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Refocusing on what matters

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There was a point this summer not long after NECC that I started wondering if I was doing the right thing.

Are we barking up the wrong tree?

It hit me as I sat in the car one day looking at a bunch of people waiting at a bus stop. As I sat at the red light I starting thinking about these complete strangers and whether they really know what’s going on out there.

Do they know about blogs?
Do they know about wikis, the wikipedia?
How about podcasts and the fact that with an Apple TV podcasters are as close as ever of being on par with regular television?

and then I asked myself:

Does it even matter?

Do you know how scary it is to truly question everything that you have been preaching to teachers for the past 3 years. To truly look at it and wonder if it was all wrong, if maybe you had it wrong, maybe this isn’t it.

It’s scary really and the more I thought about those people just going about their day and wondering if any of this would or is truly affecting them the more I became depressed. The more I questioned if what I’m pushing in Education is the right thing.

I was pondering this for a couple days when I sat down with a good friend and we started talking. He reads my blog and even though he’s not an educator he kind of sort of gets what I’m talking about most of the time. We started chatting and I told him I didn’t know if I was barking up the right tree anymore…that maybe I have it all wrong. I told him about seeing the people on the street and wondering if any of this ‘stuff’ matters.

He said nothing while I talked and then when I had finished he said:

“But, it’s not about them right? It’s about the kids, about the next generation.”

And there is was…..the part I had forgotten. I had been looking at the wrong people. I had been looking at my generation and the generations older than me where none of this stuff even existed.

Think about it…really the Internet has only been around since about 1996…that’s all! Think of what it has done, the impact it has had on the world. When you think that it’s really only been since about 2000 since the Internet matured to a point that it affected our world in profound ways and what it has done so far…that becomes even scarier.

We are only at the beginning of a huge freakin’ shift. A shift that most of the later generations don’t see or don’t want to see. It’s a shift that includes living in a flat world, where work can be done will be done where it best fits the needs of the organization.

One example of this is our school here in Shanghai. We’re adding 300 more students! Now if you think that’s a lot think about this…we’ve been adding 300 students a year for the past 5 years! This school’s population has grown from 850 students to almost 3000 students since the Internet has been invented….and if it wanted to it could continue to grow.

Who are the students? Families from around the world who’s work brings them to Shanghai. Why? Because this is the best place for their company to do business at this point in time. Will this always be the place?….I don’t think so, but for now this is where companies are coming.

We talk about the flat world, about how the playing field is being leveled…but the students and families at my school are that flat world. They are here because the world has gone flat and their companies need them here.

How many students today realize the chance of them living and working in the same town they grew up in, or the same country for that matter is highly unlikely. That in today’s world you can…and most likely will live and work where your company needs you, and just because your company is based in America…doesn’t mean you’ll work in America.

So I’m refocusing…remembering that it’s our students. The same ones who bring cell phones to school, work on their facebook pages when they should be researching, IMing when they should be studying, and creating YouTube videos when they should be sleeping, that we need to be teaching.

That’s the reason why all this ‘stuff’ matters. It’s not about us…..it’s about them…their world…their future…and it’s exciting!


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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. Jeff–
    As a parent of 3 “digital natives” 7, 5 and 9 months when I first started reading your post, and thinking about David Warlick wrote last week about first year teachers, I started to have a panic attack….. PLEASE, I thought, PLEASE don’t give up..the message you all…we all…have been working to get across is NECESSARY to prepare these kids for an uncertain future. I was relieved to see the shift in your post to the kids….WHY do educators do what they do? In all cases, they do it for the kids. I think we NEED to continue pushing, BECAUSE those folks on the bus and all around DON’T GET IT….
    How many students today realize the chance of them living and working in the same town they grew up in, or the same country for that matter is highly unlikely.
    When I look at my mother-in-law (whose brother and all his kids live in the same small town –population 452ish that she (and they grew up in) who moved to a slightly larger town and taught there for 30ish years I KNOW they don’t GET IT…When my 7 year old son sees a new game, toy, book, puzzle….he immediately sets to work, trying to figure it out to find a solution…my 5 year old daughter thinks nothing of picking up anything, anywhere to pretend it is a camera, cell phone, etc…. My 9 month old is fascinated by the many buttons and knobs of the stereo, tv, wireless phones….fill in the blanks Today’s kids are exposed to a whole WORLD of things that most of us were not….

