Sunday, July 31, 2011

How to Make a Teacher Feel Like a Rock Star.....

How to Make a Teacher Feel Like a Rock Star
  My Journey With Microsoft, through the 2011 US IEF

Teaching is a profession where you have to create and look for ways to better your teaching.  You look for opportunities to learn, you attend workshops and staff development opportunities, you read professional publications and you network with others who share your passion. 

I was given the opportunity to do all of the above during the past academic year and culminated my journey with an eye-opening, game changing experience on and around the Microsoft Campus, near Seattle, Washington, from July 27-29th.
Here is my journey:

November, December

I am always trying to find new and innovative ways to keep my fourth graders interested and engaged in their learning.  I also appreciate the many ways that technology is becoming a daily part of their lives at home and at school. So, when I was approached by our Technology Resource Teacher about an idea for a project, I jumped on it.  Having the kids create their own Graphic Novel (comic book) about a historical event was right up my alley.  Virginia History is our curriculum in fourth grade and incorporating Language Arts, Reading, Art, and Technology made it fit right into the daily schedule without much disruption.  So we began…this fun little project that would bring the history instruction alive…

January, February:

Between the holidays, snow days and finishing up the semester, we got behind with our project, but were still slowly moving along.  The TRT wanted to take some student samples of our project to the county-wide Technology Share Fair.  We found some pieces from students who were a little farther along and she took those.  She returned from the Share Fair to say that Microsoft Executives were there (we found out later that it was Andrew Ko - one of the Senior Directors for Microsoft, responsible for the Partners in Learning program and his colleague) and were interested in our project, and engaged in dialogue with her about an opportunity to share our project further.  She explained to me about the Innovative Educators Forum and how the application process was now open and would I like to help her submit our project to be considered for acceptance into the forum?   Our fun little project using the computers to make “comic books” about history was beginning to get bigger….


The deadline for the submitting our project to the US Microsoft IEF was looming.  The application process was extensive and I was having second doubts.  Would we be good enough?  Was this something that MICROSOFT would be interested in? Were we wasting our time? My self-confidence was dropping.  I began to research what IEF really was – and I was impressed.  Why hadn’t I heard about this before?  And I also realized it was a contest of sorts.  Now I was really hesitant. When I have questions, it is in my being to find the answers, so I began to dig deeper and I educated myself on the Microsoft Partners in Learning project and community.  Helping teachers…empowering teachers…providing resources for teachers…sharing ideas among classrooms… could I not be interested and want to be a part of something that did all of that!?  So…we completed the application and through that process, I also learned a lot.  I learned about 21st Century Learning Skills – and in doing so, was forced to evaluate my own teaching and pedagogy – was I doing these things?  I was very excited after much self-reflection that yes I was…and I didn’t even know it.  Collaboration, Decision Making, Learning outside the Classroom, Independent Thinking, Self-pacing – all skills that students need to develop to be productive citizens in our 21st Century world.


WE GOT ACCEPTED! We were in the middle of spring break when we got the email that our project was accepted as one of the group of Round 1 finalists. I have to be honest and say that I was shocked!  I hadn’t expected it and now had to look at the calendar and see if I would even be able to attend. My family had 3 different vacations planned for the summer months and I didn’t even really look prior to submitting our application. The four days of the IEF were open and sandwiched between our beach trip, and an Alaskan cruise we had planned.  I was going to Seattle as a guest of Microsoft!  It was an opportunity that I truly never expected to be able to say out loud.  In our profession of “doing” for our students, it is not often that someone “does” something for us.  I started to read all of the fine print…the emails from Microsoft started pouring in…requests to join online communities came….I felt important!


We were hard at work to finish our project – my students and parents had been told about the IEF and were as excited as I was.  The kids wanted to win and couldn’t wait to get to the computers every day to work on their graphic novels.  The Technology Teacher and I were in constant communication about ways to help these kids finish their work.  It was at this point that I began to see where all of this was going…and what was happening to me as an educator.  I was changing.  I was standing back and looking at the group of 10 year olds that I had spent the year with and realizing that I was helping them to become those 21st century citizens that I spoke of earlier.  They didn’t need me – I had given them the power.  I became the facilitator as AJ turned to Tommy for help instead of me, as Lily-Kate got frustrated and wanted to give up, but noticed that Lakin was able to do it, so she probably could too. Erin kept getting confused but refused to cry, instead she persevered and found another way. Rylan liked what he had, but wanted to change it a bit after seeing how Jack had done his.  Zack and Alex read each other’s stories and then offered suggestions for how to make them better.  Andrew loved computers and he was excited to do this project “his way!” Maria didn’t have to wait for the rest of the class, when she was done…she could go to the next step at her pace.  My class wasn’t sitting in their seats waiting for me to tell them what to do, they were on their own and moving forward at light speed using technology.  It was one of those light bulb moments for me.  I’ve always done group work, but I’ve never felt that the kids “got it,” that they understood that they were capable of doing it for themselves.  Microsoft helped me get to this point – by looking at my teaching and creating opportunities for these students – we were already all winners!
We finished our project – and had our “Movie Premiere Party.”  I had created a five minute Movie including photos of all the various stages of the project with narration by the students about our project.  It would be submitted with our project template to the judges prior to arriving at Microsoft.  We all celebrated -  parents, students and teachers…and then we went home for summer.    Working on this project and taking it to the next level (due to being accepted into the IEF) changed the way I will teach forever….at least I thought I had been changed….little did I know that I would be changed again…


