“Be fearless! Every world-changing idea that has ever been had has been met with and challenged by fearful, judgmental, and complacent opposition. Without fearless leaders who are willing to take risks to improve education in this country, we are at risk of failing our children.” – Joli Barker, USA

“When I was an elementary student, my curiosity about my world and what I was learning was always left unsatisfied,” says Joli Barker. “I wondered, as I completed the math drills and diagramming of sentences, ‘Why do I need to know this?  When will I ever need to use this?’ When I learned about geography, the places about which I was learning were nothing more than fantastic wisps of information.  I had no connections to the curriculum and my own life experiences.  I believed that school was only a necessary obstacle to adulthood.”

Barker admits to struggling as a reader, yet, “I was clever enough to make strong grades and to graduate in the top ten percent of my class.  Still, I never saw a connection to the real world and what I was learning.  My education was nothing more than a contrived effort to please a teacher and was significantly short of authentic learning.”

But everything changed for Barker in the 4th grade, where she met the teacher who, “would be the first to change my life.  Mr. Joshua believed in me, though my shyness and insecurity was almost debilitating.  He encouraged me, celebrated me, highlighted my abilities, and lit the spark in me to believing in myself.  It was the first time I saw learning and school as something to enjoy and something I could do for myself.”

Barker admits to her great fortune as a student, as she went on to have very motivating teachers in 7th and 10th grade who ultimately inspired her to teach.

“When I decided to become an educator, I wanted not only to make a difference in the lives of children, but in my community also,” says Barker. “I wanted to ensure that every child that graced my classroom doorway would leave with a firm understanding of why and how the curriculum could be used in his or her life.  I wanted to tear down the walls and expose my students to the world—their world—and the world of endless opportunities.  I wanted to teach them that regardless of their age, economical situation, or ability level, they could succeed in making a difference in their own lives and their community.”

Barker has indeed done what she set out to do, and she’s just getting started. She created her blog, The Fearless Classroom, to help inspire other teachers, and to share what she learns each day. Her passion for empowering students has been recognized locally and globally through multiple awards, including a Microsoft Innovative Educator in 2011 and 2012, a Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum 2012 Educator, and a 2013 Bammy nomination.

I met Joli Barker again today at ISTE in San Antonio where educators are getting very excited about applying to the Microsoft Expert Educators program and get a chance to win a trip to Barcelona. I hope you enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Joli Barker.

How have you innovated in your classroom?


As a second-grade classroom teacher in the 21st century, it is imperative that I constantly educate myself on the latest technologies, games, interests, and pop cultural influences that engage my students daily. It is important that I not only seek other innovative educators for my PLN, and learn from them, but also share my methodology with them.  Being an educator means reaching beyond the classroom walls and immediate group of students into a global classroom of students and educators.  I lead several professional development courses for my district and campus each year, parent workshops both in person and online, and have presented at TCEA, Microsoft IEF, and will be presenting at ISTE 2013.

Why is education important to you?

I believe that the two most important jobs on earth are being a parent and teacher.  I take my role as both extremely seriously and approach my classroom as a way to extend the “family” for my students.  I encourage parent participation through technology and visits to the classroom, utilize their “expertise” in virtual and on-site field trips, and teach as I would want my own children taught: with respect, encouragement, and the conviction to continuously motivate students to raise their own bars and fan the flame of intrinsic learning within themselves.  I often quote arguably one of the most influential and inspirational educators in history, Anne Sullivan, who said, My heart is singing for joy this morning! A miracle has happened! The light of understanding has shone upon my little pupil’s mind, and behold, all things are changed!”  This perfectly expresses the mood and focus of my classroom daily.  This is truly what my work is all about.

Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education.  What has changed as a result of your work?

I am an active member of ISTE, TCEA, Discovery Education DEN, am a Discovery STAR Educator, and an active member of the DEN TX Leadership Council, the Microsoft Partners in Learning Community, a Microsoft Innovative Educator in 2011 and 2012, a Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum 2012 Educator, a Glogster Ambassador and Reseller, an ePals Ambassador, an Edmodo Recognized Educator, a Smithsonian Classroom Teacher and a member of the Smithsonian’s Center for Education’s Advisory Board, and a Recognized Shout Learning Educator.  I also helped pioneer DENConnects.com and Smithsonian Shout Learning Quests.  I was named TCEA Classroom Teacher of the Year 2013 and an ISTE 2013 Outstanding Teacher of the Year Finalist.  I am also a 2013 Bammy Award Nominee for Elementary Educator of the Year. The resources that are available through my communities and PLN are far-reaching and significant.  My contributions are substantial and have inspired many educators to think more globally and innovatively about the use and integration of technological devices and media to educate students.

