“More and more organizations are trading globally, so we must give our students every chance to be successful, communicating and collaborating in a world without physical boundaries.” – Jon Tait, UK

As a torch bearer for the 2012 London Olympics, Jon Tait was a living symbol of global collaboration and progress. But as a teacher, he lives that philosophy each and every day. Tait came to education through sports coaching, and while he teaches physical education, his approach is focused on the whole student – body and mind.

Tait’s blog on education explores innovative projects he’s developed, from Skype in the Classroom to an international “dance-off” and jump rope lesson. Most of his work relies on classroom technology – from using smart phones and tablets to record and analyze his students’ performance on the field, to global TeachMeet events connecting participants via Twitter.

“I have been a big advocate of using digital technology in the classroom,” Tait says. “I regularly speak at teaching conferences and training events on the use of digital technology to engage students in the classroom. It is great to know that I inspire teachers at schools all over the country, who in turn can then inspire the students in their care.”

Tait even used his experience as an Olympic torch bearer to advance learning globally. “I have delivered lessons to classrooms all over the world via Skype on my Olympic Torch,” he tells us. “I have spoken to schools in 10 states in America, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, India, France and the UK.”

Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Jon Tait – you may even be inspired to learn how to jump rope!

What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?

I had been trying to get into sports coaching for what seemed like an eternity. There were very few genuine opportunities with structure and job security. Teaching Physical Education was the perfect career for me. It had all the coaching and sports elements along with the job security. It’s been the best decision I ever made.

Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?

My head of house at school (John Todd, Hummersknott School) was a huge inspiration for me. He was a role model for me and somebody who I really looked up to. He wrote me a hand written reference when I was 15 that I’ve still got today!

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

In the last 12 months I have been using Skype to connect with classrooms across the world and bring experts into my classroom. My two most notable projects have been collaborating on a live dance and jump rope project with a school in Wisconsin 3,500 miles away. We had live Skype lessons where the children challenged each other and taught each other these sports. Truly amazing!

In your opinion, how has the use of apps, cellphones, and mobile devices changed education? And your work?

Mobile devices are changing the education landscape. It is amazing to see the potential power that lies in most students’ pockets – the problem we face now is getting teachers to not be frightened by this.

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

I love the way that Skype has lit up my lessons and given them the X-factor. The possibilities to connect with experts all over the world for free is mind blowing!

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 believe that we should be teaching our students far more of these 21st century skills and prioritizing them above traditional content. We need to enable our students to learn independently and to think for themselves. Content can be searched with answers returned in less than a second – but what if our students don’t know which question to ask? These skills are essential in the modern day world. More and more organizations are trading globally, so we must give our students every chance to be successful, communicating and collaborating in a world without physical boundaries.

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

I would love to give each child in the world the thirst for learning… nothing else. Once you have that, the sky is the limit.

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

Up until the current government came into power, there had been a move to replace all schools with new, state of the art buildings. This began to take shape and many schools were fortunate to receive brand new buildings that meet the modern day requirements in education. These buildings are inspirational for students and are a far cry from the schools that were built in the last century to serve a very different purpose than we see today.

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

As a country we are far too hung up on exam results, data and students making numerical levels of progress. This is at the expense of deep and meaningful learning. Passing tests is still seen by the people in power as the ticket to life. Huge pressure for schools to perform well in league tables, generated by students sitting these tests, has led to a culture of teaching to the test.

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

The biggest obstacle I find that holds students back is their own attitude. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be as a result of low aspirations from home. Family life plays a big part in education and through significant experience in pastoral care, I have found that the majority of troubled young people have not had a supportive family environment in which to develop.

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

It is vital to have strong home/school relationships. Communicating with home is essential, both positive and negative. It is key to create positive experiences for parents to come in and visit the school. We must remember that for a lot of our parents, their lasting memories of school and education when they were young might be quite negative. We need to work hard to change this and with it, their attitudes.

How have you incorporated mobile devices/apps into your classroom and have you seen any improvements?

I have used both mobile phones and tablets in Physical Education to enable students to film each other’s performance and then analyze their strengths and weaknesses. This has proved to be a significant factor in raising the performance of our students practically.

About Jon Tait

  • Birthplace: Darlington, UK
  • Current residence: Durham, UK
  • Education: Manchester Metropolitan University
  • Website I check every day: Twitter
  • Person who inspires me most: My wife and two beautiful children.
  • Favorite childhood memory: Long summer holidays playing outside without a care in the world.
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Florida with the family.
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why? I generally laugh every day at either my own kids or something at school. If you don’t laugh, you cry.
  • Favorite book: Anything that I’ve had the pleasure to read to my kids before they go to bed!
  • Favorite music: I love a bit of country music when I’m in America on holiday.
  • What is the best advice you have ever received? “Work hard and play hard” – my mum wrote it in a card that she gave me when I left home to go to university.
  • Your favorite quote or motto: I don’t necessarily have a favorite quote – I tend to use different ones all of the time to motivate my American Football team.
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