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Innovative Educators, Innovative Relationships

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The Microsoft Innovative Education Forum (IEF) celebrates innovative uses of technology in education. But the most important contribution teachers offer their students and each other, a relationship, often goes unspoken when it comes to education reform, and this is where we need to be the most innovative.

Wow, what a time I had at the 2011 US IEF in Seattle, Washington! Over 100 teachers from around the country were chosen to share their innovative uses of technology in education. Nine projects were selected to represent the U.S. in the Worldwide Innovative Education Forum, sponsored by Microsoft's Partners in Learning program, taking place this November in Washington, D.C. Last year I attended the U.S. IEF and earned a trip to the WW IEF in Cape Town, South Africa, where I won Best Practice In Innovative Content. This year I served as a judge at the U.S. IEF. Thanks to Deirdre Butler, Kirsten Panton, and ITL Research, I learned more about the pedagogy of structuring learning activities in a four-hour judging clinic than I have in more than 10 years of teaching! It is always an inspiring experience to be around a group of my peers.

But after all the hoopla and celebration, and there certainly was celebrating as we were wined and dined at Seattle's Space Needle and Bell Harbor, it is the things that go unnoticed that are the most worthy of celebration. Yes, teachers were filled with great ideas to take back to their classroom, but the buzz in the air during networking sessions was due to relationships being built and strengthened. when the school year gets tough, these relationships will remind teachers that their peers are with them.

Teachers were celebrated for their innovative practices. But when a project is structured to develop 21st century skills such as collaboration, real-world problem solving, and cross-disciplinary connections, and it still doesn't reach a student, what fills the gap? Relationship. It is the teacher-student relationship that has the most impact. Encouraging words, a gentle hand on a shoulder, a listening ear... when all the pedagogy in the world is not enough, it all comes down to just being a loving, caring adult.

Who were your favorite teachers? Do you remember them just because they made learning fun and interesting? Or was it their belief in you and your potential, when the rest of the world was tearing you down? The most instructionally-sound and innovative teacher would not have as much impact being cold and distant. Kids want to know you care more than how many standards can be touched on in a lesson. So, if you are in education and have interactions with students, always remember that oftentimes, it is what goes unnoticed that matters most.