Wednesday / May 29

3 Questions to Ask When Teaching and Leading the Last Backpack Generation

The term “tech geek” seems to be more and more fashionable these days as people in educational technology celebrate that they are finally becoming part of the “cool crowd” because they can use devices, apps, etc. in ways that make the rest of us gasp. Unfortunately, the majority of us educators were not tech geeks and as I work with teachers around the globe it becomes clear that much of the resistance to using technology comes from fear. However, it is becoming apparent that you cannot be a great educator without incorporating technology into the classroom as it is: 1) a 21st Century skill, 2) a way to make learning more accessible for ALL learners including those with disabilities and English Language Learners, and 3) a way to make learning more personal, engaging, and student-driven.

Here are three questions educators need to ask themselves if they resist using technology:

1) Are we teaching with abandon?

Rob Marshall, a producer and director, once said that he loves dancers who “dance with abandon” because they jump as high as possible, leap as far as possible, and get so lost in the moment that they do not worry about falling.  We need more teachers and more districts that celebrate teachers who teach with abandon—teachers who have the foolish courage to try new things, who engage students as co-teachers, who bounce up after they fall and carry themselves with greatness anyway. Utilizing technology in the classroom means knowing there are going to be bumps and bruises along the way. Are we allowing ourselves to teach with abandon so our students can learn with that same recklessness?

2)  Are we allowing genius in the classroom?

Genius does not fit on a rubric. There is genius in every classroom but oftentimes teachers and leaders are fearful of allowing it to appear. We educators have a strong need to control our classrooms and learning. Part of the problem with that amount of control is that learning becomes limited to what we think is possible. We all have different “funds of knowledge”—are schools and teachers allowing students to tap into their own funds of knowledge? What can we teachers learn in the process? Thomas Caruthers once said “A teacher is one who makes themselves progressively unnecessary.” Are we letting go of control enough so that students can find their own way to learning and, in some cases, the genius within themselves?

3) Whose Mrs. Owens will you be?

Mrs. Owens was my third-grade teacher. I do not remember many of my other teachers’ names, but I remember Mrs. Owens because every day that my feet stepped in her classroom my mind said, “Oh boy, here we go!” I remember her because she expected big things from us, she expected to be respected, and she always tried new things. We all have teachers who shaped our lives and, often, we cannot tell our story without including one or two teachers along the way. In twenty years, whose story will you be in and why? Will you be the teacher who taught with abandon and tried new things? Will you be a teacher who allowed genius by giving up some control and allowing students to lead the learning? Or will you be forgotten?

This is the last generation of students who will carry backpacks to school. The small size and immense capabilities of mobile devices are already revolutionizing learning both inside and outside of the classrooms where teachers are committed to greatness. Are we being the best educators we can be if we do not embrace the fact that our teaching has to change? It is not about the technology, it is about the teaching. Even if not all of us grew up as “tech geeks”, we are all teachers. It is our responsibility to be the best teachers we can be. We must get a little Crazy in the Classroom!

Written by

Zachary Walker is the founder of Last Backpack Generation and is currently a faculty member at the National Institute of Education in Singapore. He was one of five recipients of the 2012 Think College Emerging Scholar Award for his research on the use of technology to prepare students for post-secondary environments. His current research focuses on the impact of mobile technology on both students and teachers and practical strategies for teachers at all levels.

He is the co-author of Teaching the Last Backpack Generation. Visit his website:

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