Random Thoughts

From Manila to Florida: Making Global Connections

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Monday night while in Manila I had the privileged to Skype into the first day or school for elementary teachers at Chets Creek Elementary. By far this was the highlight of my trip to Manila and really I just happened to be in Manila it could have been from anywhere.

Melanie Holtsman contacted me about a week ago and asked if I’d be willing to Skype into the first day of school for the teachers to talk about technology. It seems the principal had bought ever teacher the book Web 2.0: New Tools, New Schools as a book study and according to Melanie I’m mentioned in it a couple of times (yet to be verified by me) so she thought it would be cool to showcase just how easy it is to connect to people around the world.

I have to say I didn’t sleep the night before thinking about how to motivate teachers on the first day of school. I’ve sat through those meetings (just did it two weeks ago) and there is usually two things you’re thinking about. Either you just want to be in your classroom getting ready, or you still want to be on vacation…either way you usually don’t want to be where you are.

Although for some reason, I think the teachers at Chets Creek might break that rule. When I Skyped into the room I found everyone dressed up in costumes from different countries. A tradition at Chets Creek. What a fun staff and what a great way to try and keep the first day blues away by having a purpose for being there.

I started off the presentation by taking the staff on a short tour of my career. Using Google Earth we started where I was raised in Spokane, Washington zoomed right in on my parents house and the two combines sitting out back (the pictures are old because I know for a fact that the combines are in the field this week 😉 ). From there we flew to Saudi Arabia directly to the house that we lived in on the compound and you could see the pool out the front door (13 steps) and the pool out the back door (15 steps). That was resort living at its best! From there we flew directly to our apartment in Shanghai and then to our new house in Bangkok before ending up on the hotel I was staying in in Manila.

My message: The world has just gotten a whole lot smaller! I talked briefly how making global connections today is what our students do. Distance and time have become irrelevant. The web has allowed us to connect to people when we want and when we need and our students already know that. I challenged the staff to take something they already do in the classroom, some lesson, some curriculum outcome and find a way to modify it to connect their students globally. To allow them to write, create, and share with a global audience.

We then showed them some examples of things they could do. Like joining Jen Wagner’s A Room With A View project. I talked about how this type of project could fit into multiple parts of the curriculum at all grade levels. I know Kim is planning on joining the project with some of our classes here.

We looked at some examples of blogs both of teachers and of students. We looked at examples of classroom wikis and how teachers where using them in different ways to accomplish different goals.

I really enjoyed myself and am totally overwhelmed by the response of the staff.

But the best part of the whole experience happened today when I was reading some of the blog posts from teachers. Suzanne, an Instructional Coach, recapped the day on her blog and talked about the Principal Susan Phillips:

Our Principal, Susan Phillips, then presented on Web 2.0 and School 2.0. She reiterated that the web has changed. It has gone from software based to web based from individual to collaborative from offline to online from costly to free and from copyrighted to shared. We, as educators, must move swiftly as this shift happens in order to reach and engage all kids. We must focus on project based learning that is rich, real, and relevant. We must have engagement that precedes the content. We must encourage risk taking, ask for help, search for answers. We must embrace the web as participatory, and have students as designers for learning. To be successful we can no longer be digital immigrants teaching to digital natives.

Now I don’t know about you, but if I had to move back to the States tomorrow, I think I would be giving Susan a call for a job. I’ve read that statement three times now and each time it gives me chills to think that this is a principal of an elementary school. This is a leader who is not making excuses but one who is taking the opportunity that has presented itself and is determined to lead her staff and students into the 21st Century. Her latest blog post starts this way:

The Journey Begins…

Risk more than others think is safe.
Care more than others think is wise.
Dream more than others think is practical.
Expect more than others think is possible.

By all accounts I think Chets Creek is going to be a school to watch this year. They have the vision, the leadership, and an energized staff ready to take a risk and try something new. With Melanie at their side for support they are going to do some great things for kids!

Thank you for inviting me into your school, may this year be your best one yet!

