“Never, ever, close the door to your classroom. Keep it open, and invite EVERYONE in. The key to saving public education, is getting the public back into education.” – Tim Kubik, USA

Dr. Tim Kubik’s consulting practice brings education, policy and politics together on a mission to create meaningful change in our public schools. His perspectives are based on more than 20 years’ practical experience at all levels of education and politics, from primary grades to graduate and professional programs, and from local issues to national campaigns.

Kubik describes himself as a life-long learner and life-long educator.  It was his challenging first teaching job that shaped his opinions about the kinds of changes needed to bring education into the 21st century. Kubik says, “At a mission school in
up-country Liberia on the eve of civil war, I learned that project-based learning had the power not only to transform lives, but in some extraordinary cases, to save them.  I didn’t know it was project-based learning at the time, I just knew it worked.”

Kubik has had the opportunity to work directly with education leaders around the world, and to share his insights with an even broader universe, through his website, blog and YouTube channel. He’s often interviewed for articles about project-based learning (including this one, which features a podcast from Dr. Kubik). Today, Kubik shares his views on project-based learning, his appreciation for what’s good about education in the US, and his commitment to shaping the politics and policies that drive public education.

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

It’s my goal to make sure project-based learning works both ways on a global scale, to help
American students better understand the world, but also, and importantly, to help students in other parts of the world contribute equally, and with as much voice, to our emerging global culture.

When not doing workshops in the spring, summer and fall, I’m very active politically, supporting those who appreciate the importance of bringing the public back into public education.  Whether as parent volunteers, subject matter experts, or candidates with innovative ideas for education, I believe the heart of education reform can be found not in policy debates among those with degrees and data, but among those who roll up their to sleeves and invest their time and their voices to support our community schools.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

When I was a department chair and assistant principal, at most I got to work with and coach 40-50 teachers, and at most, we made incremental changes over the course of three to five-year implementation plans. That’s how schools work. My teachers enjoyed it when I visited their classrooms, but it was never enough for them or for their students!  Now, after four years working with Asia Society, Buck Institute for Education, the New Mexico Center for School Leadership, and my own small business, I’ve had the opportunity to share “Kubik Perspectives” with nearly 2000 teachers and many more engaged citizens.
Because I see my job as informing and Inspiring, I know the effects are working faster, and lasting.  With an average class load of 25 students (and goodness knows, some of those I work with would LOVE to be average in that regard!), that’s at least 10,000 kids who are getting a different kind of education.

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

We all know that the pace of change in schools is remarkably slow.  We all know that it can’t keep up with the pace of change in technology, but it’s worse than that.  The democratic transitions that we’ve seen in the Prague and Arab Springs have yet to really take hold in most of the public schools around the world, many of which are still run on the old authoritative Prussian model the Hardenbergs introduced in the EARLY 1800s! The meaning of citizenship changes with each generation, but as public institutions, our schools have yet to catch up with the era of the American Civil Rights Movement, let alone Web 2.0!  Want to accelerate that pace of change?  Get students with a real voice ON your school governing bodies, and get them leading school initiatives.  If you don’t, they might just opt around you.  Students aren’t the leaders of tomorrow, they’re leading the way today!

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

When email first came on the scene, I thought it was a god-send.  I “flipped” my classroom way back then by posting what students needed to know, and by integrating my projects with teachers from other disciplines. We didn’t have time to meet, but we had time to “chat.”  Now, Skype, Twitter, Wiki’s, Dropboxes, and Google Docs all allow even greater integration of students and teachers to the point that face-to-face meetings seem plodding by comparison.  Having taught with course management platforms like Blackboard at the university level, I’m excited by the way the app culture is outpacing them, offering more connectivity. Playing with an unlimited range of apps should allow personalized learning to take off, and transcend old-fashioned notions surrounding the “building” as the site of learning.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

The authoritarian, top-down nature of our schools is by far the biggest issue.  Business
innovation guru Tom Peters is fond of saying that you should reward and celebrate the individual who challenges your institutional culture on a regular basis.  In schools, that’s most often a student.  Yet we label them “students of concern” or some other euphemism, and counsel them to conformity. What teachers ought to be doing is rallying ’round them and defending them from the system.  They ought to be saying, “Yes, its for kids like this that I decided to be a teacher, and it’s kids like this that could change what it means to be educated.”

