Life-changing. Mind-expanding. Transforming your classroom practice. These are just a few of the phrases you’ll hear yourself saying during a Microsoft in Education Global Forum. It’s an experience like no other, and nearly impossible to convey to someone who has not attended one of these incredible events. As a Microsoft Expert Educator, I’ve been extremely blessed to attend three global forums and I’ve learned a thing or two about how to maximize your experience. Here’s my advice to anyone attending a global forum in the future.
It’s all about the people. Really it is. What do you get when you bring together 1200 like-minded people from all the over the globe? Enthusiasm, unbelievable synergy, and energy so palpable you can feel it in the air. Maybe you’ve felt a bit isolated or disconnected from your colleagues in your school division? Maybe you feel like no one really understands what you’re trying to achieve with 21st century learning design? Well those feelings will come to an end the minute your global forum experience begins. Prepare to connect with educators who totally get what you’re all about. Have a crazy idea you’ve always wanted to try? You’ll be surrounded by people who think it’s brilliant and are eager to partner with you to take it to the next level and actually put it into practice. You’ll form friendships with other educators that will only strengthen through social media and future collaborations long after the forum has ended. You won’t believe how close you’ve become with people you’ve known less than a week.
Sleep. Who needs it? Don’t waste time in your hotel room when amazing people and unbelievable opportunities beckon at a global forum. You’ll discover that you’re living on adrenaline and caffeine. Scout out the location of the nearest coffee shop as you’ll soon be on a first name basis with the barista as you down triple espresso lattes—several a day. The inspiring conversations usually start at breakfast time, and end long after the sun goes down. There are endless project displays to investigate, fascinating people to meet, ICT tools to discover, and a beautiful city to explore. Take a stack of business cards, your mobile device, shut down that welcome reception, and be the last person to leave—you’ll never regret the connections you made or the new possibilities that came your way!
Leave your preconceived notions at the door. You’re going to work with educators from around the world, and you will have no idea about the conditions they live and teach under. You’ll discover that not everyone enjoys the same rights and freedoms as you. Some teachers have very limited access to technology, and what seems like a hardship to you is just a regular day for them—a good day! So enter with an open mind and you’ll soon learn that despite all the disparity, there is a huge commonality among everyone—a passion for teaching, learning, and students! Enjoy the experience to the fullest, even when frustrated by language barriers (Bing Translate is a godsend). Take the time to pinch yourself and appreciate that yes, you really are working with teachers from Indonesia, Kenya, Argentina, Slovakia, and France, and creating a project that will impact learners all over the world!
Seize every possible opportunity. And I mean everything. Don’t say no to any opportunity that comes your way at a global forum. In addition to participating in the inspiring keynotes, informative panel discussions, project display, and Learn-a-thon project, I was asked to attend a focus group on Skype/Lync. It meant staying an extra 90 minutes at the end of the day, but six teachers and I were able to give feedback to the actual engineers who continue to develop these tools. It’s not every day you get the chance to shape the development of widely-used tools such as Skype, so take full advantage of it!
It’s not about winning. I know that’s a tired cliché. Microsoft in Education honours all educators at its global forum events, and recognizes excellence in a variety of categories. I’ve been fortunate to be on the stage twice, and it’s definitely exhilarating. But I also know that you’re a winner before your name is called—the friendships you’ve formed, the new ideas you’ve gleaned, the ICT tools you’ve accessed, and the altered perspective you’ve gained are the true prizes of an event such as this one. And the biggest winners of all? Your students and the difference you’ll be able to make for them with this amazing world at your fingertips.
Post-forum depression. It’s a reality. After a week of flying high with the best and brightest, returning home can be an abrupt crash landing. I’ve experienced a huge letdown after every global forum I’ve attended, but I handled it better this time. I reminded myself, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” and was determined to pour everything I’d gained into further transforming my classroom practice and inspiring educational change in my province and country. Stay connected to your new friends through social media--I absolutely love our Microsoft in Education Global Forum Community on Facebook. Participate in every virtual university and expert educator call that you can. It will make you feel as though the experience is continuing, even though you’re not physically together in some beautiful foreign city.
Spread the word. The biggest way to affect educational change and improve learning for all students is by involving as many people as possible. Open the door to your classroom and invite parents, colleagues, and administration to experience innovative teaching practices firsthand. Share at staff meetings and mentor your colleagues as they become more confident in 21st century learning design. Present to your school board and at as many conferences as possible. Be active on social media, promoting Partners in Learning Network and highlighting exemplary teaching and learning practices in your classroom and around the world!
And don’t forget to say a huge thank you to the wonderful organization that made it all possible—Microsoft in Education. Their commitment to educators and students is truly outstanding, and if you’ve been selected to attend a global forum, you are very lucky indeed. Enjoy every minute.
Sincerely, Devon Caldwell