Tag Archives: martha payne

We Need to See beyond The “Tool”

I have ensured that I never say, “Technology is just a tool”, because I know the power it can have when used in meaningful ways.  Don’t believe me? Watch as this boy hears for the first time and see how technology will transform his life from here on out.

Does technology seem like just a “tool” to the boy who spent his life with a stammer and then had a teacher give him an iPod that empowered him to speak in front of his classmates?  (By the way, he ended up getting his own show.)

Or just a tool to Martha Payne, the young blogger who raised “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to feed children in Malawi?

Or even the girl who had an author she admired comment on her blog without even trying?

Or so many other stories of people having incredible new opportunities that technology afforded them.

Yes, any technology is a “tool” if we are going to argue over semantics.  But I rarely hear people talking about referring a pencil or a pen as a “tool” because we know that the ability to read and write is transformational to lives.  But with new technologies, we can go a lot further than we have ever imagined.  That is why I have been so focused on the idea of the “Innovator’s Mindset” recently;  if we think differently about what these “tools” can afford our students, we can help them create opportunities that we could not have even imagined or had to access to when we were kids.

To create “different”, and ultimately “better”, we need to think different.

Sometimes I feel that when we say “technology is just a tool” as educators, we forget that our roles are much more than teaching a curriculum, but to not only help transform the lives of our students, but to help them create a better world.  I believe that we need to inspire our kids to do something better, and ultimately, what they do, will inspire right us back.  That takes a lot more than what any curriculum offers.  That is why I become a teacher.

Technology will never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of a great teacher can be transformational.  

There is so much more we can do now with and for our students; we need to embrace that.



Why are we waiting for tomorrow?

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When I recently was visiting a school, I noticed their “motto” on the wall that talked about “developing today the leaders of tomorrow”, or something similar.  This was not unique to this school, and I could tell you from connecting with that staff, that these are some amazing educators that have created an amazing culture of learning and leadership.

The one challenge that I gave to them was by the asking the question, “Why are they not ‘leaders’ today? Why are we waiting for tomorrow?”

I understand the idea behind it and the age-old notion that as educators we are developing the “next generation”, but I also believe that if we want students to make a difference, why wait for it to happen later?  Why can’t they go out and make an impact in our schools and community, both locally and globally?  They have the world at their fingertips and playing “Candy Crush” on Facebook now doesn’t necessarily mean that one day they are going to be leaders because it’s “their turn”.  We need to empower their voice.

We are defined by our actions today, not our potential for tomorrow.

Kids needs time to grow up and be “kids”, but that doesn’t mean they cannot make a difference in our world.  I am hoping that stories like the one of Martha Payne become the norm and these kids aren’t simply outliers.

Words matter.

Our expectations matter.

If a kid makes a difference today, aren’t they more likely to do it tomorrow as well?

There is no need to wait.

Empower Their Voice

cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by HowardLake

It seems that serendipitously, if you are continuing to read blogs, some ideas that may be floating around in my head are made clearer by reading what others wrote.  In many of my conversations with educators and students, we have talked about empowering students to have a voice in not only learning, but to actually make a difference in the world.  Bloggers like Martha Payne and my friend Alyssa have inspired many in different ways through their blogs and by sharing their voice.  In both of those instances though, it was not necessarily a school or teacher empowering them to do this, but a parent who guided and gave them an opportunity.

So why should a teacher give these same opportunities in the classroom, especially with the demands of the profession and often an overwhelming curriculum that we must cover. In an article by Dana Edell titled, “Why Students Should Blog”, she discusses the power of blogging and why it is beneficial to our kids:

Though often more informal than structured essays, blogging can encourage young people to trust that their written words have power and that expressing themselves through written storytelling can transform themselves and our communities.

In the same article, Edell shares the story of a young woman challenging a company on some of the stereotypes that there were reinforcing with their product line and how her voice had made a difference:

Stephanie, 22, wrote a piece in December critiquing a popular toy company’s new line that was marketed for girls. She believed that the company’s pink and purple beauty salon reinforced negative gender stereotypes. She was angry. She wrote about it. Her blog post circulated throughout the blogosphere and eventually garnered a Twitter response from the toy company. SPARK decided to take the issue further and launched a petition that was supported by a dozen more blog posts by girls, expressing their charged opinions about the toys. Mass mainstream and social media attention led to a meeting with executives at the toy company. We have recently seen positive changes from this company, showing us that they not only read our concerns, but also listened and took action. It all started with a blog.