We were in summer mode and looking forward to upcoming vacations, but in the back of my head was, “OHMIGOD, in a few weeks, I am going to Microsoft and meeting many different important people, what have I gotten myself into?”  My family (husband and 2 daughters, ages 9 and 11) went to Disney World for a week and I totally escaped – no internet and no outside concerns. After all, I was at the Happiest Place on Earth, right?  After Disney, I was back in getting ready for Seattle mode. We had been told that as IEF participants that we would be part of a Learning Excursion Team – a small group of teachers from around the country that would work collaboratively to explore a Seattle sight and then create a technology project revolving around that sight that could be implemented by other teachers.  We were communicating online through the Partners In Learning Community and I was getting to know these wonderful ladies from Colorado and Pennsylvania.  What fun it would be to meet them face to face in just a few days.  I also had been communicating with the various Microsoft executives that were in charge of the IEF – Stacey, Nanette, Rob and many others.  I was amazed at the quickness of their replies to my personal email questions (within minutes most times) and the positive tone that came through in all of  the correspondence.  You could tell that these individuals were genuinely excited to be providing this opportunity for the 100+ educators that would be arriving on the Redmond Campus in just a few days.  
The big day arrived – the clothes picked out…business casual for the days and opening receptions, and just a bit fancier for the “Gala Awards Reception and Dinner,” suitcase packed and ready to go!  Nervous? Not really anymore, just VERY, VERY excited!

Wednesday, July 27th – Friday, July 29th :

We arrived in Seattle after waking at 2:45 a.m. east coast time and travelling for close to 7 hours…very tired! My husband came with me to use this time to explore Seattle and Mt. Ranier on his own while I was busy with IEF events.  From the minute that I entered the hotel on Wednesday to the minute I left the hotel on Saturday morning…I felt special! We had private tours of Microsoft facilities, we had catered food and more catered food and more catered food, we were given cocktail receptions on outdoor patios, at the Skyline level of the Seattle Space Needle, on the waterfront in Seattle and a huge beautiful “Gala Dinner” on the final evening.  Teachers don’t get these things, Rock Stars do, Movie Stars do, but not teachers!

We were empowered with motivational speakers – not just the fun ones that come to district Staff Development days at the beginning of the year, but REALLY motivational and interesting speakers and authors. John Medina and Jane McGonigal were two people that have really inspired me to look at how I teach and interact with the students in my classroom.  Thanks to Dr. Medina – my students will be having an aerobic break every day before we have math instruction.  Thanks to Dr. McGonigal – my staff will be participating in Multi-Player Thumb Wrestling at one of our staff development days at the end of August. 

We were given opportunities to work with the Microsoft products and interact with the developers. We were able to meet and interact with a group of world-wide educators that were on the campus at the same time that we were. We shared and explored and learned….really learned….a lot!

I had the opportunity to meet and mingle with 101 other educators from around the country that are as excited about teaching as I am.  We shared our projects and talked about our students.  I met a teacher from LA who works with OLLI  students (Retirees taking classes through local universities) – my parents take OLLI classes here in Virginia. I met a fantastic group of Colorado educators who I hope to remain in contact with.  I met a teacher from Michigan, and by the end of the 3 days felt like I had known her forever.

 The teachers from Loudoun County....

 Daphne from L.A.

 My Learning Excursion Team - a great group of ladies!

 The Colorado ladies....

I laughed, I almost cried a few times and above it all I felt proud to be a teacher! The Microsoft People involved in Partners In Learning and Education are an amazing group of people, and in getting to know them over the course of those few days, I found out that most of them have teaching in their blood.  They appreciate teachers and weren’t shy in telling us this. Our final speaker for the 3 day event was Mary  Cullinane (Director of Innovation and Strategic Initiatives for Worldwide Education at Microsoft), and she was phenomenal.  You could not listen to her without feeling like you were a Rock Star and you were one of the most important people on this planet.  They told us that Microsoft has a mission to empower teachers and provide us with the resources that we need, and that they will be there for us….you know, after these 3 days…I think I believe them!

So, thank you Microsoft and all of the individuals involved in creating and continuing the Partners In Learning Program!   Whether I return next year, or not – this journey has been a game changer for me in SO many ways!

You showed that you can turn a teacher into a Rock Star!


  1. Awesome post of the entire process and experience Laura! It truly was the "Happiest Place on Earth!" I believe that happiness will follow us throughout our teaching careers. It was great meeting you! Take care and keep doing what you're doing in the classroom for your students! ;)

  2. Love the article Laura. Can you send me the picture of you and me?