From Data Analyst to Tech Inspiration: Tonia Galati’s Journey
For Tonia Galati, who struggled as a young student and was later diagnosed with dyslexia, teaching wasn’t an intentional career choice. But when this former data analyst was assigned to train her co-workers on new technology, she soon realized that helping others understand and apply technology was her true calling — and she hasn’t looked back since.
Now a Microsoft Showcase School leader, Galati is committed to giving students at her school the kind of experiences that will translate to opportunities once they graduate. Like all Microsoft Showcase Schools, The Grammar School Nicosia is using mobile-first, cloud-first technology to increase students’ productivity and develop the skills needed in today and tomorrow’s workplace. And Galati is leading the charge.
“It doesn’t matter what field a student decides to work in — from office receptionist, to medicine, to factory worker — there is no profession where technology will not be used,” Galati says. “We all know it’s getting harder and harder to get jobs. So we want our kids to get a leg up.”
One of the ways she accomplishes this critical mission is by ensuring that teachers at the school are ready for the changes that technology brings. That means communicating clearly with both teachers and parents, and giving teachers plenty of support. “To bring about change, we have engaged first the teachers then the students and after that the parents. It took teachers approximately six to nine months to gain not only the knowledge but to be convinced that a change is inevitable,” she says. “And it took students two to three weeks to adapt to the new environment.”
But like many exemplary educators, Galati doesn’t limit her contributions to her own school community. One of her proudest achievements was getting involved in Microsoft’s partnership with the Hope for Children UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) Policy Center. The Center, which works with national, regional and international advocacy institutions to reform child welfare systems, helped orphans and other vulnerable children from Africa build critical skills with technology training.
Galati explains: “Access to tech opportunities has the power to change their lives, and provide [these children] with an internationally recognized certification to validate their knowledge skills and abilities relating to Microsoft Office applications, and to prepare them for a successful future.”
Whether she’s helping her own students and teachers or lending her expertise to students who live half-way across the world, Tonia Galati is making a big impact on education. Here’s today’s Daily Edventure.
What inspired you to become an educator?
As a child, I wanted a job that would have an impact on the world and humanity. Among the careers I wanted to pursue were astronaut, firewoman and super-power woman. I was never a good student. I used to find it hard to organize my thoughts and put them into words. Letters and sentences have always been a hazy confusion to me whereas numbers and logic made more sense. I used to be a good student in practical subjects such as math and physics and an average or below average student in all theoretical subjects such as language and history. I hated writing essays or reading stories simply because I would skip parts, lose syntax and/or make spelling mistakes. If it wasn’t for spell check I would have probably ended up as a drop-out.
But my computer science teacher’s unexplained faith in me really spurred me as a student. Dr. Pantelis Makris practiced the art of persuasion, and convinced students that, “Everyone can train themselves to become a genius.” You repeat it often enough and it becomes part of you. My teacher inspired me to learn. He used multisensory approaches, tactile methods, digital visual aids, and digital color code flash cards for me to remember the ICT definitions — but mostly he motivated me. He was so sure and confident in my abilities and choices that I became assured, too.
During college I adopted some of his methods and used rote techniques, chunking words, chaining letters and associating words with numbers to remember my lessons. It wasn’t until my sophomore year during university that I was diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia, both neurological-based learning disabilities. Despite these disabilities, what encouraged me to earn both a BSc and a Msc degree was the desire to learn and to explore innovative methods for my lifelong learning. A teaching job was not part of my career choices.
I was a senior data analyst for few years, “daydreaming” of blue screens and numbers. One day I was told that I had to train other colleagues to become data analysts. It was challenging and exciting adopting my ICT teacher’s techniques. Over time, I became more engaged in teaching and training and I loved it. It gave me a sense of pride knowing that I inspired learners. Gradually, I realized that all learners need both motivation that comes from within and enhancement tools to learn.
Students who exercise their brain through learning can achieve more by trying different study strategies simply because as humans we are genetically determined to do demanding and complex things.
What was a defining moment in your career when you felt proudest to be an educator?
The most defining moment when I felt proudest to be an educator in my career was the initiative with Microsoft to provide young boys from the Hope for Children (HFC) United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) Policy Center a chance to learn Microsoft Office applications and earn a Microsoft Office Specialist certification.
Among the students who attended the program were orphans and mostly vulnerable children from the poorest households in Africa. Those boys, as a result of conflict or civil war in their countries, had limited access to education and were severely disadvantaged from an early age. It is a sad fact, that learning technology and reliable Internet access has been highly dependent on people’s financial status. These are the kinds of things we take for granted but not for those children. The program was initiated during the summer of 2014 and it included sports, swimming, health and safety and introduction to Microsoft Word and Power Point.
That was a landmark moment in my career that has proven to be a catalyst for a remarkable milestone. Making a difference in the lives of vulnerable orphan youngsters was an honored moment for me. At the end of the day, it is not what you give, but what you get in return. To see despair in the face of a young boy being replaced with hope is priceless.
Why do you feel passionate about innovation and technology in the classroom?
We use technology as a means to communicate with teachers, staff and parents as well as schools abroad and graduates. Technology is an indispensable tool in the contemporary world. Education has to adjust to meet the challenges of the knowledge era in which classrooms may be set up at any moment and any place through the online virtual space provided.
Our recent example of how technology has helped transform the world of our students is GSNETlife (Office 365), our school’s intranet, a virtual workplace that provides tools enabling students, teachers and staff to collaborate in one convenient centralized location. Students are provided with an email address and access to a calendar, thus enhancing their day-to-day communication by keeping track of homework assignments, class notes, and activities.
