For the Love of Learning: An Interview with Cheryl Steighner

At Camelot Elementary in Federal Way, Washington, a classroom of third graders are crowded around a laptop talking excitedly about their school day with a group of their peers in Oklahoma. Their teacher, Cheryl Steighner, coordinates these virtual meetings via Skype so that her students can get a sense of how digital tools enable collaboration across state lines, and just how easy it is to connect with others anywhere in the world.

Cheryl takes advantages of these technologies, and many others, to compliment her innovative teaching style. She has been known to design QR code-enabled poster boards for the Culture Fair — a K-12 version of NPR’s Storycorps — and produce a TED-style forum for elementary students. In her blog, Classroom Quests, Cheryl reflects on every adventure, sharing her experiences of what it's like to explore unchartered edtech territory along with helpful resources for teachers that wish to do the same.

It's no wonder, then, that she was the first NMCer to win the Henderson Prize, which was awarded to her, along with $2,500, at the 2013 NMC Summer Conference in Hilton Head, South Carolina. It was here that Cheryl took the stage during the K-12 Ambassador Forum to articulate potential solutions to the most wicked challenges in education. She admits her talk was inspired by "one of the most stress inducing activities you can do with school children" — making origami. Folded paper Yodas to be exact.

Since then, Cheryl has been busier than ever, which is why we jumped at the chance to catch up with her on the latest happenings in her classroom. In this interview, we delved deeper into Cheryl's philosophy of teaching and learning, which has earned her recognition by both the NMC and her school district.

And here are some gems that weren't captured in the video:

What have you done, if anything, with the prize money?
It's sitting safe and sound, but that's only because I really want to make sure I'm investing in something I really believe in, and I want to make sure that whatever the money goes to benefits the most people possible. Whether that be other teachers, by creating a website for them, or trying to talk to as many kids as I can and work collaboratively with kids on a website. I have lots of ideas rolling around in my head and not a lot of time to implement them. But I want to make sure that whatever I do with the money, it benefits the most people possible.

What is your advice for educators that are struggling to transform teaching and learning in their classroom?
My advice for someone who might be struggling to make the transformation towards a more technologically savvy classroom would be to start really small. Pick one thing that you want to change and find the people who will help you make that change. Find a support system, whether that is through Twitter, or your coaches at school, or your colleagues, or even students who you can use as experts. Find one little thing you want to change, and that usually sparks other changes. Just start small, and find the people who can help you.

What's the most important thing people should learn as children?
When it all comes down to it, above everything else, I think kids need to learn how to become resilient, and they need to learn how to persevere in solving their problems, whether it is an academic problem or social problem. I think that when we teach our kids to be resilient, they become better critical thinkers. They can think outside the box, and when we teach them to solve their and persevere through problem solving, they become better collaborators and better communicators with their peers.

In her prize-winning presentation, Cheryl articulated “Fear of Failure” as a wicked challenge in K-12 education, and underlined the importance of giving learners the confidence to fail, which enlightens them, and keeps them eager to learn. If you have yet to see Cheryl's TED-style presentation, take ten minutes and treat yourself to an inspiring story:

The Henderson Prize was established in honor of the NMC longest serving board member, Don Henderson, to recognize those who have displayed exemplary ongoing passion for teaching, learning, and innovation. Cheryl was selected among the six K-12 Ambassadors who were invited to present their wicked challenges, and to take advantage of an opportunity to generate new discussions, and to be recognized among their peers. Cheryl is on a mission to encourage young people to think like innovators, and her use of technology is one of ways she does that.

This year you'll be able to catch up with Cheryl and other innovative K-12 educators during the NMC K-12 Ambassador Showcase at the 2014 NMC Summer Conference in Portland, Oregon. In this session, expect to hear teachers' personal stories of what the path to change looks and feels like, along with predictions of where it is going. This kind of storytelling is the heart of NMC’s annual meeting, and it is one that keeps NMCers eager to meet and continue a tradition of learning from each other’s experiments, victories, and failures.

Thumbnail CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 by Andrew Zirm

> Learn more about the Henderson Prize
> Learn more about the 2014 NMC Summer Conference

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