Girl, Make It Happen. It is the empowering message of posts like these that have me time and again scanning the Facebook wall of Ms. Tiffany Thomas, an Ed Tech Consultant that I met last year through my work with Louisiana schools. I took interest in Tiffany’s story when, after meeting her face-to-face in her office in Baton Rouge, I friended her on the popular social tool and watched her run longer and longer races and lose more and more weight. I was impressed. But even more striking than the weight loss was the way Miss Tiffany celebrated herself and her every day triumphs in her messages to followers. That confident come-on-out-here-and-join-me smile was there for running, cycling, and wall climbing, and her “be stronger than your excuses” pep talks encouraged me to do a little bit more myself even though I was 600 miles away. For some reason I couldn’t explain, when Tiffany celebrated her success, I was encouraged to celebrate my own.
In a recent article in The New York Times, Susan Dynarski (@dynarski) levels strong criticism against high schools who use online learning for credit recovery or for alternative options for students who are struggling in face-to-face classes. (Online Courses Are Harming the Students Who Need the Most Help) To some extent, I know that her criticism is justified. I remember the sick feeling I had in my stomach a number of years ago when the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Hamilton County Schools
I believe in online learning. I first started working with virtual school students as the coordinator of a middle school summer remediation program in Hamilton County, Tennessee, in 2006. I remember that hours of phone calls with parents that first summer all started out one way – “Is the computer on?” From there we talked about browser plug-ins and enabling pop-ups, and I marvel now that so many of them persisted. In 2006, there were no iPhones or iPads, people still rented movies and games from Blockbuster, and Instagram was four years from launch. Dropbox and iCloud didn’t even exist. Yet persist these learners and families did, and online learning has grown into the mainstream of learning for students at every age level. Why?
I am often asked, “Why did you decide to start your own business?” After all, at the time I was the head of the Hamilton County Virtual School, the online program of the fourth largest district in Tennessee. I had ten years in and was making a good salary. I was even offered a $20,000 raise and a promotion if I would stay with the district. So why jump off the entrepreneurial cliff?