“One of the greatest moments for all of us at Partners in Learning is when a teacher comes up to us and says, ‘Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my experience with other teachers and really feel the work I’m doing is appreciated and can help other teachers and students around the world.’” – Lauren Woodman, USA

As we kick off the 2012 Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum here in beautiful Prague, I can think of no better person to feature in today’s Daily Edventure than Lauren Woodman. Lauren is not only a trusted and valued advocate for innovative education whom I’m proud to know; she’s also a key driver in the success and growth of Partners in Learning. She has a unique set of insights into the state of education across the globe, as her work has brought her together with so many members of the Partners in Learning Network.

“It’s been an amazing journey over the last 10 years,” Lauren says. “When we started this work in 2003, we were meeting some basic needs. As we watched over the years, we’ve seen teachers go from very basic uses of technology to really innovative uses of technology, and to ways to engage their students to continue their own learning, to drive collaboration, and to learn the 21st century skills kids need to be successful in their future work or study.”

On November 28, Partners in Learning reaffirmed its commitment to education with a US$250 million, five-year renewal, bringing Microsoft’s total investment in the program to US$750 million over 15 years – read Bill Gates’ interview here. Microsoft aims to grow the Partners in Learning community to 20 million of the 75 million teachers worldwide by 2018 with the renewal and to continue preparing students for the changing global workforce. The program will expand beyond the 119 countries that currently participate with a continued emphasis on driving community, developing networks, and allowing educators to share innovations and learn from each other.

In addition to leading Partners in Learning, Lauren helped to launch Microsoft’s Local Language Program, which provides people access to technology in a familiar language while respecting linguistic and cultural distinctions. The program aims to empower individuals in local communities to create economic opportunities, build IT skills, enhance education outcomes, and sustain their local language and culture. She also sits on the Board of Directors of the NEA Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to lifting student achievement. And through all of this work, Lauren remains inspired by the incredible things teachers do with “just a little seed of creativity.”

“It’s really amazing to see what teachers do,” Lauren told me, “but often they do it inside their classrooms with the door shut. So Partners in Learning is really an opportunity for us to find those great practices, and to share them with other teachers — not only at the Forum, but through the Partners in Learning Network.”

In today’s Daily Edventure, Lauren Woodman shares more about how Partners in Learning has evolved over the last 10 years, and how she sees the program transforming education in the future, including more focus at the whole-school level and extending learning beyond the classroom. Enjoy!

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

I’ve been privileged to run the Microsoft Partners in Learning program for almost eight years, and it’s been a wonderfully inspiring journey.  While Microsoft’s impact in  education has taken many forms, it’s been most rewarding for me to see how teachers and school leaders have used technology in the classroom.

Over the years, I’ve seen literally thousands and thousands of classroom projects through the Partners in Learning Forums or projects that teachers have uploaded to the Partners in Learning Network, and I have never ceased to be amazed at the creativity of educators.  And being able to help create a community where that innovation is celebrated and shared has been, I think, one of the most impactful things we’ve done.  Helping teachers with great ideas share those ideas – and inspire others – has meant that millions of students around the world have had the opportunity to have a more engaging learning experience using the tools that are familiar to them.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

I think one of the things we’ve learned with Partners in Learning is that teachers are really eager to share with others – not just in their own communities, but globally – and that there is real value in teachers being able to collaborate with peers around the world.  Doing so opens up a world of possibilities – whether it’s learning new teaching methods from a colleague, getting inspired by a new learning activity, or even working together on a project.  And once educators start building these connections, they stick with it, and help others connect, learn, share and benefit from the global community they have built.

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

At Microsoft Partners in Learning, we pride ourselves on being able to grow a global community of educators.  Educators are so often isolated in their classrooms or schools, with little opportunity to share what they have learned – sometimes even within their own schools or communities.

The Partners in Learning Network is one of the greatest assets we have – it allows educators from all over the world to share, collaborate, and work together to improve their teaching and school leadership, and ultimately enhance their students’ learning.  It’s one of the very best ways for educators to overcome the myriad challenges that they often face – by working with, and learning from, others. The value of collaboration has certainly been true in my own life and career.  I’ve learned – sometimes the hard way, I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit – that collaboration and cooperation, and being open to others’ ideas and insights, are often the very best way to move forward.

