Collaborating for Change: 2011 Microsoft Innovative Education Forum

What you don't know can't hurt you, or so they say, but if you are a teacher trying to positively improve student achievement, what you don't know can hurt both you and your students. Teaching can be a very isolated profession. Teachers spend all day in a classroom with students and there is often little time left at the end of the day to interact with colleagues. School administrators recognize that and have begun providing collaboration time within the school day for teachers to share and learn from each other. But even that is limited by the collective knowledge of the group. Teachers have come under fire for poor performance and flat-lining or declining test scores. Yet, too often, we keep doing the same things that haven't worked in the past, with the mentality that if we just work a little harder at it, maybe we will see some change. But to bring about change in results there must be change in actions. There are incredible things happening in schools around the world as education undergoes the transformation to the 21st century. How can we spread ideas and bring those transformations into more schools?

Microsoft, through the Partners in Learning Network, has made a commitment to provide access to professional learning communities for teachers around the world to collaborate. In the next week they will bring together both a group of 50 outstanding educators from around the world to attend the Partners in Learning Institute and a group of 102 innovative educators (round 1 and round 2 finalists) from the United States to gather for the 2011 Innovative Education Forum. Both events will be held in Redmond, Washington. I am privileged to attend the U.S. forum where I will benefit from interactions with both the U.S. teachers and the international group as well.

Not only will we have the opportunity to share our work and learn about the projects completed by our peers, we have also been given a chance to build connections and begin working together on additional projects as well, before the event takes place. Connecting on the Partners in Learning Network website in assigned teams with teachers we have not yet met in person, we are already forming new collaborative projects in which our students will engage when school starts in the fall. I look forward to meeting face to face with the other four teachers on my team. Each is from a different state and brings his or her own set of skills and knowledge to our group making the learning experience as rich for us as it will be for our students.

The Microsoft Innovative Education Forum is collaboration at its best. The 2011 event is made even more dynamic by the presence of the global group. They will share ideas for professional development that we can take back to our own districts. I am particularly interested in attending a scheduled TeachMeet presented by the group. A TeachMeet is a way for teachers to share good practice, practical innovations and personal insights in teaching with technology. Originally held in Scotland, TeachMeets now take place throughout the UK.

In addition to the collaboration with other teachers, Microsoft has also scheduled amazing keynote speakers for the event. Dr. John Medina, Director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning, University of Washington School of Medicine and author of Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School will speak in an opening keynote at 8:45 am (PST) on Thursday, July 28. At 2:15 pm (PST) on Friday, July 29, Jane McGonigal, Director of Game Research and Development, Institute for the Future, will deliver the closing keynote. Ms. McGonigal is the author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. Both keynotes will be live-streamed through the Partners in Learning Facebook page.

Having attended previous Microsoft forums, I can say that the upcoming event will be life changing. Just as schools are not simply buildings, but are made up of individual teachers working hard to educate young people, Microsoft is not simply a large corporation. It is a group of caring and dedicated individual people who are working hard to facilitate collaboration and change in education. My past experiences have benefited me personally, but more importantly, my students. I can't wait to experience the events that lie ahead of me in the next few days and I can only imagine what opportunities they will present for the children I will teach.