It’s a Mobile Natives World, I Just Teach In It

Today I woke up to a text message from my sister that said “Classrooms of the Future on Today Show! Textbooks to Tablets!” I replied with “Awesome! But it should really be called ‘Classrooms of Today’!” and she replied with an affirming “Yes!” She lives on a farm in Iowa. Her husband, my brother in law, works for John Deer and is using technology everyday to help farmers in his area create “smart farms” with mobile technology. It’s amazing. Google it. We do completely different work but are able to vibe out on topics related to mobile technology because he gets it, and so does she. Not only that. They are parents to 3 children under the age of 5 that are mobile natives, meaning they were born in the age of mobile technology. Ben is going to start kindergarten next year and he can teach himself how to do things on a Kindle Fire that it would take my Dad weeks to learn. (Sorry, Dad…but you know it’s true!) They learn differently because they were born into a different world. This issue matters. Society (teachers and Today Show watchers alike) need to understand that mobile technology and the issue of how to best support mobile natives in the classroom matters. A lot. 

Understanding the issues we are facing in education is critical to our society’s progress, but they tend to be so complex that they are difficult to pinpoint and address. More and more it seems like everyone has an opinion about what is wrong with our education system but much less to say about how to effectively (and realistically) fix it.  Regardless of the multitudes of expectations and  complex circumstances educators are dealing with we are all being challenged with the task of helping shape and prepare students to thrive in an ever-changing, globally connected world. Furthermore, our young learners are developing a moral code and a learning style that are different from pre-internet and pre- mobile technology learners. Most teachers (and people born before the late ’80s) are struggling to connect with these developments and how they are not going to, but rather are already, deeply effecting the way we teach, learn, and live.

Research speculates that 65% of the careers our students will have do not even exist yet. This phenomenon is one of the truest challenges the field of education has ever had to face.  Furthermore, the role of teacher is morphing quickly because, for the first time in human history, our youth can have access to unlimited information, resources, and connections. This access could help them transcend virtually any circumstance, but only if we, as educators, work together to provide this access and to create the space our students need to become lifelong learners capable of adapting. And it will only work if we are open enough to see the real needs of a modern learner and the true expectations and capabilities of the modern educator.

This brings me to what I believe is one of the most critical trends—the one that must be addressed and accepted across the board to create real support and solution for learners of today: partnerships. As teachers, we are no longer the primary source of information. Even harder to swallow for many educators, a textbook is no longer the principal source of the information necessary to learn, adapt, and succeed.

Teachers are resources. Textbooks are resources. But nothing can compete with the global bank of knowledge and connectivity that the Internet provides. Knowledge learned can be immediately explored, adapted, shared, and re-created. Our students already do this—they already learn this way. They are digital natives, born and raised. But when they come to learn in our classrooms, we pretend that they are not. We ask them to perform an impossible task: we ask them to be someone else.

They are builders. They are content creators. They are native synthesizers. And they are bored. To fix this boredom, this disconnect, the only option for us is to become partners with them. We must partner to explore real goals, ethical behavior, self-assessment, and productive communication. We must partner with them so that they can learn to create, to tinker, and to find their own voices. We must allow them to use their tools to create solutions to problems of their world. We must work against homogenization so that they can walk confidently into their next phase of life. Right now, they are leaving timid and unsure of their compatibility with our world. I teach high school. I see it everyday. I hope I won’t be writing this same blog when my nephew is starting high school.

If we walk with them to learn in their way, then they will not feel alone as they walk away from us. If we work with them to create empathetic connections to all humans, then they will never feel disconnected from our world or even from a world that does not exist yet. We must embed our content into the problems we are solving in the classroom. We must use our common core strands to guide projects and to inspire in-depth usage of that core to solve problems of the world, not fill in bubbles. We must activate passions and we must side-step who we formerly were. We might even take a step back. Yes, a step back is what we need; to truly partner, we must consider ourselves learners too. When we all begin to truly utilize the partnership approach in every school and in every classroom, we will see the change needed to support our students at the most critical level and all of us will be much better off because of it.

The Plight and Possibility of Romantic Attachments

In this article Sugata Mitra argues that “We have a romantic attachment to skills from the past.” I personally have a romantic attachment to skills from the future but I am aware that the majority of people I’m surrounded by, especially when I think of myself in a school, are far more attached to skills from the past. 


What is it?

Why are we holding on to a system and a skill set that no longer benefit our people or society?

We praise the most innovative and free thinking of our world yet continue to teach in the exact same way and think we are magically going to mass produce innovators, problem solvers and people that deeply care and connect to their work and their world. It isn’t going happen that way.