    The same kids who bring cell phones to school, work on their facebook pages when they should be researching, IMing when they should be studying, and creating YouTube videos when they should be sleeping, you forget SLEEPING when we are TEACHING…not because the teachers are boring, or the content is not completely valid, but the delivery is SO different from the world in which they are accustomed to living and they are continuing to see the world through the lenses with which THEY are accustomed.

    I agree… we are entering exciting times, but selfishly..as a parent, I need to ensure that they will be ready to enter this uncertain world as adults…I know I need to keep barking…

  2. Jeff,

    First of all let me applaud you for not being afraid to challenge your vision and mission for educaton so deeply. As you summed up in your final paragraph, it is what our kids are doing today that will determine what people might be doing along that same street 20-30 years from now.

  3. Jeff,

    I too have wondered at times if this is the right thing … and have come to your same conclusions. One thing you didn’t mention that is very important, is the fact that you are alone, not the only one who is focusing on the kids and what they really need to be successful in their future. There are bunches of us all over the world – many of whom sat together at the Bloggers Cafe in Atlanta. Because of that, we are practicing what we’re preaching – networking, making connections, collaborating, contributing and setting the stage for the next generation.

    Keep up the good thinking!

  4. Jeff, I’ve only just started to follow you (from twitter) and want to echo what the previous two commentors said- Glad to see you’re focusing on the students. My daughter, 3, has already ichatted with her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. She loves it. She may never know school with 30lb textbooks (at least I hope not). Some teachers in my district clamor for teaching for the 21st cen. while many others hold fast to their podiums and decade old lecture notes. Keep pushing.

  5. Thanks. I needed that reminder. I need to keep asking myself how can I make sure that I am preparing this generation and the next to be successful in life with the educational inroads I am influencing. Note to self–Do not focus on me, my comfort level, or those around me. Change is messy and always premature. Cognitive dissonance is a good thing. Keep pushing, keep questioning, keep growing.If I blow it– brush myself off and try something/someone else. Listen more than I speak. Give kids voice. They often have the answer if I will just hush and let them talk.

    Thanks Jeff. I am so glad you are in my life and are helping to shape my ideas.

  6. Jeff,

    Please keep preaching it! It is (almost) too late for my kids. My second daughter just graduated from HS and my son will be a senior. My school district “placates” me by listening to my tempered “rants” but I wanted things to be different with my kids’ education. (I even homeschooled them for two years when they were in middle school).

    It is all about the kids, it’s always been about the kids!

    This past year, I had a conversation with one of my daughter’s teachers about what I believed was a particularly inflexible, punitive decision on his part. (Gave my daughter zeroes on several assignments that were passed in late is the short story.) I asked him his educational rationale for this type of decision, he couldn’t give me one. Next question – “So, WHY did you go into teaching?” Well, that ended the conversation.

    I am one of those nightmare parents but to me you have to justify pedagogy and believe what you are doing in class has educational merit, not just believe it but model it.

    We are influencing future generations and need to constantly analyze, evaluate, scrutinize everything that happens in our classrooms.

    One day this fall, be a student for a day. Sit at the desks and see what they see. Eat in the cafeteria with your students. Find out what they do outside of school. Engage them!

  7. Jeff, It’s always healthy to question our passions. It keeps us honest AND it keeps us moving in the right direction. We in educational technology are definitely doing the right things. Seven years ago, when I worked for IBM, I used workrooms to collaborate (similar to wikis). We communicated via instant messaging, and online conferences. We learned primarily online. Granted, IBM is a tech company. But, those ways of working are not going away. They are becoming more predominant in non-technical fields, as well. As you said, you are not preparing the average man or woman on the street today…you are preparing the future. And, if we’re not careful, the rest of the world will pass us by. Twenty years from now, there may still be people who are not comfortable navigating technology or communicating via social networks. HOWEVER, will they be the successful ones? We shouldn’t be preparing our students for more mediocrity. We should be preparing them for the top.

