One Skype call can open hearts

Women around the world are taking to the streets on International Women’s Day to urge faster progress on gender parity in economic opportunity, education and other important issues. The theme this year, #PressforProgress, is perfectly tuned to the challenges society faces. Read more on the Official Microsoft Blog.

The following story comes from Susanna Jilka, a STEM-focused educator from Austria who uses Skype to invite the world into her lessons. 

In a Christmas-time Skype call with another remote classroom, one of my students offered up some food for thought – literally. Spurred by an ongoing discussion of typical foods, my student suddenly jumped up, showed off a batch of Christmas cookies and promptly ate them on camera, telling his friends from far away (in tempting detail) what they tasted like. It feels great being able to experience such moments of borders disappearing and children talking to children – wherever they might come from. And it certainly helps that just about anyone would pay attention once cookies are mentioned.

As a STEM-focused teacher of Mathematics, Biology, and Physics at Praxismittelschule der PH Wien, in Vienna, Austria, I love to invite the world into my lessons. We incorporate virtual field trips in our lessons, do a lot of Mystery Skype sessions, and work with schools from around the world. You can also follow us through our blog.

I believe in the power of Skype because of its possibility to open hearts and open minds. The act of teaching must venture outside the classroom and must open the minds of young learner to the world around them. For all students, working together and collaborating with each other will be one of their major skills for their lives to come.

I see students learning English now, so they can better talk to students from other countries. Even students, who are shy during English lessons, love to speak via Skype. Sometimes they have the opportunity to inspire other students to learn English. Have you ever seen students trying to tell jokes in different languages?

Skype has changed things, even in my own family. My son is learning English now. He is seven years old, but when he saw me doing a Skype call he wanted to Skype with other kids, too. Now he always tries to say hello when I`m doing a Skype call from home.

From my perspective, Skype calls and playing Mystery Skype has really changed things a lot. I have the possibility to travel to many different classrooms and, as a teacher, I am learning not only about different cultures and how different classrooms look, but about different approaches to teaching. Reflecting on your own teaching and way of educating students is a powerful experience. The love and the dedication toward teaching students is almost contagious when you talk to other educators.

Since I’m working with teachers-in-training, I love giving them insight on how educators are working in different countries. It opens their minds and changes their professional approach, too! It’s great seeing them blown away when they talk about all the competencies their students use during a single Skype call. Skype opens the mind to what is really needed to prepare teachers in this new, globally connected world.

And sometimes you can watch change happen right next to you: At Skype-a-Thon, my class had a 10-year-old girl with parents from India. She had so much trouble with sharing in class up until that point. She was often silent, not speaking, not laughing at all. So, I connected with a colleague, Amita, in India and Amita spoke Hindi to my little student in class. Ever since that moment, which lasted just 15 minutes, my student spoke fluently. Now she is confident, and she sees her difference as a gift.

One Skype call opened her heart in 15 minutes. That is the power of Skype.

Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, we have to change our habits. I became a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and joined the Microsoft Educator Community two years ago. Finding a group of sharing and caring educators from around the world has changed my life as a teacher and as a person.

Today, we are working together and encourage each other and cheer for each other. My visit to Education Exchange at Toronto was life changing. Meeting my Skype-friends in person gave us a lot to talk about, and let us work on projects and share even more. Together, we’re creating and working on global projects in order to change the world for the better. You’ll find links to our ongoing projects below if you want to join in.

Skype can make a difference in the classroom, just as much as it can with friends and family. Don’t underestimate where it can influence our lives for the better. I experienced it!