What if we detached from those skills of the past and attached to creating and supporting skills of the future? 

If you’re thinking that might make sense then hopefully you’ve already realized that we are going to have to change some things. Maybe even a lot of things. Drastically. 

We have to change the way we teach and learn. We have to start by changing the way we define teaching and learning all together so that people can be free to teach, learn, and live in a new way that is congruent to our world today – not our world from 100 years ago. 

I challenge you to do two things today: 

1. Read this article and then share it with someone else. The possibilities of connecting and learning with and from each other in the world we live in are infinite and also critical to creating a new way of thinking and learning. 

2. After you have read, questioned, thought deeply, and shared ask yourself: What is the true purpose of education?  How can we do a better job of creating and living that true purpose? 

Get in a passionate argument with someone about your answers. 

Write them down.

Draw them.

Share them.  

Then work every single day to make them happen.  

I promise you’ll be better for it, and so will the world. 



 “We don’t need to improve schools. We need to reinvent them for our times, our requirements and our future. We don’t need efficient clerks to fuel an administrative machine that is no longer needed. Machines will do that for us. We need people who can think divergently, across outdated “disciplines”, connecting ideas across the entire mass of humanity. We need people who can think like children.” – Sugata Mitra 


Please watch this video. 

Then apply whatever you’re most passionate about to the message in the video.

Then make that happen.

Create it.

Don’t stop until it happens.

Because if you do that…

then maybe in our lifetime, everyone will actually mean everyone.

Maybe finding the answer starts with looking somewhere new.

Or asking another question.

Or starting a conversation with someone you’ve never met.

Because everyone really could mean everyone. 

And you could be a part of making that hope a reality.

So, go.


Create your own loon.

Be the loon.

You really can do it.

I’ll be over here trying too if you need to talk.



People to People

I got a text from a student last summer [gasp, yes I said a text from a student!] informing me that she had just received a packet from “People to People” to visit Europe next summer and she really wanted to go. She then asked if I would help her raise the money to do so because “she just had to go!” Of course, I replied with a “Yes! That sounds awesome! Can’t wait to hear more!” I would be lying if I wasn’t a little worried that it would be a long shot to raise the funds needed to get her there. The trip cost close to 9,000 dollars and for most people in our community that figure just isn’t conceivable to spend on an educational European tour. Cynthia on the other hand never gave up. She made a decision. She never allowed her circumstances to deter her from her dream. She committed to that dream and as I type this blog she is wandering through the streets of Pompeii and tweeting pictures of her visit to our class hashtag, #SandersTHS, as she does it.

How did she do it?

She got connected. She reached out to her community and they reached back. She worked really hard. She got creative. She never gave up on herself or her people. She came through for herself and in return, her community did the same. From selling homemade tamales, to orchestrating a dunking booth fundraiser where her peers got to dunk their principals, to getting interviewed by She kept on going and we kept on supporting her because that is what people do for their people. Without those personal connections she created with her school and community it wouldn’t have been possible, but because of those connections it became possible.

Today I received a tweet from Cynthia asking if I had been seeing her pictures and telling me she was having the time of her life and learning so much. I replied with, “Of course! Haven’t you been seeing my Instagram likes and retweets!” Cynthia, and her peers, are from the iCitizen generation. They are connected through far more than just face to face connections. They are local, global and digital citizens connected in every single way; every single day. The fact that Cynthia is as connected to her mobile device as she is to her physical community is not a bad thing; in fact it makes her connections to the world and people in it even more powerful. If we hadn’t created 21st century citizen Twitter accounts and a class hashtag this school year Cynthia wouldn’t be able to share her trip with us. However, because she is digitally connected all those people that donated money, hours, and support to her trip can enjoy it with her and she can stay connected to all the people and places she meets along the way.

Our youth are both/and citizens, not either or. They live in and are going to run a world that is connected locally, globally and yes…digitally. It is our job as educators, parents, and adults to support them in becoming people that are connected to other people in all three of these communities. Being locally connected, while critical, is simply no longer enough. They are already connected to the world through their devices and if we don’t support them in becoming the most prepared citizens in all of their communities they will do it without us.

So, while the choice is yours whether or not you choose to support our youth in becoming the best possible people they can be in all of their worlds, them being connected locally, globally and digitally is not.  The purpose for being connected to others hasn’t changed, it’s just that the way we do things is growing, changing, and adapting to the world we live in today. It will always be about people connecting to other people.



