“Whether you’re a teacher in Kenya, Vietnam or the US, we all face similar challenges with student engagement. We may have different connectivity issues or cultures, but the actual process of teaching and learning is very similar.” – Sonja Delafosse, USA
Program leader, Microsoft Expert Educators
Everett, Washington, USA
Here at Daily Edventures, we love to share the stories of everyday heroes – people who make a huge difference in teaching and learning each day. Each of these extraordinary heroes has a unique story to tell, but they all inspire.
Today we’re excited to share the story of Sonja Delafosse. Delafosse develops and leads the Microsoft Expert Educators program worldwide, empowering educators with quality professional development, and creating programs that help educators effectively use technology in teaching and learning. If you’ve heard of our Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) or MIE Expert (MIEE) programs, then you know Sonja’s work.
“The very best teachers are risk takers,” she says. “They demonstrate that failure is learning, and not something to be ashamed of. The best teachers model what a life-long learner is.”
“I want to help teachers learn enough about the tools available to them, so that they are willing to take a risk and see what ‘could be,’” she shares.
It’s a road that Delafosse knows well, because she has been on it herself.
An early adopter
Back in 1994, Delafosse was teaching music in a two-room schoolhouse in Ellensburg, Washington. It was the dawn of the internet age, and right away, she saw the power technology had to help her be more efficient.
Delafosse moved from her two-room school to Tolt Middle School in the small town of Carnation, Washington, where she created the school website, taught other teachers how to use email, and taught herself FrontPage. She was teaching math full-time, and heading up tech support.
Soon, Delafosse noticed that when she used the internet to post her students’ work and assignments, good things happened. “Students stayed on track and parents stayed closely connected,” she notes. “Students had to work really hard to fail my class.”
After 10 years at Tolt, Delafosse joined the Lake Washington School district as a teacher on special assignment. She rolled out whiteboards, led technology integration, and team-trained teachers. It was Delafosse’s team that field tested the district’s innovative 1:1 program, which has been in place since 2012.
As Delafosse moved on to become assistant principal of Alcott Elementary in Redmond, WA, she was using OneNote and making data-based decisions about student development. “We used technology to help the school move forward,” she says.
Her work was making a difference, and getting noticed.
After attending the University of Washington’s Danforth Leadership Program and earning her administration credentials along with her Masters of Education in Leadership, Delafosse was invited to a special training at Microsoft. It was the first-ever Microsoft Innovative Educator Teacher Academy, and in 2010, Delafosse became one of the first 30 Microsoft Innovative Educators. In 2013, she became one of the first 250 MIE Experts.
“I was really blown away,” she shares. “I thought I knew what Microsoft had for teachers. But then I saw the online community they created and I came back from that training really excited about how the right tools could really dramatically change a students’ life.”
Delafosse became really excited about not only bettering her own school district, but also other schools across the world. In 2015, Delafosse stumbled across an open position at Microsoft: senior manager of technology for worldwide education. The rest, as they say, is history.
“Public education is truly my passion,” Delafosse says. “I deeply believe that education is a basic human right and everyone deserves the best education they can get. At the same time, education should be different than it was 10 years ago. It’s never about the technology, it’s always about the teacher.”
Inspiring the MIEs of tomorrow
Delafosse’s mission today is to get “every teacher on planet earth excited about and using Microsoft tools to help students achieve more,” she says. “I believe Microsoft’s mission is so tightly aligned with mine. As teachers, it’s critical to be inspired by other teachers.”
Delafosse project manages the courses that are built for the educator community and oversees the MIE Experts and Trainers. She also leads the global training partner program (professional development companies) that help teachers learn at their own schools. If there is a technology tool available to teachers, you can bet Delafosse has used it. “The engineers that work on the tools in education are doing it to make the world a better place,” she says. “You see it in Sway, and OneNote. These tools are truly innovative, and solve the challenges of addressing the needs of all different learners.”
E2 and the Future
At the first MIE training, Delafosse and her class were 250 strong. This year, there are 6000 MIE experts across the globe. “All are equally passionate and hardworking teachers,” says Delafosse. “Each country has its own selection processes to get to E2. We all gathered in Toronto to celebrate hard work, learn new things, and make new connections.”
These connections last a lifetime, and the MIEs go on to do big things. Take Project Kakuma, where fellows at E2 donated time and Skyped with the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. Or Julie Hembree’s Books to Africa project.
“Every year I’m more and more impressed with the work that the teachers do,” says Delafosse. “MIE experts get a lot of chances to share with the product teams, and many of their ideas are now part of the tools. They ensure the educators voice is in the work they do.”
If you couldn’t attend E2 in person, you can watch the event on-demand.
Join the Community!
The MIE program has grown and changed, and Delafosse is excited to get even more educators involved globally. “We’re able to have a progressive path of first being introduced to the program, then earning MIE status, then a path to work your way to be an MIE Expert,” she says.
If this is the first time you’ve heard of the MIE program, then Delafosse wants you to join her and the MIE community. Here’s how:
- Join the Educator Community
- Become a certified MIE
- If you’re already a certified MIE, then become an MIEE. From April 15-July 15th, the self-nomination process to become an MIEE takes place.