Flying into Newark, New Jersey a few days ago, I looked out the window and saw nothing but black, white and gray landscape as far as my eyes could see. As we are still a few weeks from spring, I should not have expected anything more, but I was struck by the starkness of the scene and the lack of anticipation the setting inspired in myself as a traveler. My ever active "teacher mind" immediately made a connection to a scene in my classroom just the day before.
In preparation to be gone from my first grade class over the next week, I had planned a rather ordinary few days leading up to the appearance of a substitute in my room, trying to wrap up work in progress and not start anything new. The children, who are usually eager and excited to learn, responded to my "black, white and gray" day with the same enthusiasm as I to the scene from the airplane window. They were, needless to say, a bit lethargic with a tendency to gaze out the window and procrastinate their work. Now I should add that I work very hard to avoid such days as a rule, and the substitute is equipped with lessons that will inspire and engage the students in my absence, but the lesson learned from the drab days did not complete itself without reflection on my own experience. Today teachers find themselves in an educational world of skills and standards to teach, as well as tests for which to prepare. We have lists of material to cover and demands to prove our worth through lengthy teacher evaluation rubrics based on student growth and performance. It is easy to allow the pressure to keep us focused on the evaluations rather than the learning process and the real world lives of the children we teach.
Ironically, my absence is directly tied to bringing color and a sense of "springtime" to my classroom. For the fourth year in a row, I was traveling to the Microsoft in Education Global Forum. The gathering of global innovative educators is taking place March 11-14 in Barcelona. Thanks to the presence of an angel in my life, and, of course, the caring folks at Microsoft, I have been fortunate to attend Global forums in Cape Town, South Africa; Washington, DC and Prague. In contrast to the view from my airplane window, the Global Forums are a feast of bright, inspiring and engaging experiences.
My students cannot travel with me to faraway places, but through the miracle of technology, they have been connected to children around the world through global classroom collaborations. The connections to a variety of people and places bring sparks of color and imagination to the children. They are so enthusiastic about talking to someone in another country! As simple as it is to talk and work with another person through video communication today, I can only imagine the possibilities for my students as adults. What will their jobs be like? How will they travel? What will become of our planet? Teachers at the forum are planning international projects based on the United Nations Millennium Development. Our world faces many difficulties in the coming years. As teachers we have an obligation to prepare our students to deal with those problems, and they will need to work together to make that happen. Global interactions are critical for our students as they learn to become citizens not only of one small town, or one native country, but also of the planet. With all the thoughtful minds of young people in our world, I have to wonder, which child will bring the next brilliant idea to our populations? Which child will solve the next global crisis? Which child will help bring peace? They are our future and they deserve an education filled with color and springtime! They deserve a chance to learn to work side by side with children from around the world as global citizens. Let's inspire and lead them to learning with passion.
As Anthony Salcito, Vice President, Worldwide Public Sector Education for Microsoft, said in his opening keynote at the Global Forum, "The theme of change permeates the world. Students must raise their expectations of themselves and question everything." School experiences must leave behind the drab, colorless system of the past and blossom into meaningful learning experiences filled with hope and promise for a bright future. So I will travel home again in a few days, back to melting snow and a gray landscape, but filled with a sense of renewal from the time spent with my global teaching friends in Barcelona, ready to engage and inspire my young children to look past our classroom and out into the world where they will make a mark to last a lifetime. Bring on the sunshine and blossoms!