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Cheryl Arnett Headshot

Look Both Ways...

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Friday was the last day of the Microsoft World-Wide Innovative Education Forum in Cape Town, South Africa. I was fortunate to be attending as an innovative teacher representing the United States. I began the morning with an early dash to the convention center hoping to get a few minutes of Internet time before the crowds arrived and the Internet service went down. As I arrived at the busy intersection I would have to cross, I realized that the signal lights were not working. They were all blinking red. A quick glance up the sidewalk revealed the approach of two other teachers. I decided that a group would have an easier time getting across the busy street so I waited for them. I knew that one did not speak English, so I pointed to the blinking light and looked to my left to make sure it was safe to step into the street. Luckily, before I actually completed a step into the path of a car, one of the other teachers said, "Look to the right. Good advice for Americans!" The cars in South Africa drive on the opposite side of the road from here. A week had not been long enough to break my old habits! I still chuckle about the moment, but the true significance of his observation only came to me as I thought about my experiences in Cape Town.

I went to the forum with one major goal: to learn ways to inspire more teachers to incorporate technology and innovation in their teaching. Interestingly enough, I found out through discussions with other attendees that many people traveled from places around the world with the very same goal. It became apparent that what we were really seeking was an easy path to 21st century education for all students. That path, however, is not an easy one and my experience at the intersection opened my eyes to a major obstacle.

If crossing into the 21st century with education is an intersection, we as educators need to look both ways before we cross. I think that right now, we are looking only one way. We continue to do the same things we have always done, even though the world is changing around us. Perhaps we need to stop looking where we have been and look in the other direction to see what is coming before it runs over the top of us and passes us by.

Our closing keynote speaker, John West-Burnham, posed the question: Are we innovating to improve or to transform? His analogy of the caterpillar and butterfly opened my eyes to the true nature of the challenge we face. You can glue wings to a caterpillar, but you will still have only a caterpillar. A butterfly requires a transformation that takes time and patience.

Although simple in its message there is a powerful lesson to be learned from his words. We are always looking for ways to just improve our school, but we rarely try anything truly different that will make lasting and meaningful change. It is time to begin the transformation.
My head is buzzing with new ideas from my experiences at the WWIEF. I'm ready for the challenge and can't wait to share the energy and excitement I feel about this right now. My first challenge will be to teach others to look both ways.