Thursday, October 13, 2011

Instead of Globally Competing, Let's Collaborate!

I'm connected to people across the globe via Facebook 
Although we aren’t the same age, live on opposite ends of the earth, and don’t speak the same language, I connected with  Arif Hidayat because of our passion for providing children with learning opportunities that best fit their needs. We instant message, wrote this article, and share our passion by engaging in conversation with others from across the globe in groups like Crossborder Relations, FacingIT, and Innovative Learning Consortium.  
With barriers of geography and language shattered by social media and tools like Google Translate, citizens around the world are able to communicate, connect, and collaborate like never before. As a result, I no longer think of people as Laurette from Oklahoma, Melissa from Canada, or Jean from Australia.  Instead, I associate people with, as Angela Maiers has popularized, why it is that “You Matter” to me.  With The Tower of Babel conquered and connections residing with people, rather than places, we have the remarkable, first-time-ever ability to connect with others who share our interests regardless of any boundaries that previously existed. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that 53 minutes into NBC’s Education Nation broadcast on Global Influence: What Can We Learn?, this tweet between Tom Whitby and I was showcased.  
The Facebook conversation around the tweet is here
Unfortunately, our Race to the Top, Education Nation will likely fall further behind as other countries move ahead knowing that when we work together, rather than compete against one another, we can go further faster.

My recent visit to the Global Education Forum (GEF) in Spain, brought to life the benefits of global collaboration over competition in many ways. First, it was through my blog, that I connected with the organizers of GEF.  It wasn’t until this century, when blogs became a tool to democratize the views of every person, that this global connection would have been possible. 

Upon arrival in Madrid we were taken to see Tony Wagner’s 60-minute documentary about the much written on education system in Finland named ”The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s most Surprising School System.“ As I watched the movie along side Tony Wagner himself, I was reminded of the Education Nation tweet and I knew this was a country we want learn from and collaborate with, not compete against.  From the documentary, it was clear that in Finland, they want to be our global partners, not competitors, and invite in all those open to learning from and with them.  

That evening, we gathered for tapas and Rioja. Our hosts invited those they admired from around the globe to collaborate, connect, and share ideas. We were not competitors, but rather partners in sharing our passion for providing the best possible learning opportunities for children. Throughout the evening we talked and compared notes about how learning worked and did not work in our countries.  We found that many of us shared the common frustration of a test-driven system and we all seemed to agree that our children would be better off if passion, not just test scores, had a more prominent role in driving student learning.  

The next day, was the Global Education Forum where, under the leadership of Nieves Segovia, educational leaders from around the world were brought together to share ideas about how to best meet the needs of our global learners. This was an important topic to many as evidenced when I, along with some of the other speakers, joined Steve Jobs as a trending topic on Twitter. The message persisted.  Our work is not to compete, but rather connect, create, and collaborate in meaningful and relevant ways so our children will have a successful future.  

My trip ended with a visit to the SEK International School, Ciudalcampo in Madrid, where it was clear the institution took to heart the lessons learned about transforming learning to prepare our generation text students for success. The school campus is what Google Certified Teachers like myself refer to as “Googley.” This is the highest compliment indicating that it is an environment that fosters innovation and creativity. There were large, light-filled open spaces, with bright colors, and windows, rather than walls.  Student’s desire to learn with the digital tools of their generation was honored. 

As I toured the school (see a video tour here) I had the opportunity to be delighted starting with a third grade class performing via an iPad orchestra full with keyboards, drums, trombone, clarinet and more. Each student was empowered to perform with the instrument of their choice.  Next up was a physical education class totally engaged using the Xbox Kinect dance program where students learn the moves of stars to their favorite music.  I also passed a Wii Fit center that students can sign up for to get some additional exercise on their own. The campus grounds clearly demonstrated a commitment to the value of play with facilities for a myriad of sports as well as picnic tables and benches for those who preferred to have a space to just sit and chat.

In the library, there were some traditional books, but also mixed throughout were students learning through iPads, eBooks, and laptops.  From the library, I visited a room that had the inviting feel of a Starbucks cafe, but instead, it was their video gaming center where students learn via playing and creating video games.  Students were standing at monitors and sitting in comfortable spaces throughout the area having fun while hard at work learning and creating.  The school also features large open learning spaces.  In one area students were in a heated debate regarding whether or not cell phones should be allowed in school.  “Yes! Yes! The students can handle it!” I wanted to shout, but alas, this was about them, and I listened to their lively debate. 

As I continued my tour I discovered a group of students involved in the school’s entrepreneur program.  The students are given the opportunity to participate in a real-life entrepreneurial endeavor of their choosing. The students I talked with wanted to be party promoters and they were fully engaged in planning a real party.  Their company had students responsible for budget and finance, publicity, marketing, music, coordination, entertainment, decoration, sales, and more.  I believe a portion of the proceeds went to a charity they supported as well. Amazing! Throughout my visit I discovered there were live Twitter student reporters who explained to me that they share what is going on in school to strengthen the home-school connection. Brilliant! This is an important strategy featured in my book, Teaching Generation Text.

The day ended with the school organizing three groups for me to converse with: parents, students, and teachers. I was beyond thrilled when the school Director MarieCruz Lagar announced to her students that they would now have a say in policies such as cell phone use in their school. I hoped my talk the previous day had inspired this thinking :)  

As I sat enjoying the opportunity to talk, laugh, and learn with the parents, students, and staff, I had no doubt in my mind that these amazing people were my friends and allies, not my competition. It’s time to take a good hard look at the what, why, and who that is the driving force behind the global competition hype. When we stop competing, we can come to together to achieve success more effectively than we ever could alone. The reality in the 21st century is there is no shortage of ways to achieve success. Let's embrace the idea that if we, the people, hold these truths to be self evident that all wo(men) are created equal, then, together we can realize more successfully certain unalienable Rights such as Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness regardless of geography, language and other barriers that can be removed in our digital world.


  1. Thanks for your post, the students in the iternational school in Spain have a lot of great resources at their disposal to engage in multiple ways. Hope to see the same resources avaliable for all students soon!

  2. Here's how I found this site
    - Ted-Talk => Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action
    - Ted-Talk => Susan Cain: The power of introverts
    - Ted-Ed
    - Ted-Ed Twitter
    - Your blog

    As a species, I'm glad we're aware that we have problems and are working on it; and because of my experience of finding this site, this is the first time I can say I'm so happy to be born in this day and age. Hard to imagine anyone in the past not saying the same thing, can you imagine? "Omg honey, come look at this, it's called the wheel! It's gona revolutionise everything!"

    Professionally I'm in IT, but as a humanist, I strongly believe in progressive education. I'm so glad I found your site!

    Great work and thanks for sharing!