“Oh, you are going to E2? It is a life-changing experience!” From the day I learned I was going to Paris for Microsoft’s Educator Exchange conference, I heard that phrase in many ways, from many former attendees. I would smile and nod and think, “How can a conference be life-changing?” I mean, I’m getting to go out of the country for the first time in my life. That’s pretty cool. But, life changing? Come on.
But now, a week later, as I look back over my time at E2 I can honestly say it was a life-changing event. And not in any way I would have expected. I didn’t learn an amazing new technology that will take the world by storm. I didn’t come home with 1,000 new tools I wanted to try out. But I did come back with a new mindset, and that mindset is changing the way I look at the world, my job, and my students.
First and foremost, E2 is about the connections you make. Getting to meet and work with educators from over 109 different countries was phenomenal. Getting outside my bubble of the Florida education system and the United States view of education was inspiring, humbling, and overwhelming. Hearing from educators who work in remote places where students have difficulty even making it to school each day taught me to be more grateful. Listening to stories of schools who don’t have to worry about test results but instead work toward creating real-world learning experiences so their students are more prepared for their future made me envious. Listening to a student speak about her ambitions and how she is out there diving in and making her dreams a reality made me feel hopeful and inspired. So many new stories and new ways of experiencing this thing we call school. It was all incredible, and all went into changing my mindset on my role as an educator.
First of all, I came back with a renewed belief that there are people out there that respect educators and the work we do. If you’ve read the news in the United States lately, it is easy to forget that those people exist. Teachers and administrators all over have to fight for better pay, better benefits, and the resources they need to teach their students. After E2, I truly felt that Microsoft Education appreciates and respects teachers and wants to give us the tools and resources to do this important work. It’s not just about devices or software for them. It’s about the students and teachers ability to utilize those tools to create, learn, discover, invent, explore, and grow. And that is for EVERYONE. No student or teacher should be exempt because of a disability or impairment. Microsoft Education is committed to that and it is so wonderful to hear it directly from the people who are creating those devices and software, because it shows me that they are dedicated to creating environments where ALL students can thrive.
Secondly, I changed my view of what I want to teach my students. I want to connect my students to the world. I don’t want to just teach them skills in a bubble. I want them to see that what they are learning can affect the world around them. I want to teach them the human skills they need to succeed in the world. Skills such as communication, collaboration, empathy, problem-solving, and critical thinking. I want to show them that no matter their age, they can make a difference in someone else’s life. They can be a change maker in the world around them.
Finally, I changed my mindset on my own role as a change maker. It’s very easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day of school and forget what a vital role teachers play. And it can also be frustrating to hit walls of bureaucracy, paper work, testing, apathy, and complacency. But teachers are needed, now more than ever. We are needed on the front lines to teach, inspire, encourage, direct, protect, and care for amazing students who have big dreams and big futures. Teachers are change makers everyday and I need to lean into that.
So, how are teachers change makers? We are change makers when we teach our students the steps to solving any problem. We are change makers when we open our doors early for students who need a little more help on an assignment. We are change makers when we create a learning environment that opens our students world to new ideas and possibilities. We are change makers when we make our lessons accessible for ALL students in the room. We are change makers when we pay for a students’ lunch who can’t afford it. We are change makers when we show up everyday with a smile on our face, even if we don’t feel like smiling. We are change makers when we encourage a student to try something new. We are change makers when we look past the test score at look at the child and see potential, inspiration, and hope. We are change makers when we share our knowledge, experience, and expertise with other teachers so they can go out and be change makers too. So, teachers, administrators, school staff…We are change makers. Isn’t that life changing?
Jennifer Brown is a Technology Resource Teacher at Walker Middle Magnet, a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and Trainer, and a Skype Master Teacher. As the project leader for a 1:1 pilot program in her school and a digital coach she is dedicated to showing teachers how to best utilize technology in their classrooms. Similarly, as a classroom teacher she demonstrates to her students how utilizing technology can empower their learning. Jennifer is passionate about showing students how to be self-directed, life-long learners and how technology can be used to achieve that goal.