 Pretty neat huh?  A young woman voicing her opinion and making a difference; isn’t that something we want to happen because of schools?

I was then pushed to think about the art of writing from a post I read from Ryan Bretag and how what we do with student blogging  often takes away from the things that we love in the blogs we read (transparency and emotion are two big ones for me):

What makes us want to make everything fit into our preconceived notions of school assignments and activities? Why do we value and appreciate the great blogs that are out there BUT FAIL TO USE THOSE AS MODELS for students and their blogs? Why do we use models so far removed from what we consider powerful?

This is not to say that every teacher is intentionally doing this but the reality is that it is happening.

I get that not all students will be writing at the level of the blogs we read but that isn’t what I’m referencing when I say use those as models. I mean modeling the qualities that draw us time and time again to blogs.

Simply telling our kids what they should blog about does not make them their blogs. It makes them our blogs that the students are simply writing; there is little ownership and it is not something where we empower our students to actually use their thoughts and their voice. 

If we want our students to make a difference in the world (not only in the future but now), and blogging is something that we see as an opportunity for doing this, how do help them take this next step?

Well…here’s one way…

I have been watching Jabiz Raisdana’s work regarding student blogging very closely and he gives some fantastic advice to educators on getting authentic student voice:

Blogging is about trust. Trust takes time. Students must feel safe to become vulnerable and open up. This trust is not built online, but in your classroom, when you are together, as a group, face-to-face. It is built through effective classroom discussions at the table and understanding the power of commenting and conversations. It is building offline spaces that are fun and creative and open to new ideas and projects. It is built by  sharing as much of yourself with your students as you can. Share your music, your ideas, and texts that move you. Share your contacts and friends and model what you teach. Use your network to show the power of networks. Before you know it your students will be writing about all kinds of things…

What I was most impressed with Jabiz was not what he had shared with educators, but what he had shared with his students to build that trust and show his belief in them.  He recently wrote a post entitled, “I Believe“, which he openly shares how he is inspired by his students:

I believe in you. I believe in your voice and your writing. What you write and how you write, right now in your life is you. For better or for worse it is true. If you wait until you are writing is perfect or good or accepted you will be waiting forever. If you wait to be yourself and stand behind your ideas you will wait forever. Confidence is about being happy with who you are and where you are in terms of skills. Confidence isn’t about measuring up to other people’s expectations. I don’t believe in good or bad or ranks or judgements or comparing or anxiety. I believe in confidence through risk and self-esteem through vulnerability. I believe in trust. I believe in communities.

An open, honest, and caring post that models what we would want from our students.  And what does he get from this?  A student that writes an amazingly powerful, courageous and honest post that, at this moment, has over 70 comments from people all over the world inspired by the honesty of his message:

And I envy those people in the Lunch queue who just turn around, talk to random people and become best friends (and beyond) instantly. I find it hard to go beyond my class. And those lunch groups. ARGHHHHHH. I try to join them, but how? Do I just walk up, come up with something amazing to say and just hang out? Because I can never find the right thing to say. And I’m not popular. And people don’t take me seriously…But then there are the endless websites that tell you to be yourself and not change your personality. So now what? How do I change the fact that people go “Oh, what’s Solal doing here?”to my face? And if they say that to my face, what must they say behind my back?

Judging by the comments and honestly, my own feelings, Solal inspired many kids and adults alike with his words. Sharing his experiences of what many of us have gone through, he has shown us that we are not alone.  Again, the thoughtful use of technology can bring people together and humanize us in different ways.

A couple of things here.  Does Solal have the understanding of how to blog this if his teacher does not model it first and give him the opportunity?  Does Solal have the courage to write this post if his teacher does not show his belief in him?  I will be honest here that I believe that we can never really teach this to our students if we do not experience this opportunity ourselves.  Many educators are working with their students to try and give them the opportunity that they themselves have experienced and many educators are starting to wonder what would happen if all teachers blogged.  Our voices matter.

How are you empowering the voice of your students?  Stories like these strengthen my resolve that we have to continue to create these opportunities for our kids to make a difference in our world.  And if it wasn’t for so many that shared their thoughts and stories, I am not sure that I would have been able to write this post myself.