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

You can argue with HOW we’re spending the money, but you can’t argue that the United States makes an incredible financial commitment to public education.  Sure, state-by-state there are issues, and in my home state of Colorado I’d like to see higher education given a lot more support, politically and financially.  But American kids are getting a chance that a lot of other kids around the world would literally walk miles for.  That’s a good thing, so I hope all Americans will get involved and work to make sure the chance is worth the risk we’re asking our kids to take.

What conditions must change in your country to better support education?

This is my political theory hat talking here, but I think we have to stop thinking about education as a consumer product with short-term economic benefits such as a first job, and start thinking about it as an investment vehicle with long-term economic benefits such as higher lifetime incomes and increased aggregate revenues — with a corresponding decrease in individual taxation because more people will be making a bigger contribution.  Ben Franklin said that if you put your money in your head, no one can take it from you.  I’d add to that the fact that the need to tax is less when more people have more money in their head!

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

Personal Learning Networks/Professional Learning Communities could be so much more than glorified team or department meetings.  I honestly think that successful PLNs/PLCs should start looking at their “practice” the way doctors do when they form a practice, or lawyers do when they start forming “virtual firms.”  Let’s face it, some teams work better than others, and in the long run, these teams are going to want to go out on their own, beyond the institution of the school building they are assigned to.  Why shouldn’t they be able to?  Why should learning only be possible in the hallways of a school building?  I dream of a day when our schools are like our hospitals or courts: there, when needed, but largely supported by networks of professionals who service the needs of public without all the top-down administration.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

Never, ever, close the door to your classroom.  Keep it open, and invite EVERYONE in. The key to saving public education, is getting the public back into education.  Other teachers, other students, parents, business people, politicians and angel investors or organizations like Donors Choose.  Like a coal removed from the fire, teachers burn out as soon as they see their job as working alone with “their” students.  Don’t let it happen to you!

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

I liked games as a kid, and I think the science behind game-based education is fascinating. The practice has a way to go, but we’re learning a lot about the way humans behave and are motivated from the mountains of data that we leave behind in our on-line games.  As someone whose dissertation was on gaming in the role of officer education a century ago, the scalability of all this new information is very powerful.  I’m not sure we need “levels” and “badges,” but I’m pretty sure my grandchildren will collaborate with others to “learn by gaming the system,” with everything that implies.

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

Travel, and not to some sought-after tourist destination, but to a place that will challenge — and change — their perspective on everything. That’s what teaching in Liberia did for me, and it’s the basis of the “perspectives” that came to be the brand for my own consulting efforts.  One must see things from their own starting point, and from another contrasting cultural point, before they can learn to find the middle point from which collaboration and consensus spring!

About Tim Kubik
Twitter: @kubikhan

Since earning a joint doctorate in history and political science 15 years ago, Tim has worked in and consulted with a variety of initiatives designed to increase student engagement with the ever-changing world of the 21st century. Tim has written curriculum and taught courses at the elementary, secondary, post-secondary and graduate level; conducted numerous workshops on simulations-based learning; and is a vocal advocate for a genuinely student-centered revival of lifelong education in his home state of Colorado.

  • Birthplace:  Sandy Point, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • Current residence:  Berthoud, Colorado, USA
  • Education:  Yale University BA in International Studies, The Johns Hopkins University Joint Ph.D. in History and Political Theory
  • Website I check every day:  The customized newspaper I built using Pulse.
  • Person who inspires me most: Sierra Goldstein, a 14-year old drop-out who is forcing me to rethink everything I’ve learned about getting an education.  (See her TEDx Talk here.)
  • Favorite childhood memory: Playing games, of all sorts, with friends.
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure):  Washington, D.C. for work with DCPS STEM academies in November (and Election Day!)
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why? Probably watching The Daily Show.  I love learning from humor.
  • Favorite book:  Possession by A.S. Byatt
  • Favorite music:  At heart, I’m a classical music lover with a preference for the Rococo, though it’s hard to forget all the great music I grew up with in the 1980s.
  • Your favorite quote or motto:  “To be historically means that knowledge of oneself can never be complete.”  – Hans-Georg Gadamer
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