Some public schools (by design) foster passive learners, discourage productivity, and fail to teach self-discipline. The culture of “school” works against what research shows to be in the best interest of next generation learners.

Even if the teacher is talented, the environment itself co-conspires against deep learning (for both the teacher and her learners) and application of what is learned in an authentic context. When we combine short instructional periods, classroom spaces that do not support dialogue or collaboration, overcrowded classrooms, inequalities between districts, high-stakes testing pressure and the disconnect many students feel today between what the real world offers and typical classroom culture — no wonder we are ALL frustrated with the system.

It has to change.

It is no longer acceptable to be on the fence about the digital transformation in education.  The need for change is not just being acclaimed by thought leaders on the stage at your favorite conference or edgy authors with provocative titles, it has in fact become legitimized by top departments of education around the world, our most respected professional associations and organizations and by policy makers globally. Everyone is chanting technology, technology, technology.


I used to spend a great deal of my time helping educators understand why we had to shift. its the year 2020 and we know the why.  You can ask almost anyone and they can tell you why. We see it on TV, in sitcoms, the news — everyday I hear someone in education using a sound bite that originated with those of us who were leading the first wave of adoption. It warms me inside. It is clear — we get it. Or do we?


We are becoming smarter and smarter about the how. Some have even begun to move into the standardization and credentialing of what how looks like in teaching and learning practices. There are plenty of books, countless workshops and conferences and hashtag chats galore.

But there isn’t enough sharing by those who are embedded in the work. There isn’t enough shared deep reflection, video, or examples of what the how looks like in action. But we can fix that, right?


So where is the rub? Why is this still so hard? Why do I feel like my epitaph will say, “Sheryl dragged educators into the 21st Century kicking and screaming as they went.”

Some say when money becomes available for devices.

Some say when teachers are given the support and training they need.

Some say time is the issue and when we change the schedule to allow more time for using devices in pedagogically sound ways then we will have arrived.

The when is always just around the corner. As I interview Future Ready superintendents across the nation and across the globe, I hear aspects of when in action within pockets of innovation. But I also hear the need for business as usual digital transformation system wide.

My Takesocrates

I have thought about this. A lot. And I think it boils down to what we believe about teaching, learning and children. I think there is a disconnect.

We haven’t connected the dots for leaders who crave alignment and that creates anxiety in our data driven decision making world.

We are not even using a common language when we talk about the constructs of future ready or next generation learning.

For example, when I say active learning (the way I started this post) you might visualize kids active on iPads creating and designing. You may see them using a variety of collaborative tools to connect and create artifacts that show mastery of objectives. Kids with microphones, laptops, earbuds, and screen after screen available with endless information displayed in entertaining ways. A definition of learning where devices are seen, discussed and celebrated.

Whereas what comes to mind for me is kids directing their own learning.

I see a child outside doing some experiment or observation in nature and applying it to some area of content they are exploring back in the bricks and mortar setting.

I see authentic, active, learning where technology serves as the medium on which to capture the color, sound, beauty and a-ha moments the students are experiencing.

I see kids connecting and building relationships with people who serve as mentors, provocateurs, and guides.

The technology helps them with connecting, creating and sharing data and becomes an electronic pencil that allows them to share and collect ideas with others around the world. But the devices are invisible in my definition of active learning. They are there much like our heating and cooling systems are there — seamless, invisible, needed, but certainly not the focus. Much like a dinner plate is needed to celebrate the breaking of bread together — but it is not the focus.

What Do We Need?

We need to share a common, collaborative vision of what it is we want in our schools and classrooms.

We need to speak the same language, a language we create together as we build collective intelligence.

Which means we need to make time to talk to each other, to do action research together, to share what we are learning with learner artifacts and deep reflection about what is working and what isn’t working.

We need to fail together and then overcome together.

We need to have conversations and form schema around learning in a digital age both within our school learning community and outside in networks and communities worldwide.

We need to build leadership density in our teachers and our students.

We need to own what we believe and then incorporate the transformation we seek into every area of school culture.

We need to be chanting: empowerment, collaboration, equity, agency, self actualization, and transcendence for kids and for us all within a system that serves as the birth place for every other profession. We need to be chanting these things instead of technology, technology, technology.

A Vision of Possibilities

possibilitiesWhat I want for kids in schools is not more devices and screen time or not even just digital transformation.

What I want is for them to have access to a rich buffet of beautiful objects of learning from which to choose.

I want them to have access to passionate teachers who want to be partners in the learning process with them. Teachers who are supported and nurtured in their own personalized learning adventures.

I want kids to have exciting learning experiences that open a world of possibility around their interests and in a way that helps transform the learning through deep schema building.

I want kids up, moving, active, building things, making things, reading things, talking about things and being continually inspired.

I want schools that will produce citizens who are informed, immersed, and motivated by love.


Some of you might be thinking sure, right, everyone wants the classroom utopia you describe, but it isn’t possible. Or is it?

My daughter shared this pic (below) and caption on Facebook. I was inspired and moved by the memory of her school experience. Those who know her will back me in saying she has become a very decent human being. While she is finding her way and certainly has youth on her side, she is smart, informed, outspoken, contributing to society, and motivated by love.

The kids I grew up with - Friendship Bridge Academy. My mom ran a school for homeschooled kids.  Their parents taught some stuff at home, and the rest of our education was like captured in this picture. One room schoolhouse-style, passion-driven, curiosity-based learning where we learned science, history, art, music, and movement by being in nature, acting, singing, dissecting roadkill, making art, playing games, and self-study. Here we are at one of our favorite nature walks, Grassy Pond. I'm in the back center behind the sign, with the bangs." ~ Amber

“The kids I grew up with – Friendship Bridge Academy. My mom ran a school for home-schooled kids.  Their parents taught some stuff at home, and the rest of our education was like captured in this picture. One room schoolhouse-style, passion-driven, curiosity-based learning where we learned science, history, art, music, and movement by being in nature, acting, singing, dissecting roadkill, making art, playing games, and self-study. Here we are at one of our favorite nature walks, Grassy Pond. I’m in the back center behind the sign, with the bangs.” ~ Amber

Possibilities: A call to action

Join me. Let’s dream about the possibilities together.

Let’s create a common language, a collaborative vision around what we want the digital transformation to include beyond machines and infrastructure.

Let’s brainstorm how to overcome the challenges of personalized learning together.

Let’s create professional learning opportunities that allow each of us to own the change we want to see in schools.

And if you are willing — let’s start that fire here in the comments.

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Sheryl is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Powerful Learning Practice. She works with schools and districts from around the world helping them to infuse technology into their curriculums and by leading other digital conversion efforts. Sheryl also consults with governments, educational organizations and non-profits in development of their various professional learning initiatives. Sheryl is a sought-after presenter at national and international events, speaking on topics related to digital and online learning, teacher and educational leadership, online community building, and other educational issues impacting children of poverty. Sheryl served on the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Board of Directors for six years. She co-authored The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age with Lani Ritter Hall. Sheryl has four children and four grandsons, Luke, Logan, Levi and Tanner and a trio of dachshunds. You can find out more on her blog and on Twitter @snbeach.

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