Thanks to all of you that are willing to share.

(If you are reading this and thinking, “I should really start blogging”, here are some links that might help you get started.)

Your Legacy?

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Hamed Saber

Today while doing a presentation, I referenced a Ewan McIntosh post on Martha Payne and some of the awesome stuff that she did through her use of blogging and raising money for a school in Malawi. In it, Ewan has this great quote:

Martha shows every facet of great learning: real world change, making the environment around her better, sharing her thinking with the world, having a conscious for the world beyond her immediate horizons, and robustness in the face of incredible media and social media pressure.

While I was talking, I just thought about my legacy, and the legacy of others as a teacher.  How would I want to be remembered?  How would I want the teachers I work with to be remembered by their students?  Not many kids (if any) talk about how awesome it was that some teacher inspired them to kick butt on tests in their adulthood.  There is much more than that.  Yes kids need knowledge to do well, but what will they do with it?

What would you want your legacy to be after you are done teaching?

Digital Leadership

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by flickingerbrad

I rarely ever do this, but it is now the second time this week that I have posted a comment that I made on someone else’s blog.  Sorry if it is bothersome but I think it is important that I can come back and look at my own growth in this space later on to connect my learning.

Joe Bower has some strong viewpoints on differing topics in the world of education and I have read his blog for the last two years.  I feel comfortable calling him a friend of mine and I learn a great deal from him.  Recently, Phil McRae had a guest post that was shared on Joe’s Blog that shared some thoughts about technology (I really encourage you to read the entire post).  At the end of his post, Phil posed two questions:

1) How might educators engage with digital technologies so that students can become empowered citizens rather than passive consumers? 

2) What technological innovations will help to create a society where people can flourish within informed, democratic and diverse communities, as opposed to a culture of narcissists that are fragmented by a continuous partial attention?

I thought I would try to share my thoughts on this in the comments and have shared what I have written here:

Phil and Joe,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I would like to point you to an example.

If you look at Martha Payne as an example, as outlined on Ewan McIntosh’s blog (and countless other sites), you see a 9 year old student that is giving an answer to both of your questions. Here is a child creating through her blog a movement on improving the quality of food that is served in her school’s cafeteria. Because of this opportunity to actually have a voice, she saw that she was able to make a change and bring awareness to something that she thought was an issue (as does Joe on his blog here daily). Even though it was something that many around the world felt was admirable, her school did not appreciate the fact that she was criticizing the food being served and tried to censor her blog. So instead of a school promoting this opportunity for a student to have a voice with a large audience and make social change, they actually tried to shut her down. I won’t go into entire details of the story as Ewan shares it well in her blog posted below, but I guess my question is, do we find it narcissistic for her to write to make a change through technology? Is Joe’s blog narcissistic? Does this post convey that as well? It is already shared on one space, so why in another?

What I want to believe is that you, Joe, myself, and others want to make change for the better and we have an opportunity to have a voice more now than ever. Is there any selfishness in these pursuits? Probably to some extent as I think we all want to make a difference in the world as there is an overwhelming positive feeling that comes from this. How could it not? I think however though, it is important that we not only use a Web 2.0 technology in a 1.0 way. I watch many only share what they are doing and not really engage in conversations with others using the technology that they use to share their message. If you look at Mayor Nenshi’s Twitter feed, he is engaging with constituents all of the time, sometimes on his politics, but sometimes on the new Batman movie. There is a human quality that can come out of using this technology that many of us are missing and helps to create a stronger connection to leaders that did not exist before. Is it truly authentic? Well that would depend on the leader. But I would say that it is much better than it was before.

The problem is that it is too easy to create this culture of fear around technology. I received this email from a company the other day warning administrators of all the “bad” things kids can do because of technology.

“Students can get into trouble on computers, especially on the Internet. And when they do, you’re often caught in the crossfire.

With LanSchool Classroom Management Software, you can watch what students are doing and even catch them in the act. Plus, you can document their actions to prove your point.

Put an end to trouble in your classroom today.”

When people focus on all of the bad things technology brings, they can easily create this “us vs. them” mentality as opposed to actually focusing on a conversation.

