Last week I had the enviable privilege of spending a week in Hong Kong at the Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Teachers’ Forum. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity, really. And not just because I won – but because it was a great experience to mix with innovative teachers from all over the world, sharing ideas and experiences.
Each country is able to send a teacher (or in a few cases more than one teacher). In all, there were teachers from 62 countries, as well as judges, Microsoft officials and journalists.
I was really encouraged that, even though it is a Microsoft event, they were not promoting Microsoft products but best practice in teaching and learning – irrespective of the software or hardware being used. The evidence of their sincerity in this stated focus, is that I won – even though i was unapologetic in my use of Apple products as well as Microsoft ones.
When I was first told that I would have to explain what I do, and be judged, using a poster (before going to Hanoi) I thought it was very strange indeed. Looking back on the experience however, I think it makes a lot of sense. For one thing, having to describe my pedagogy, strategies, tools and results in poster format, really made me think about what was fundamental to my philosophy and methodology. A lot of the tools I use are cool but I couldn’t use the coolness of them to impress the judges! Instead I had to be able to clearly explain what I am doing, and more importantly, why, without using any whiz-bang.
In Hong Kong it was similar. Each teacher was given a small booth in which to display a poster. But this time I was also able to use my laptop to demonstrate answers to questions by judges.
On the first day of judging, we presented for 2 hours (although it turned into longer than that), while other teachers, judges, journalists and others moved around listening to our presentations. Among those visitors were the three judges that were assigned to judge my work.
At the start of the second day, the semifinalists were announced at the start of the day (I was pleased to be among them) and then it all started again. The semifinalists had another few hours of presenting to passers-by. This time there were 9 judges assigned to each semifinalist (but you did not really know who they were).
At the end of the second day, we were treated to a 14 course dinner at the Jumbo Restaurant – a huge floating ball-room on the bay. Here the winners were announced. There are three categories. Collaboration, Community, and Content. I was in the Community category (as my project is about creating online learning communities).
When they announced that I was the winner, I have to say it was such an exciting moment, and a very humbling one, actually – as every one of the teachers at the forum was doing something very impressive. Any one of them could easily have won, and I’d not have thought it inappropriate. Nevertheless, amid chants of “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!” from the Microsoft Australia contingent, I found myself being called up to the stage as the first place winner, which was a moment I don’t think I will ever forget.
But as exciting as it was, I think coming home to find, and being surprised to find my students, colleagues and family gathered on the front lawn of the school to welcome me home was even more meaningful – and actually, a highlight of my career – because an award (nice as it is) is just an award. But the esteem of family, colleagues, and students is much more meaningful.