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

What material success does is provide you with the ability to concentrate on other things that really matter. And that is being able to make a difference, not only in your own life, but in other people’s lives. –Oprah Winfrey

Over the past few years, my students and I have been on a crusade to change our world.  We actively seek opportunities to connect with other classes around our world and affect change through our passions and genius.  Our class has created some very influential projects, like: cutting our carbon footprint and inspiring others to do the same; raising awareness about endangered animals and our environment (the results made their way to the World Wildlife Fund and Taking it Global as projects to be honored), creating a global literacy project with our Magic Tree House Project that earned us a spot on team USA at the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum 2012; opening  a global dialogue about bullying through our project Write Our World (W.O.W. – see the PSA here); or helping the victims of the Japanese Tsunami by raising awareness and connecting people with reputable resources to help.
I always try to push real-world connections because it’s not enough to just teach or learn things without figuring out how you can apply them. That brings it to a higher level for the kids, one that allows them to make an impact.
The kids walked into school this year without realizing they were stars in the world. The things they accomplished changed their entire perception. They found out that even their little voices as second-graders can affect change in the world.

In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?

I believe that there is a significant shift in education from the teacher as the primary source of information, to the teacher being the facilitator of student-centered, idea-driven learning experiences.  I have created the Fearless Classroom to encourage teachers everywhere to create a classroom environment where student passions are encouraged and given a platform to affect real-world change.

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 facilitating opportunities for kids everywhere to share their passions with the world and to be validated and celebrated for their ingenuity and imagination.

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

I would want to train students everywhere on how to create their own technological media through which they can connect their passions with others in innovative, collaborative, and practical ways.

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

The US Department of Education just launched their RESPECT program (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching).  The RESPECT Project is a national conversation led by active classroom teachers working temporarily for the Department to help provide input on the administration’s 2013 budget proposal, and on the broader effort to reform teaching.  This is a positive start.

How must education change in your country to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?

We need to get away from standards-based grading and assessing and develop a more performance-task, application-based way of assessing proficiency.  We can look to the business world into which our students are being thrown as unprepared employees for ways to foster collaboration, creativity, problem solving, and evaluation of job performance.  A hybrid of our current system and this type of thinking model could be just the answer for what is currently holding us back from being the world’s educational leaders.  Devices are dead without human ingenuity and imagination to power them.

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

Fear, complacency, and judgment.  Educators are notorious for being afraid to take professional risks to improve their classroom effectiveness.  With so much riding on scores and funding, teachers feel as if their hands are tied and that they are unable to be fearlessly innovative.  Some educators also fall victim to complacency and do not seek to grow through networking, professional development, or further education.  And judgment from other educators is probably the biggest obstacle I personally have had to face.  It seems that the more I do and the more I get recognized for what I do, the less support and the more cattiness I face.  Some teachers tend to be very possessive of their work and ideas and do not like to face a challenge to improve.

How can teachers or school leaders facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

Be fearless!  Every world-changing idea that has ever been had has been met with and challenged by fearful, judgmental, and complacent opposition.  Without fearless leaders who are willing to take risks to improve education in this country, we are at risk of failing our children. This cannot happen.

About Joli Barker

  • Birthplace: Dallas, Texas
  • Current residence: McKinney, Texas
  • Education: BA Literature and Psychology, Certification Elementary Math, Reading, Generalist, Special Education, and Secondary Reading, Psychology, Special Education, and Literature.
  • Website I check every day:  Twitter, Microsoft Partners in Learning, and ePals
  • Person who inspires me most: My sons, Jaden and Nicolas, inspire me to believe in my dreams and that I can change the world.  They teach me to live fearlessly and to believe in genius.
  • Favorite childhood memory:  I won the Texas State Swimming Competition at nine years old.  I had only been swimming competitively for four weeks and won my way to state.  I won the individual 25-yard freestyle race and the following year they lengthened competitive pools and changed it to the 50-meter race.  I will forever hold the record for 25 yards!
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure):  I want to see New Zealand.  I will be traveling to Hawaii this summer and hoping to see Argentina toward the end of the year.
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why?  This morning I laughed because one of my students told me that if he gets any smarter he will have to change his name to Genius.
  • Favorite book:  Beach Music by Pat Conroy
  • Favorite music: All genres.  It really depends on my mood.  I enjoy talented musicians.  If you were to read the list of the last 10 songs I listened to on my iPod you’d see:  The soundtrack from Rent and Phantom of the Opera, Barry Manilow, the Soundtrack from Pitch Perfect, Pantera, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Brad Paisley, Dolly Parton, and the Lumineers.
  • What is the best advice you have ever received?  Never be too proud to listen and learn or too humble to know your own worth.
  • Your favorite quote or motto:  “My heart is singing for joy this morning! A miracle has happened! The light of understanding has shone upon my little pupil’s mind, and behold, all things are changed!”  -Anne Sullivan

Apply NOW and join us in Barcelona!

Whether you would like to become an Expert Educator or Mentor School Leader, or you know someone in your school or community who fits the description, it’s simple to apply for the program.

Applications will be accepted through September 30, 2013.

Just go to http://www.pil-network.com/Forums or share this news with an amazing educator and school leaders you know – giving them an opportunity to win an all-expense paid trip to the next Global Forum and connect with peers around the world.

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