  8. Hi Jeff,
    I’ve presented on blogs and wikis and other things at a couple of conferences recently down here in Australia with two quite different experiences. These divergent experiences left me to question where the audiences for all this discussion really lie. In once case, a local state based information teachers conference, both mine and each of the other Web 2.0 based sessions were packed out. In case two, an international conference for science teachers with over 1200 participants the same session, (one of only 4 on the theme), attracted only 15 participants. I blogged about it at the time and still wonder why the extreme difference in numbers.

    Just when I was seriously questioning all the effort I also noticed this entry on one of my grade 4 student’s blog and know why …..

    “I am doing this (blog) for school but it is so fun I just want to keep going on it and never stop. ”
    BTW I just had to approve 10 comments including a couple from her parents at Sarah’s blog at http://maysarbps.globalstudent.org.au/ and hers is only one of 100 similar spaces from our senior unit students.

    Karen, Kristin and the rest are right, it’s all about the kids.

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  10. Hi Jeff,

    I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of months now, and this is my first posting. Great job you’re doing. When I began reading your post, it struck a chord with me. I’ve been working in educational technologies for a few years now and have worked tirelessly promoting their benefits. And my suggestions have fallen mostly on deaf ears. Most people at my school don’t comprehend the power behind these new tools. They’ve never used them personally. I think they see them as distractions from learning.

    So I know exactly where you sit, and I completely identify with you in this blog. Thank you for posting what a lot of us have probably thought. I think your friend had it right. This is all about the children. They are the ones who are embracing all of this technology like it’s nothing. And they are the ones for whom we need to keep up the fight. One teacher at a time, we will make headway. And each one of these teachers will have a profound influence on scores and scores of young minds.

    Thanks again for the motivational boost!

    Brisbane, Australia

  11. Jeff – first of all, thank you for this post. It is good to put things in perspective. I was sharing with my 22 year old about what I learned at NECC07 – blogging, twitter, video game development, etc. He said, “Mom, you can’t get ahead of me!” He is so amazing with what he knows and has done with his technology – it seemed strange to him that someone my age would be speaking the lingo! He, however, is one of the first generations of digital natives.

    I was talking to a middle school teacher at another school today and he told me he was at a conference and told someone “I need my kids.” They misunderstood him and thought he needed his own children there. He meant that he needed his students there with him. He said “I’m merely a facilitator these days. I need my students to help me out here!”

    We still have the most important role in the whole world – even though it sometimes feels like we”re fighting an uphill battle with those that don’t understand. We are preparing the young people for tomorrow. It DOES matter what we do!

  12. Hi Jeff,
    You have voiced what many of us around the world feel from time to time – is what I do making a difference to the lives of my pupils. We have to question what we do and rationalise that perhaps it won’t be apparent for around 5-10 years whether it has made a difference. We just need to listen though now to the enthusiasm in our kids voices and responses to any project involving new tech, to see that it hits the right buttons with them, that surely gives us hope that new ways of thinking will change the way they view the world in the future 🙂

  13. I have had similar questions hiking through Nepal or meeting fishermen at the beaches here in Thailand or in Bali or wherever.

    The internet STILL does not exist for many of them…in fact for a large part of the human population (consider India outside of Bangalore or most of China or Africa minus the Nigerian email scammers). For those without, all of our talk of “web 2.0” and “curricular change” is meaningless.

    But then I remind myself, like you that the future shapers of the world…the ones who will determine whether nations get along, whether global issues are solved and whether the internet is used for “good” or “evil” are the students in our classes. They are the ones for whom we spend our time and energy trying to do right by. It is for them that we push for shift to happen.

    (this all sounds so familiar to me…I thought I had posted my thoughts on this before, but could not find it…must have been a comment I left somewhere…)

    And then maybe they can improve the lives (internet or not) for those without.

  14. コールズ マシュー Reply

    Mr. U.

    Hey, I had to come back to this thread after contributing to your last(ducks in a row).

    I just finished reading a book on the history of aviation. It reminded me of you and the technological locomotive. It was interesting because as people learned about and implemented aircraft innovations they never went backwards. Once they achieved a milestone it was set and there was no turning back. The inevitable progress was made over hundreds of years but once the first kite was flown, rocket fired, zeppelin launched, piston cranked, propeller turned, jet sparked, we could never go back.

    Its silly and basic, but it is the same with your journey with computers. Have we broken the sound barrier of the computer revolution yet?

    Good luck Yeager!

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