should connect between classes, across the district, state, nation, and across countries like we do in the Flat Classroom Projects. Students are the greatest textbooks ever written for each other. You can’t have a world-class education without connecting with the world. Students need to talk with the world, not at the world or to the world.
  • Communication – Students must master asynchronous and synchronous communication methods so they can collaborate and build connections.
  • Generation – We have got to build cross-generational connections. Students should be learning history from their grandparents and the older generation as they video, document, and capture stories. They should be connecting to future generations as they create electronic archives of modern culture, art, and learning.
  • Themselves – Intrapersonal skills are an essential part of self-esteem, as is the self-talk that helps students problem solve and stay motivated in the midst of struggle. The misguided practice of unearned praise has caused this generation to distrust the awards and recognition of many well-intended organizations meant to serve youth. I tell my students I am “mining for gold,” and the mine is in each of them. We’ll find the gold, but it won’t look like it. We’ll work together to polish and enhance their innate talents and abilities so that when they are done with their two and a half years of rigorous technology courses with me, they will come out shining. This requires personalizing learning and a constant search for the authentic talents of each child. Students should also record thoughts and create electronic portfolios that they can look upon as they get older. It means a lot to me that I can look back on my journal when I was a 12-year-old, where I expressed a desire to motivate and encourage others and publish books.

More on this can be found in Chapters 3 and 4 of my book Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

In Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds, we talk about “teacherpreneurship,” or customizing the classroom. Teachers can’t do everything, but they can do something. Following the steps in my book or blog posts can help teachers flatten their classroom and also use tools like QR codes, Pinterest or Facebook in a way appropriate for schools.

What is your region doing right to support education?

Local communities such as mine have invested in high-speed Internet. My town of
Camilla, Georgia partnered with Thomasville, Georgia and several other local communities to bring high-speed, affordable Internet to community citizens. This has done more for my students than anything else we could have done. High-speed Internet is the greatest educational and economic development tool ever invented and is why my students and I can literally collaborate around the world.

What conditions must change to better support education?

Schools in my area mistakenly see each other as the competition. With Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and e-learning programs that are developing, students are going to be able to have high-speed Internet and a high-quality education without leaving their homes. Schools must personalize and realize that as they tear each other apart, they are pushing families to homeschool (which may not be a bad thing, but not every family can afford to do this), which is largely an e-learning movement. Parents have choices.

Parents hold the ultimate responsibility for choosing what is the right environment for
their own child and schools had better wake up and realize that if someone invents a way to educate their children less expensively online, and with higher quality via technology, local school boards may buy computers and subscriptions instead of hiring local teachers and putting money into the local schools. All students need access to the Internet and to useful technology, as well as teachers who are well versed in modern pedagogical practices. We need leadership from administration, not micromanagement. Administrators can either be the obstacle or remove the obstacles.

What educational trend do you think is helping students?

Many have realized that we’re in the 21st century, but that classrooms are stuck in the 20th century. The light bulb has gone on, and a desire for change is building. Sadly, people don’t know where to go and anywhere else is not necessarily better than right here. We need to quickly move best practices from classroom to classroom, and teachers should be connecting with one another directly, without bureaucracy. Connected educator month was a step in the right direction.

Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

Fear: False Evidence Appearing Real. All research studies are not of the same caliber. Hype doesn’t necessarily help. I don’t get into fads, but prefer things that work. The time-honored traditions of relationship-building, mutual respect, and discipline need to continue to make classrooms strong. While I empower my students, I don’t turn them loose to do it on their own. They still need me and need a guide. Good teachers are gold miners.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

I would give their school a budget and let the school select the tool based upon local conditions. It would include access to the Internet and open education resources, and as much social media as is practical, including tools like Edmodo and Wikispaces and, of course, email.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to make a difference in education?

The greatest men and women the world has ever seen are made in the kiln of greatest
heat. Education can and must transform in new ways that we do not know. Just ten years ago, a “twitter” was what a bird did when he was trying to attract a mate. Likewise, unheard-of practices and principles will sweep education, not with a fad, but with authentic learning.

I also think it is important not to judge other educators by how much they are like
you. Some educators like Twitter, others like Facebook, while others go to conferences. We are as different as our students. I know a teacher at my school who is transforming her classroom with technology through a PLN she has built on Facebook. She’s over 60 and taught me in school. Innovation and difference-making aren’t dictated by age or gender but by a desire to do what is right for this generation and a willingness to learn new things. I think educators who expect their students to learn something new every day, but refuse to learn something new themselves, are hypocrites.

What is your greatest hope for the future of education?