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

When we started Partners in Learning, we knew that technology would have an important role in transforming education – not just in terms of what happened inside the classroom, but also through how educators would be able to connect and share with one another.  As technology changed, and became more personal, fluid and relevant, educators would want to use these new technologies inside the classroom and to enhance their own professional growth.  We never could have achieved what we’ve done with Partners in Learning without leveraging technology to connect educators. And that’s true, not just for the teachers that we work with, but for us as well.  Leading a global program like Partners in Learning means staying in touch with what our team is doing around the world.  Technology makes that possible – I no longer have to get on a plane every time we need to meet, which is great.  Online conferencing, especially with video, is a tremendous tool for building relationships, checking in, and supporting the work of our teams everywhere.

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

I think one of the biggest challenges we face is helping educators see what is possible, and what the impact can be if we can effectively integrate technology into teaching and learning.  But it’s often seen as a risk, and encouraging educators to be bold and brave in their work is sometimes challenging.  Educators everywhere want to make sure that their students are getting a quality education and want to leverage technology to do so, but often don’t know where to start or how to use technology most effectively.  Our job is to help educators grasp the amazing impact that they can have, and then helping them develop the capacity to do so in a very real and tangible way.

What are government and school leaders doing well currently to support education?

One of the things I’ve been most encouraged by recently is what I perceive to be a change in the dialogue.  For so long, the discussions in education have been about what’s wrong with our schools, our systems, and our educators. But I sense that’s changing, and we’re beginning to have a much more constructive conversation about what we can do to address the challenges that every school system is facing.  We have a long way to go, but I’m encouraged with the small steps we’re taking in the right direction.

What conditions must change to better support education?

At the end of the day, we all have to be open to change if we’re going to improve education for every child.  We have to be willing to try new things and abandon practices that aren’t working. We have to be bold and embrace the opportunity to solve hard problems.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

Empowering educators and students. We have to help educators be able to engage their students on their terms.  Students have grown up with technology, they expect technology to be part of their learning, and they rightly believe that technology can help them in their studies.  They know that technology will be important in their careers, and that integrating technology into their schooling helps make their learning more engaging and relevant to them.  But to do that well, educators have to be prepared to effectively use technology as a key element in learning, not just as an afterthought.

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

Expect more.  We will accomplish exactly what we expect to accomplish, and nothing more.  If we don’t think we can achieve transformational change, we won’t.

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

Student-centered learning is a great development in our thinking about schooling. Helping kids drive their own learning, letting them explore subjects, rather than just learning facts, and making their learning personal is really key. Yes, we need to ensure that our students are well-rounded, but we can point them in the right direction and challenge them to construct their learning so that they feel accountable to and for their goals and achievements.

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

Curiosity.  Children are naturally curious, but too often our approach to learning discourages their interests.  If we help children explore and discover – and empower them with tools that let them do so – they will engage and take charge of their own learning journeys and end up in amazing places.


About Lauren Woodman
Twitter: @laurenw_at_MS

Lauren Woodman serves as the general manager, education programs, in the Worldwide Public Sector organization of Microsoft Corp. In this role she is responsible for Microsoft’s flagship education program, Partners in Learning, a nearly $500 million investment in global education. Through Partners in Learning, Microsoft provides professional development, training, classroom resources and research that have reached more than 200 million students and almost 10 million teachers since its inception in 2003. Before joining Microsoft in 2002, Woodman served as the executive vice president for the Software & Information Industry Association, the principal trade association for code and content companies. A regular speaker and author on technology policy issues around the world, she served in a similar position with the Software Publishers Association since 1996. Woodman began her career on Capitol Hill with Rep. Jim Cooper as a legislative assistant handling public policy issues on telecommunications, trade and defense.

  • Birthplace: Nashville, Tennessee
  • Current residence: Seattle, Washington
  • Education: Smith College (BA), Johns Hopkins University (MA)
  • Website I check every day:  nbcnews.com
  • Person who inspires me most:  My still-very-young children.  They have no sense of limitation, and it’s amazing to see them embrace every new opportunity without fear and an incredible sense of what’s possible.
  • Favorite childhood memory: Riding my bike in the neighbor’s driveway.  It had a little hill, and I could go faster on that hill than anywhere else in the neighborhood.
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Prague, Czech Republic
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why?  This morning – my children (3 and 6) were telling jokes at breakfast, which weren’t really funny, but they thought that they were hilarious, and it was great fun to watch them crack themselves up and giggle hysterically.
  • Favorite book:   A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers.
  • Favorite music:  Too many to list….
  • Your favorite quote or motto: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”  – Mark Twain

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