“Teaching is the perfect profession for me—it’s full of endless challenge. It never gets easy, and just when I think that I might have it figured out, I’m exposed to something new that shows me how little I actually know.” – Devon Caldwell, Canada
I’m home from another amazing Microsoft in Education Global Forum, and as always my head is buzzing with ideas. Where to start? How do I begin to take everything I have learned, shared, and experienced at this four-day event and put it into practice in my classroom? Beyond my classroom, how do I use what I have gained to make a positive impact on education in my school, school division, province, and country? In 2008, I attended my first-ever Microsoft event and a speaker gave us some advice that came to mind as I debated my course of action following this most recent forum. He said that sometimes you don’t know where to begin when you have a huge vision, but the most important thing is to set this goal for yourself, “Be better than I was the day before.”
Be a better teacher than I was the day before.
I’ve often said to my family and colleagues that teaching is the perfect profession for me—it’s full of endless challenge. It never gets easy, and just when I think that I might have it figured out, I’m exposed to something new that shows me how little I actually know. Although it can be overwhelming at times, it really resonated for me at the Global Forum when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stated, “I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things”. As a kindergarten teacher, I have the best job in the world, full of opportunities to do many great and useful things. I get to spend my days with little people, completely immersed in the joy of learning through play and discovery. Being a better teacher means that the learning is endless for me too–the planning and execution of best practices in kindergarten are not child’s play. I’m constantly challenging myself to infuse technology that enhances and extends developmentally appropriate, play-based learning and builds critical and creative thinking skills.
My classroom practice is always changing and adjusting as I strive to accommodate new learning and ideas. Although I’ve been working with Microsoft’s 21st century learning design rubrics for a number of years now, they are still my go-to when planning learning experiences and selecting new technology tools. When a tool gains popularity, it’s tempting to “jump on the bandwagon” and use it because everyone else is. It’s important for me to stop and ask some key questions, such as “Will this tool support knowledge construction? Will students be able to collaborate in new and different ways?” Thoughtful and deliberate practice helps me to be a better teacher.
Although this sounds like a bit of a paradox, sometimes it’s letting go that makes me a better teacher. Through collaborative project-based learning, my students have the opportunity to pursue topics that are interesting to them while making a difference in the world. It’s not always easy to let students direct their own learning, especially when I think that I know an easier or more efficient way to do something. But as we’ve watched our students become empowered (and empower others) through project-based learning, @LeahO77 and I now understand that often our role is to provide our students with the skills, tools, and materials they need to be successful—not show them. Even when provided by the teacher, there are no shortcuts in rich, engaging learning experiences.
Be a better colleague and mentor.
Part of my role at home is to mentor other teachers in their efforts to infuse technology. Years ago, I accessed the Microsoft peer coaching/peer facilitator program and I’ve always felt that I had strong collaboration skills. My experience at the Global Forum showed me that I still needed to strive to be a better colleague and mentor. I was so fortunate to participate in a Learn-a-thon group with teachers from Kenya, Argentina, France, Slovakia, and Indonesia. We struggled with language and identifying a topic that was relevant to our diverse classrooms around the globe, but the enthusiasm was boundless and no one in the group was willing to give up. In the end we created an amazing learning experience of which we are all proud and excited to implement. The biggest part of the Global Forum is the people, and my connections with educators around the world always give me new perspective and inspiration. Feeling this synergy with like-minded innovators is effortless, but how can I create this in my own building and school division? That is the challenge that drives me to be a better colleague and mentor. Microsoft in Education Training Provider resources , professional development courses available at Partners in Learning Network, and Virtual University webinars are tools that will help me inspire and support more people on their personal journeys to being better teachers every day.
Be a better agent of change.
I work in a small school division of approximately 1400 students in 10 schools, and I know firsthand that it is possible to affect educational change. Four years ago, my school principal and I developed and implemented the first-ever experimental junior kindergarten program in western Manitoba. After four years of data collection, many classroom visits, and regular presentations to our school board, it became board policy this spring. Working in a small school division doesn’t mean that I have fewer opportunities—I believe that instead I can have a voice and be a part of the change as we scale innovation to our unique rural setting. I will continue to be involved at the provincial level—writing curricular documents, opening my classroom door to educational policymakers, and sharing and connecting through social media and conferences.
My involvement with Microsoft in Education has supported and driven my desire to be that much better each day…and I know that I’m not alone. Microsoft brings together the most passionate, dedicated teachers and provides them with the tools to make a difference. When thousands of us share this vision of “being better than we were the day before”, it is truly awe-inspiring to contemplate the impact we can have on education in our world.