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Suzanne Shall Reply


    You are right, we do break the mold at Chets for being excited for the first day back. After all, what principal do you know who gives away an ipod, webcam, digital camera, and Wii on the first day back. And, who has a principal with a quirky staff that shows up in full costume and introduces themselves with over the top skits, games, and songs! The first day back is quite a stitch. We spend a lot of time building relationships.

    Of course, I’m sure you can clearly see that although we play hard, we work hard. We enjoy getting acquainted with the new theme and seeing what lies ahead through this year’s expectations. Our staff is always asked to take new risks in order to accomplish unprecedented results. Your conversation with us, from around the world, was the perfect start to what I know will be our best year ever!

    Chets Creek is my intellectual home. I couldn’t imagine building my career anywhere else. When you make it back to the states, you must stop by for a visit, or better yet to actually fill a spot on our faculty roster! Thanks, again!


  2. What a high honor for you to speak of our school and faculty so highly! Thank you for such public praise! You’ve got a fan club here! 🙂

  3. Jeff,
    Thanks again for setting the tone for our day. I wish I had recorded our session to share in my post (hindsight is 20-20 ) 🙂 And, I wish you could have seen the mesmerized faces in the audience. Last year we a handful of bloggers, but in the last 48 hours we have birthed fifteen new faculty blogs and they continue to grow… Having the outside voice come from across the world to reiterate what they have been hearing made all the difference. Everyone is psyched! Thanks for making my first day dreams come true and as our year truly starts with the kiddos next week I hope we will be collaborating with our classes soon.
    🙂 Melanie

  4. Dear Jeff,

    Thank you for taking the time to present to us all the way from Manila. My mother spent several weeks in Manila in 2005 recruiting nurses and at the time it seemed like such a distant place. Watching you on Skype suddenly Asia didn’t seem quite so far away! Your point that “The world has just gotten a whole lot smaller” was perfectly illustrated by using Google Earth and I can’t wait to show my fifth graders! Thank you again for sharing your knowledge with the teachers of Chets Creek.

    Jessie Lipsky

    • Thanks Jessie!

      Manila was interesting. Every sign was in English and everyone we ran into spoke English. The mall was as American as I’ve seen overseas and it was really a weird feeling being in a place that felt very American. I talked to the team at EARCOS and they learn English starting in Kindergarten.

      We are already planning a trip back as we want to explore the islands some more and cost of living there is pretty cheap. 🙂

  5. Julie Johnson Reply

    Hey Jeff! I absolutely loved your pep talk Monday morning (evening for you) about using technology for our little ones. You are so real and you make it look so easy. You inspired me and excited me…I just started my classroom blog TODAY! I can’t wait to start this year and learn from you and Melanie. THANKS again Jeff!!!

  6. Cheryl Chascin Reply

    I feel as if I am standing on the threshhold of something BIG. The possibilities and potential of what we can do this year are endless. Can you imagine a student approaching academic subjects with the same engagement and excitement they have for video games and texting? Can you imagine students with special needs using such a familiar technology to learn? In this age of leaving no child behind, how can we turn our backs on such a resource as this?
    Cheryl C. (Third Grade Teacher, Chets Creek Elementary, Jacksonville, FL

  7. Chets Creek is an amazing place to be! I was thrilled when Melanie shared Jeff’s response today at the faculty breakfast, presented by our outstanding PTA. They are another great example of the relationship building that goes on here on a daily basis. After breakfast, they presented us with themed t-shirts for every teacher and student at Chets, as they do every year. I love how the learning environment here continues to recognize that relationships and reaching the “whole” child is at the basis for all we do at Chets.

    Liz Duncan

  8. The word in the halls of Chets Creek is that our faculty has an intellectual crush on Jeff Utecht! And why not?! It was love at first sight! Thank you for an amazing look into our future! And stay tuned… Our best is yet to come! dayle timmons (Special Education Teacher, Chets Creek Elementary School)

  9. Rachel Happ Reply

    Hi Jeff! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. It was really neat seeing how you used technology to give us a virtual tour of your life. I am so excited to be working at a school that is taking technology by the reins and is really trying to bring it’s employees into this new era! My partner, Julie Johnson and I are already cooking up ideas of how to get our kids involved in using the technology that is available to them. Again, thank you for the motivational presentation!

    Rachel Happ

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