“Personalizing the learning environment is, to me, the most groundbreaking and exciting thing happening in education today” – Nasha Fitter, USA
I have very exciting news to share today, and the distinct pleasure of introducing my colleague, Nasha Fitter, to help me deliver it. Nasha is a dedicated advocate for education transformation, and she’s well known within the Partners in Learning Network. As global lead for Microsoft Innovative Schools, Nasha has been instrumental in helping schools develop best practices and even more important, share their innovation with other schools – thus starting the kind of chain reaction of collaboration we need for real transformation to take hold.
Today, Nasha joins me (from an office just across the hall!) to talk about the Mentor Schools program, which has already helped spark innovation in schools from Australia to Africa – innovation which has been transferred to neighboring schools, and so on. These schools receive dedicated assistance for a full year to implement meaningful changes and improve student outcomes. They also travel to the Partners in Learning Global Forum to share what they’ve learned, and receive additional professional development and recognition. But perhaps the most meaningful benefit is that they then become innovative mentors to schools in their area and, through collaborative technology, around the world.
Nasha’s understanding of the power of education started early. “[My parents] instilled in me that education means power,” she says, “and that means financial freedom.” In this conversation, Nasha talks to me about what drives her, and her excitement about the new learning approaches coming from innovative teachers and schools she’s working with. “Perhaps because of my own static K12 education experience,” Nasha says, “I am passionate about scaling the great innovative models of a small number of schools. These schools are turning the traditional classroom experience – rooted in the 20th century – on its head.”
Please enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Nasha Fitter, and if you can see your school playing an important role in transforming education worldwide, don’t forget to apply to be a Microsoft Innovative School or Mentor School. To become an Innovative School, complete all requirements on the Partners in Learning Network – http://www.pil-network.com/schools. And for leading-edge schools with proven track records of innovation, becoming a Partners in Learning Mentor school can help you further transform your school while mentoring others. Applications are now open. For details and to apply, go to http://www.pil-network.com/schools/mentor.
What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?
As a child of Asian immigrant parents there was nothing drilled into my head more than the power of education. Especially as a woman – I think education is the single most important factor that can allow anyone – regardless of where they came from – to get a good job, make their own money, and have control of their own life. I’ve worked with young girls and women in villages and small towns in India, and education is the single biggest factor helping them gain respect and break the cycle of poverty.
Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?
To be completely honest, I grew up in a very traditional education system and absolutely hated it. I did relatively well in school only because I wanted to go to college, so I could get the jobs I wanted. The lecture-based model I experienced did not allow me to feel inspired. To quote Larry Rosenstock (CEO and founding principal of High Tech High), “a human being feels the happiest when they are able to create something that wasn’t there before.” I could not agree with this more. I did not feel I was able to experience this in school but luckily, I was able to start working at a very early age – around 10 with my father’s business, and by 14 I had my first official part-time job at a real estate office. I found working to be the best education I received; I was always able to do things that were tangible and relevant. Before I graduated college I had worked in an accounting firm, movie theatre, travel agency, front desk at a hotel, stock brokerage, and law firm, to name a few.
It was not until I received my Masters degree that I really felt I had experienced a great education and I built relationships with my educators. During the case method in which we were taught, I had a variety of professors who were absolutely amazing. Instead of lecturing, they facilitated a rich and meaningful conversation and pushed us to question our beliefs and think deeply.
Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education. What has changed as a result of your work?
Perhaps because of my own static K12 education experience, I am passionate about scaling the great innovative models of a small number of schools. They are focused on project-based learning – letting students CREATE, and incorporating projects within all subjects. They are focused on personalized learning – where they actually get to know the needs of each student and differentiate the experience. Where students can go on to the next level when they master a topic, not just when its “time” for the next level. And last, where content is no longer a student going through a traditional textbook. Instead, students can access immersive, dynamic content, and also be empowered to search online and find content they feel relevant.
I hope to be growing the spectacular Microsoft Innovative Schools platform where school leaders can learn from one another and we can truly begin scaling the great innovation of a few schools. I am very happy to announce that today, we have begun our application process for our 2014 Mentor Schools. Mentor schools are those who have invested in creating change in their schools and who want to share their proven records of leadership, innovation, and successful implementation to other schools. Additionally, these schools should still want to improve. Through this program, school leaders will be awarded with coaching from leading education experts and thought leaders. They are invited, all-expenses paid, to attend the Partners in Learning Global Forum where these leaders will connect and collaborate with other school leaders from around the globe, take part in an in-depth change management workshops, and be recognized for leading change in their community and region.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
We have created a series of Virtual Universities for school leaders to learn from experts around a series of topics. These online webinars are a more dynamic way of absorbing content and bringing a group of leaders together. Any school leader can join these – sign up on the PiL Network. I have also launched a group of 12 blogs called “Hot Topics” on the Partners in Learning Network. These blogs are moderated by experts in the field on topics like “Building Teacher Capacity” and “Game Based Learning” and create a dynamic environment for educators and school leaders from around the world to ask these experts questions, and participate in discussions. I have found that there is so much wisdom, but people often don’t share what they know, or, aren’t aware of others who have overcome challenges they are facing. These online “Hot Topics” are a way to solve that.
In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?
Personalizing the learning environment is, to me, the most groundbreaking and exciting thing happening in education today. The idea that we can use technology and traditional business analytics to help assess students on a daily basis – not just by academics, but behavioral attributes, is truly amazing. This makes early remediation possible, students can be differentiated and channeled on paths they are passionate about, it makes mastery-based learning possible, it allows students to create their own learning paths.
Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?
I am most passionate about creativity and innovation. I think when a human being is creative they automatically solve problems and they truly think of ideas that change the world. If more people felt they could innovate, I think we could solve some basic global problems like hunger, malnutrition and literacy. Most education systems aren’t creative themselves and thus don’t evoke creativity in their students. Young people then go out into the world, and believe they need to think in boxes and follow rules. Change becomes slow.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
I would give each student a device that has Internet connectivity. This completely frees the student to learn anything – from anywhere.
About Nasha Fitter
- Birthplace: Bombay, India
- Current residence: Seattle, Washington, USA
- Education: University of Southern California undergrad, Harvard Business School masters
- Website I check every day: PiL Network, New York Times, WSJ Online, Gizmodo, Edutopia
- Person who inspires me most: Deborah Spar, President of Barnard College
- Favorite childhood memory: Playing with my cousins in our family’s ancestral home in India.
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): For pleasure we are planning a trip to Burma.
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? I laugh constantly.
- Favorite book: I read constantly so this is hard – but some of my favorites are The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, The Courage of Strangers by Jeri Laber, Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi.
- Favorite music: Indian, Bossanova, Hip Hop, House
- What is the best advice you have ever received? My father’s – Reach for the stars and you may hit a rooftop. Reach for a rooftop and you’ll likely hit the floor.
- Your favorite quote or motto: Only boring people get bored.