Teachers. Students. Parents. Change, when it happens, will be the rank and file who work
in schools every day. Too many people are having pity parties instead of working towards the victory party. Partisans are tearing each other apart and demoralizing and destroying the country they love – we have got to find common ground and move ahead for all students everywhere.

I may be one teacher but I’m no longer going to stay silent about the things important to my country and world of education and ask others to do the same. I love my students and as I look at children everywhere, I want them to have teachers who love teaching and who love them. Technology is an integral part of what we must do, but we should let technology do what it does best: adapt, connect, and compile. Common sense needs to start becoming part of what we do.

I have to admit that the most exciting thing about Windows 8 (which you demonstrated, Anthony, at the Partners in Learning Innovative Teachers Forum) was the ability to connect people in powerful new ways around content. We’re finally getting to a place where the technology is applying intelligence to help us connect in better ways.

All of this said, this can be an exciting time, but it is a time for teachers to dress, act, behave, and work like the professionals we are. Our profession is a PROFESSION and we should be just as proud as lawyers, doctors, politicians, and business people of our contribution to society. Teaching is a noble calling, but no one can give away that nobility but us. We should hold each other accountable to be professionals in all we do, and keep kids front and center in our minds. It is time to put aside petty differences and silly semantics and move ahead to the 21st century with our classrooms. Flatten your classroom. Courageously move ahead into the future of education. Let’s do it!

About Vicki Davis
Teacher, Westwood Schools, and Co-founder of the Flat Classroom Projects, Camilla, Georgia, USA
Twitter: @coolcatteacher

  • Birthplace: Born in Albany, Georgia, but grew up in Camilla, Georgia
  • Current residence: Camilla, Georgia
  • Education: BS in Management, Georgia Institute of Technology, first in class and named “outstanding management major”, teaching assistant and research
    assistant, President of Executive Round Table. Since my curriculum director  convinced me that my destiny was in teaching, I’ve taken over 150 hours of education courses.
  • Website I check every day: I’m on www.sharemylesson.com almost every day, because I do work promoting their work aligning free lesson plans with the Common Core standards.
    I want teachers to know that there are many creative ways to meet standards and think this is a great place to do that.
  • Person who inspires me most: My husband, Kip Davis. He sent himself to college and is now director of engineering at a manufacturing plant and helps me balance.
  • Favorite childhood memory: I grew up on a farm as the oldest of three girls, so I grew up outside and worked on the farm until I was in my twenties. I emember when Dad brought home a TRS-80 in the 70’s, and I wanted to learn all about it. He let me open the manual and I taught myself how to program adventure games, even though it took forever to load and save the programs using cassette tape. Although I was less than 10, he empowered me to learn and didn’t hold me back. I became addicted to learning and technology.
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): In October I’ll be doing three keynotes in New Jersey, Fall CUE in Napa Valley, and the SDE Powerup Conference in Illinois.
    However, I’m most excited about taking students to our third Flat Classroom Conference in Dusseldorf, Germany in December, run through our non-profit. Students and teachers come together to learn about technology and education in a flattened environment on a level playing field. It is transformational for everyone.
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why? I laugh daily but
    love funny comebacks.  In a movie I was watching just now, one person asked another to do something unreasonable and the other one replied, “sure, I’ll meet you at the corner of ‘ne’ and ‘ver.'” My class motto is “no whining” and I think that work ethic is so much a part of modern day success. I had a student come in the other day and say that her dog ate her jump drive (I’m not kidding). In today’s
    world, however, we don’t need excuses, we need action. I think I’ll be using that comeback somehow in my classroom at some point. “Mrs. Vicki, when will you ever just let me play a mindless game?”  Yep. At the corner of ‘ne’ and ‘ver.’ That
    will be my answer. (We play games with a purpose but that doesn’t include
    solitaire!) 😉
  • Favorite book: The Bible
  • Favorite music: I’m an eclectic – from Christian rock to alternative to jazz, I love it all.
  • Your favorite quote or motto: “I may not be smarter, but I can work harder.” – I came up with this saying when I was at Georgia Tech and some boys accused me of being there for an “M-R-S” degree because I hadn’t had any AP classes in high school. I now repeat it to my kids often. Studies show that work ethic has a higher correlation with success than IQ. I care about their HQ (habit quotient) more than anything.
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One Response to “I may be one teacher but I’m no longer going to stay silent about the things important to my country and world of education. I love my students and as I look at children everywhere, I want them to have teachers who love teaching and who love them.” – Vicki Davis, USA

  1. Tracy Christenson says:

    So much fun to read this post!

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