“Make sure you want to be a learner first. Make sure you are engaging students in a way they want to be engaged.” – Todd LaVogue, USA

One of the many inspiring teachers I met at the Partners in Learning Global Forum in Prague was Educator’s Choice winner Todd LaVogue. His What’s Up, Egypt?, a TV and music video approach to teaching underserved middle-school students about life in Ancient Egypt was well received at the Forum. But what’s really interesting is the motivation behind his strategy. “I teach students who face severe socio-economic disadvantages,” LaVogue told me, “and it’s very difficult to engage students in the classroom who are hungry and, in some cases, homeless. So I have to be very creative to make a hungry student forget for 90 minutes that they’re hungry.”

Indeed, LaVogue’s project is both creative and engaging. It has inspired other teachers in his school to step outside their comfort zones, and try new approaches, even when they’re resistant to new technology. His strong connections to teachers in his school, around the country and all over the world have enabled him to try new teaching strategies with confidence. He credits the Partners in Learning Network as an important source for ideas, and looks to fellow network members for inspiration and feedback. LaVogue refers to the Partners in Learning Network to teachers at his school as “your one-stop-shop for the most creative ideas in education.” He says his experience in Prague was “indescribable – the greatest professional development week of my life,” and he knows the network will continue to pay dividends.

I was able to catch up with LaVogue following the Global Forum, and he shared how he’s benefited from collaboration with other educators around the world, and what new innovation he’s considering for his students. Here’s today’s Daily Edventure.

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

My success in the classroom has inspired some teachers in my district to incorporate more technology in the classroom and plan lessons outside their comfort zone.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

It was difficult getting administrative support for my project-based learning lessons. Once they saw the data, I now have carte blanche in the classroom.

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

My project is reproducible. It’s not complicated. With my students’ help, a timeline was created to keep us current with state pacing guidelines. I was able to track data using a control group which greatly aided school and district support.

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

I priced Promethean smart boards and quickly realized an alternative need to be found because $3,000 wasn’t in my budget. I watched a YouTube video and saw a guy who had built a smartboard system for under $120 using a Nintendo Wiimote. I was able to recreate this for $117. My students love to use it and it has raised the engagement level in my classroom.  My students use BrainPop with “The Mixer” which allows them to create their own open-ended higher order thinking questions. The students exchange questions to answer. I also watch TED talks frequently for the latest ideas and trends.

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

My students face what I call the “forces of evil” working against them. These forces include poverty, drugs and gangs. I have my students for 90 minute classes but the neighborhood has them for a much longer period of time. I am constantly waging this fight.

What is your country doing well currently to support education?
The United States of America educates all children for free through high school, regardless of their race, socio-economic background, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

What conditions must change in your to better support education?

Teachers are asked to differentiate instruction in the classroom and provide alternate forms of assessment. Yet, the one standardized state test that carries the most weight is exactly the same for every student. Students are individuals and should be evaluated as individuals.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

There needs to be an investment in teachers so they feel empowered to think outside the box and better engage students.

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

Make sure you want to be a learner first. Teachers must constantly want to better their craft. Make sure you are engaging students in a way they want to be engaged, not the way you feel comfortable engaging them.

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

I see more room configurations that lend themselves to more collaboration in the classroom and peer to peer learning. Today’s students are learning in a much different manner than previous generations, yet classroom layouts have not changed as dramatically as our learners.

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

I would give all students a computer and Internet access. Being connected to the world opens up endless possibilities for learning and exploration.



About Todd LaVogue

  • Birthplace: Youngstown, Ohio
  • Current residence: Jupiter, Florida
  • Education: Masters of Science Reading for English Speakers of Other Languages, Nova Southeastern University; Bachelor of Science, Organizational Management, Palm Beach Atlantic University
  • Websites I check every day: pil-network.com, twitter.com, espn.com
  • Person who inspires me most: My wife is the best teacher I know. She has been teaching English language learners for 20+ years and is as passionate about it today as she was when I met her 22 years ago. Her knowledge of her craft is unmatched. She is my professional and personal inspiration.
  • Favorite childhood memory: Building spaceships with my Lego’s.
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): I am leading a field trip of 50 people (students and teachers) to the Presidential Inauguration Field Trip in January.
  • When was the last time you laughed? I love laughter and am fortunate enough to be surrounded by friends and family who routinely make me laugh.
  • Favorite book: 1421: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies. I love alternate theories and explanations. Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas is one of those events that has been re-explained and re-examined over time.
  • Favorite music: Grew up listening to Run DMC and Beastie Boys; now listen to Jay-Z and Linkin Park.
  • Your favorite quote or motto: “The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain

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