If we actually focus on giving students a voice through this technology, I think we are looking at some amazing learning and leadership opportunities for kids that goes beyond what we could have done as students in school. Ewan has a great quote in his blog post about some of the amazing learning from Martha’s experience:

“Martha shows every facet of great learning: real world change, making the environment around her better, sharing her thinking with the world, having a conscious for the world beyond her immediate horizons, and robustness in the face of incredible media and social media pressure. “

Would any of this happened if Martha wasn’t able to use this technology? it is her own pursuits that made it happen in the first place, but again, using technology in an effective way, gave her some amazing opportunities to make some powerful change. As adults, we need to continue to figure out how to continue to use these technologies to help ensure that Martha is not an outlier but the norm.

Just my two cents.

(Link of Martha’s story told by Ewan McIntosh)

I encourage you to share your thoughts here or on Joe’s blog.

In Spite of Schools

“And my contention is, all kids have tremendous talents.  And we squander them, pretty ruthlessly.  So I want to talk about education and I want to talk about creativity.  My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.”  

Sir Ken Robinson (Quote taken from this post)

Being able to just sit back and read and look at other posts, I have been amazed by some of the work that I have seen done by school aged students.

The first that I would like to share I had head about, but Ewan McIntosh writes about in depth and with great detail on his blog regarding Martha Payne and her blog.  I am not going to go into great detail about what had happened, as Ewan’s post is much better than anything I could write, so below is a video about what Martha started doing:

After her blog saw a HUGE spike in readership, her own school tried to ensure that it was censored to not cause a disturbance within the school.  Many people were outraged by this, and quickly it received international attention.

Through all of this, Martha had raised a huge amount to help build a kitchen in a school in Malawi, and has brought awareness to food programs in schools from all over the world.  Ewan writes about the real learning that Martha exhibits so exquisitely in his post:

Martha shows every facet of great learning: real world change, making the environment around her better, sharing her thinking with the world, having a conscious for the world beyond her immediate horizons, and robustness in the face of incredible media and social media pressure. She is another ‘Caine‘, with a supportive parent and facilitating adults around her. She’ll go far.

The other student that I saw do some amazing work (although on a much less serious note), is Ton Do-Nguyen, a junior in high school from Pennsylvania, who made this amazing imitation of a Beyonce video with a “Snuggie” twist.  You can actually watch the whole video with the Beyonce comparison below:

Reading an MTV article on the kid that made the video, it is amazing how he not only got so much attention, but actually figured out some other creative uses for the “Snuggie”:

It’s not just the superstar singing Ton’s praises either: Everyone from Perez Hilton to “Glee” star Harry Shum Jr. are bowing down to the Snuggie-clad tribute, with the same question on everybody’s mind: How the heck did he do it?

“For each specific part, I would just look on YouTube and try and get it down to a T in front of my mirror and go off and film it,” Ton explained. “It’s so tiring, and do you know what it’s like to be in a Snuggie in the middle of July?”

And while the sleeved blanket was originally used merely as a fashion statement to set the two clips apart, Ton revealed that the body-length fleece ended up serving useful in the production as well: “I used my Snuggie as a blue screen and wore a blue shirt and then I just did my thing.”

I am not going to lie.  I have watched this video in the double digits not only because it is extremely entertaining, but because it is absolutely amazing that this kid created this video.  He has an extraordinary attention to detail while also bringing his own personality to the video.  I picture myself as a kid trying to imitate moves from videos (Every Little Step by Bobby Brown was a favourite although I did not really like the costumes!) but never being able to do any type of video editing that was done in this video.  I have no idea who created the video, but it is interesting to see that this student is doing this when school is out, as opposed to when it is actually happening.

As I think of these two huge projects by these unique individuals with separate interests and probably strengths, I am curious about how much of this happened in spite of schools, as opposed to because of them.  In Martha’s case, her school actually tried to stop her yet she succeeded because of support from her family and a huge international community backing her up.  Ton’s video, which has brought more attention to the Beyonce song in which he should really get some kickbacks from (I never heard the song until now but have actually downloaded since seeing his video) was done seemingly on his own, where he says he had basically taught himself to do the video editing. (The “Snuggie” props are also his.)

Do we do projects like these in schools?  I am not putting this challenge for everyone else, but for myself as well.  Do we allow and encourage kids to be creative, take risks, create social change, and do all of this in the context of learning in schools?

After seeing these two kids over the summer, I am even more inspired to help students achieve these big dream projects within a school setting.