One More Step

Thomas Edison once said that “if we did all the things we were capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” He failed 1,000 times before he was successful at creating the electric light bulb. When asked about how he felt about all those failures he responded that he didn’t see them as failures but rather as 1,000 steps; a journey that had to be taken before his invention could reach it’s full potential. Perhaps it is easier to see life this way, as something of infinite possibilities, once you’ve been so accomplished? I’m confident however, that if I were having a conversation with Mr. Edison right now he would emphasize the power of the journey rather than the destination that made him see things the way he did. He found meaning in the voyage, not just in the end result.

When we choose to keep going, choose to take 1 or 1,000 more steps we begin to realize our true potential and that our capabilities in fact may be limitless. Perhaps if we did this more often we would literally astound ourselves. After all, look what a perspective like that does; it lights up the whole sky.


When My Time Comes

I met one of my favorite bands this weekend. By met, I mean I got to sit on the floor of a studio tucked away in the heart of Birmingham and listen to 5 acoustic versions of their newest  songs. I tried hard not to cry, cough or sneeze as they performed for fear of ruining it for someone else…or worse have the attention shine on me in that small quiet room where I was not the main event, nor did I want to be. I had to readjust my attention to the band more than once because I found myself worrying about the guy in front of me who didn’t have enough space and my friends who were sitting so close they might as well have been a part of the band. Luckily, I was able to divert my attention back to the performers long enough to really enjoy the show because I knew the opportunity was unique, rare to happen again, and if I cried or coughed at least I wasn’t the guy in front of me who couldn’t get seated comfortably.

Flash forward to today.

As I sat in a forum with some of my dearest and most trusted colleagues reflecting upon the previous school year and planning for the next I couldn’t help but remember my own classroom and how similar the learning experience of my students might be to how I felt during that small intimate concert I’d just attended. They too sit in a small room that barely fits everyone. But while I was only packed in that tiny studio for 25 minutes for 1 day they are in these small rooms for 7 hours a day, roughly 186 days a year. Similar still, each individual has his/her own personal issues, emotions, wants and needs that are affecting their functioning in the classroom, as well as, the very dynamics of the room itself. Likewise still, the majority of them have been raised in an education system that has told them time and again that sit and get is the way to go. Keep your mouth shut, watch the teacher’s every move, listen with intent, fill in the bubbles, and you too can one day have a mind numbing middle class job and be paying off your student loans for the rest of your life to raise children that will fall into the same routine. Now, ain’t that America?

No, it is not.

It’s also not my school or my classroom. See, every person in that forum today was there because they know we can do better; to be clear they all know and are trying with every part of themselves to do a lot better. Not just as a school system…but as an educational system. The very dynamics of that private concert and the status quo classroom are the beginnings of everything that is wrong with how we operate. They set the stage for conformity, imbalance, and a world where people wait for someone to beat the drum rather than marching to the beat of their own, or throwing the drum out the window and playing the guitar simply because that is what feels right to them.

While the private concert session was beautiful and I am extremely grateful for the experience, I can’t imagine doing that 185 more times for 6 and 1/2 more hours each time. I could have listened to the musicians forever but I cannot image how much more I would have been moved if the people around me had been singing along. Or humming. Or swaying their shoulders to the rhythmic tones. Or doing whatever would have made the guy stuck in the middle a little less aware that he was not one size fits all. He didn’t want to stand out, or affect the rest of the crowd so his experience was stifled because he most likely wasn’t taught or given the space to do so just like so many of our students that fall through the cracks of a standardized system.

But the story isn’t over.

See, everything we discussed in our forum was centered around creating and supporting the best possible learning environment for our students next school year and not a single person we read or who spoke argued that a teacher-centered, desks in a row, give me standardized tests or give me death method was the way to go. Instead, we discussed the partnership approach, how to created a culture where everyone feels safe to learn and lead. We studied the critical components of trust, individualized support, and active listening. We discussed the hows and whys of a safe holding space for every individual to grow, learn, and become their best self. We were allowed to cry, get up when we needed, express ourselves in different ways, and sing along when we knew the words our colleague was singing were our own truth too and they were too good to only be said by one.

So, while I got to shake the hands of one of my favorite bands, look them in the eye and say thank you after the session; being able to sing every single word of “when my time comes” at the top of my lungs with my friends in a room filled with thousands of people I’d never know meant way more. I only hope my students will be able to say the same of my classroom versus one that expects them to sit, get, clock in, clock out and repeat. The story of my school and the education system as a whole in America is far from over. From one music loving educator I urge you to keep on keeping on. We are more than few. We are more than mighty. And our time is most certainly coming.