How an MIE Expert is bridging the gap between classroom and life

Pernille Ripp kneels next to a seated student to advise her.

Some kids grow up just knowing they’ll be teachers one day. For MIE Expert and Skype Master Teacher Pernille Ripp, that wasn’t quite the case. She never expected to become a teacher, let alone the established global collaborator she is today. After dropping out of college at 18 for lack of inspiration, she was 22 before re-enrolling with that direction in mind.

Pernille recalls: “It wasn’t until I met the man, who is now my husband, said, ‘Well, what are you going to do with your life?’ that I realized that the one thing I had always told my mother I never wanted to do – because she was a teacher – was the only thing that I did want to do.”

Now, nine years into her career as a middle school English teacher in Wisconsin, she admits it’s not just that watershed moment she owes to her husband. On one particularly hard teaching day, he gave her the piece of advice she says still guides her today.

You can’t change the kids, but you can change the way you teach.”

From that point on, Pernille has been building a classroom experience that her “middle-school-self would want to be part of,” she says. Her most notable addition has been a focus on global collaboration, using Skype to create a more meaningful, more relevant experience for all of her students.

“All of a sudden we started to realize that whenever we were having these conversations about science, or social studies, or literature, we could start to connect with other human beings and bring them into our work and really change the process of work that we were doing.”

Pernille uses Skype in her classroom often. An old favorite is to connect her 7th grade students to 1st or 2nd graders for personalized writing tasks, but most recently she used Skype to give her classes a glimpse into the human side of the refugee crisis.

“A Canadian Iraqi refugee agreed to Skype with my kids,” Pernille says. “It was so powerful for them because all of a sudden it wasn’t just ‘those refugees’ that are going through ‘those things, someplace else.’ It was speaking to someone who had lived it. That’s why I love Skype so much and that’s why I’m a Skype Master Teacher and a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert – those two are very much tied in – because they offer me the chance to bring people into my classroom that I could never find in my own community. It also offers me a chance to bring my students out into the world.”

Pernille is so passionate about changing the way students learn today and into the future that she’s written three books on the topic, the most recent focused on re-imagining literacy through a lens of global collaboration.

“I think we have to start looking at the way we’re presenting curriculum and learning opportunities, and wondering how it can be changed by the outside world,” she says. “Who can we bring in? Who can we speak to? How can our students have an outside-of-the-classroom experience through the curriculum?

“We live in an incredibly exciting time where we have access to so much out there that can help better our instruction, and so I think that we, as teachers, have to embrace fearlessness.”

You can join and follow the connected teacher conversation, with other inspirational MIE Experts and innovators like Pernille, on the Microsoft Education Twitter page.

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