The Time Is Now

COMMERCIAL IMAGE - In this photograph released by AP Images for TI on Tuesday, May 22, 2012, Mayim Bialik, spokesperson and a
COMMERCIAL IMAGE - In this photograph released by AP Images for TI on Tuesday, May 22, 2012, Mayim Bialik, spokesperson and ambassador for TI, and Lisa Brady Gill, executive director of North America marketing look on as STEM Academy student Alfredo Aranda works during a visit to classrooms prior to a presentation in which Bialik and TI presented the school with a $50,000 donation in education technology and professional development, Monday, May 21, 2012. (Rene Macura/AP Images for TI)

I have just awakened from a dream. In the dream, I entered a castle and walked up the red carpet to the fanfare of trumpeters surrounded by extraordinary people from around the world dressed in their finest garments, greeting one another, celebrating, and enjoying the festive atmosphere as well as music, drink, and food served by elegant servers. The castle hall was magnificent in its splendor, decorated with gold and crystal, statues and mirrors. Everywhere I turned I found a friend, a comrade in passion and purpose. It would be a night to remember long after the dream ended. Amazingly, although I am still pinching myself, it was not a dream after all, but something that really happened to me, a life changing experience I will not soon forget. There are two kinds of experiences in life: the ordinary and the extraordinary. The castle was but one part of an extraordinary experience in which I recently participated. I am a teacher.

Not a profession commonly celebrated in castles! Teaching can be one of the most isolated professions. Day after day working in classrooms surrounded by students, there is little time for contact with other teachers. Collaboration time within a school is a wonderful gift, but imagine having the opportunity to collaborate, not only with the other teachers with whom we work or even other teachers from nearby schools, but with teachers from all over the globe! Even better, imagine that group of global educators being some of the most innovative teachers in the world.

That is exactly the extraordinary situation created by Microsoft at their annual Partners in Learning Global Forum. I have just returned from the 2012 event which was held in Prague, Czech Republic. The Prague Castle was the setting of the unforgettable closing gala. To be part of the event is a unique opportunity to connect with an international group of innovative teachers, sharing, learning, and celebrating. It is also a time to reflect on education and the work we undertake each day in our own schools.

As I traveled home, I felt uplifted, inspired, and energized with thoughts and ideas. I left the forum richer for the experience, in awe of the amazing things happening in classrooms around the world, and with a greater understanding of the transformation of education. Forum speakers delivered thought-provoking sessions pointing out that for over ten years educators have been talking about transforming classrooms to meet the needs of the 21st century.

We have been talking about the need to prepare students for jobs that do not yet exist. The truth is that we are now 12 years into the 21st century. It is time to quit talking and to take action. Jobs are already changing and jobs that did not exist 10 years ago are already part of our world. The time is now. A teacher from Norway told me of his project in which students were inspired to take risks they had not previously been willing to take. He so accurately compared teachers to those students. To make change involves taking risks. It is uncomfortable to do things differently when we have been doing them the same way for so many years.

Technology is advancing so quickly in our world that it is difficult to imagine what will come next. Just in communication, it has become so simple to stay in contact with one another that I had met and engaged in collaboration with teachers at the forum even prior to traveling to Europe. The classroom projects presented at the forum were as diverse and inspiring as the people presenting them. They were extraordinary. Now I am back in my classroom trying to make sense of all that I witnessed and experienced. How do we turn the extraordinary into the ordinary? One lesson at a time, one teacher at a time, one classroom at a time... the time is now.

Microsoft Corp. has reaffirmed its commitment to education with a U.S. $250 million, five-year renewal of Microsoft Partners in Learning, bringing Microsoft's total investment in the program to U.S. $750 million over 15 years. Microsoft aims to grow the Partners in Learning community to 20 million of the 75 million teachers worldwide by 2018 with the renewal and to continue preparing students for the changing global workforce.

Microsoft plans to expand Partners in Learning beyond the 119 countries that currently participate with a continued emphasis on driving community, developing networks, and allowing educators to share innovations and learn from each other. I am so fortunate to have been part of the Microsoft education effort!