Each student is also provided with their own private location (OneDrive) to store their school files and folders in the Cloud. Our GSNETlife intranet is accessible anywhere, anytime, from any device, including laptops, tablets or smart phones. It is a new method of incorporating innovative technologies and social interaction into education. In the near future, parents will also be able to keep track of their children’s grades, assignments and activities as well as view their tuition balance and add to their children’s canteen allowance through our canteen card system.
Our newest addition is Yammer, our schools’ social network that allows us to connect with colleagues, students or departments. Yammer at school provides cross-collaboration opportunities. Students and teachers may collaborate instantaneously with OneNote and effectively in the virtual spaces and indulge in research, problem solving, critical thinking and knowledge management using web-based tools. Information is gathered, processed, reorganized, interpreted or inferred to explain new knowledge, all through the use of the social interaction of peers. In this way learning is deeper and longer lasting, and students gain ownership of their personal education.
Whether it’s a day-to-day challenge or larger problem, what’s the biggest obstacle you or your country or region has had to overcome, or will have to overcome, to ensure a quality education for students?
In 2013 the board of directors of the school trusted me with the position of the Head of Computer Sciences and Technologies and Professional Teachers Development Department. Within a year, my team and I have transformed not only the hardware infrastructure of the school but also the curriculum context and overall culture. Our school’s objective was to reform a curriculum that emphasizes active problem-solving with intelligent technology where students are able to create and design with the use of technology.
Students get engaged in physical, hands-on experience through building constructive structures. We support a multi-disciplinary learning. Based on this concept, our students develop 21st century skills – integration of technology and critical/creative thinking skills. We also include modern, web-based educational portals for math and language (both Greek and English), which employs interactive technology in the classroom. This utilizes the tablets’ 1:1 method, through interactive games, group collaboration and discussions to assist in engaging students in a more interesting approach to learning. The portals are used both at school and at home. Robotics is now embedded into the Junior School’s curriculum and all students have the opportunity to build and program robots. This develops their self-esteem and prepares them for the future.
For all these changes to be established and to develop a quality learning environment and adopt a reformed curriculum, we initially need intensive change within. A curriculum reformed so that its instructional time includes less learning capacity with more collaborative active learning. The initial and most crucial step is to train and motivate all the teachers and staff in order to provide them with the knowledge and skills required. One of the greatest powers of mankind is its resistance to change. How do you persuade a teacher to change? How can you change the teacher who learned most of his/her life to be “Sage on the Stage” to a “Guide on the Side”?
It is very important to train qualified teachers who can keep up with the demands and changing speed of the schools’ developments. The program includes courses, trainings and seminars both “in-house” and online best practices, creativity learning, performance support tools and quality control assessment.
We provide a range of professional development services designed to meet the learning needs of departments as well as opportunities for personal enrichment. Teachers sign up for different courses and earn badges that make them proud and boost their self-esteem. With the use of a badging system, teachers believe more in themselves and that reflects on their teaching also. Therefore they are no longer afraid that one day they will be replaced by a robot.
In terms of education innovation, what are you most excited about for the future? What is your biggest hope for today’s students?
It’s very hard to envision the future of education. The biggest challenge for today’s students as they move into their careers as tomorrow’s leaders is to be encountered beyond the geographical borders. Students will need global competency, an ability to recognize multiple perspectives, a consideration of globally significant issues and be resilient to change. Students today need to manage the complexity and diversity of a world that requires more focused, innovative minds.
By reforming curriculum and instruction we reinforce proficiency in problem solving, creative expression and innovative thinking to prepare the current and next generation for the high-tech jobs of the future. We should implement an innovative culture where our students are promoted in the future through technology. We must use tools to support curricular objectives using practical, hands-on exercises, activities and real-world simulations.
Gaming is among the most powerful tools. A young boy starts playing a game for the first time, within the first five minutes the child will fail, pick himself up and start again. He will probably repeat that for 100 more times until he successfully masters that game. He then gains self-motivation and success in problem solving. Another example is constructing/building models while exploring principles of engineering, architecture, geography, physics and more. To build problem-solving skills, we provide an opportunity for creative expression and foster an appreciation for how things work.
We should inspire our students to become collaborative communicators using modernized digital means, to become innovative visionary leaders, self-directed learners, technology literate performers, and globally competent citizens. My biggest hope is bridging the digital divide in education. Teachers speaking the same technology language that their students speak.
About Tonia Galati, Head of Computer Science Technologies and Professional Development, Microsoft Showcase School Leader
The Grammar School Nicosia and The Grammar Junior School
- Birthplace: Nicosia, Cyprus
- Educational background: Certified in PRINCE2 (Projects in Controlled Environments) part of the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) as a UK Government standard for IT project management; M.Sc., IT Consultancy London University, September 2004 – September 2005; B.Sc., Computer and Information Science with Business Administration, State University of New York, August 2001- May 2004
- Website I check every day: Twitter, Facebook, TEDtalk, Digg, And Now Daily Edventures
- Favorite childhood memory: I have many childhood memories, most of which are happy times with my family. But the one memory that I recall the most, the one that was most shared with friends, was when I was 8 years old, a stormy winter dusk, outside it was pouring heavy rain, with no hesitation at all I started running in the rain with a blanket to save a chicken that went astray and got lost. At some point my parents were not that happy when I transformed our back yard into a pet shelter.
- Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: Office 365, Power Point, One Note, Office Mix and Sway.