Like all educators, I am a strong believer in lifelong learning.  Over the years, travel and experience have become my greatest teachers.  

What I learned on the small, volcanic island called Jeju Island while teaching in South Korea changed my entire view of education.  I began to understand what the future of education might look like, and I saw education evolving so students could get a rigorous education from the safety of their own home.  Little did I know when I started this journey that a pandemic would accelerate that process.

Homeschooling has been around for a long time, and because of many issues, including bullying and school shootings, it’s been on the rise over the past decade.  As I wrote in “The Last ‘F’ I’ll Ever Give,” student safety should ALWAYS be the number one priority for any teacher or school, and if a school can’t provide that, I do not believe parents should send them to that school.  

I never envisioned a scenario where politicians and policymakers would demand that school buildings re-open during a pandemic of a highly contagious, deadly disease.  However, seeing their track record on student safety, I am not the least bit surprised.  My grandfather used to say, “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”

So, if you are one of the many parents, teachers, or students reading this  and stressing over this very difficult decision, please know that there is a safe and affordable school option here at The Distance School.  A Google EDU school created by teachers, with the input of parents and students.  A school that uses the best available resources to personalize every learning experience.

Learning is all about a journey, and I wanted to share a bit of my journey, and to answer some of the questions I continually get, “How (and why?) did you start your own school?”  

PUBLIC AMERICAN SCHOOL → PRIVATE KOREAN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL

Having grown frustrated with the Florida education system, its perpetually lowering of academic and safety standards, I decided to leave the entire American public school system.  I understood a simple change of schools wasn’t going to change my goal, which was to make a larger impact on education as a whole.

In 2012, after 12 years of teaching in Northeast Florida, I left my entire world behind.  At the time, it was the most courageous thing I had ever done.  I have never been afraid to take chances in pursuit of excellence.  

In August of that year, I ended up at a young school in a growing community, an educational experiment called Global Education City on a small island off the peninsula of South Korea, Jeju Island — “The Hawaii of Korea.”

Sunrise Peak

Sunrise Peak, Jeju-do

Cheonjiyeonpokpo Falls

Cheonjiyeonpokpo Falls, Jeju-do

Korea International School Jeju had opened the prior year, and I had an amazing opportunity to be an integral part of building a school from the ground up.  My passion for teaching was only matched by my students’ passion for learning.  I found myself rejuvenated after a long 12 years teaching in Florida, many of which included a second occupation to pay the bills that my teacher salary could not.  For the first time in my career, I felt like I was at the start of something special, and that will do a lot to motivate anybody.

Within a year, I was promoted to Upper Elementary Team Leader. I was honored to win the Faculty Global Leader my first two years at KIS.  In 2014, after presenting at the “Just Learning Conference,” I was approached by a vendor who had seen my presentation on Nearpod, and she told me to apply for the 21CL International Teacher of the Year. I would become a finalist. 

BACK TO SCHOOL

KIS was a 1:1 Google EDU school, at a time when Google, Apple, and Microsoft were all competing for the education market share.  Google was far behind their competitors at this point, but they would dominate the education landscape over the course of the decade.   It was my first time ever using a google account, it was the first step I took into the world of virtual education.

I learned one thing very quickly at KIS.  Teaching in a 1:1 environment (every child was required to have a MacBook Pro) was very different from teaching at a Florida public school.  This was a very powerful tool, and I was not prepared to use it properly.  I needed to learn how to get the most out of the technology, because my students deserved my very best!

I went to my IT Coordinator, Ian Craig, who would become a mentor to me.  I asked him how I could really learn how to teach using this powerful tool.  He immediately shared with me a program he had recently taken, COETAIL, a program developed by international school teachers Jeff Utecht and Kim Cofino, to help re-educate teachers on how to use all the new technologies that were coming online.  It just happened that it was aligned with SUNY Buffalo, so in February of 2013, I began the work to earn my Masters Degree in MultiDisciplinary Studies.

DIGITAL NATIVES vs. DIGITAL IMMIGRANTS

In my first class of my masters program, I read about “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants.”  I had never heard these terms before, but quickly understood that I was a “Digital Immigrant.”  I grew up at a time before the internet, the last generation to attend school without the internet.  This generation of learners will hopefully never know a time without it, and they are considered “Digital Natives.”

In just one article, I saw my students in a brand new light.  The lessons I learned during the COETAIL program have transformed my educational philosophy.

I graduated from University of North Florida, with a degree in Elementary Education in 2000, and every methodology I learned, everything I thought I knew about education — and all every educator knew — became obsolete in 2005, when YouTube came online.  Two years later, people were walking around with a smart phone in their pocket.  The world, and education, was about to be radically reformed.  We were entering a new age, and it was exciting!

We all started to change the way we received and absorbed information.  It was the beginning of the digital age, and for the first time since the industrial revolution, there was going to be a seismic shift in education.  I chose to be on the forefront of it.

My main focus became learning how to leverage new technology to teach this new generation of students, and I had an amazing bunch of educators to learn from, and more importantly, incredible students who pushed me to be a better teacher.

NEARPOD MEETS GOOGLE CLASSROOM

While a part of the COETAIL program, we shared ideas and new technologies.  One new technology came from our Social Studies team leader, LeAnn Toler.  She showed us this new tech start-up, Nearpod, which was established the year prior in 2012.   

After using this technology in my classroom, I was hooked.  This interactive software tool allowed for students and teachers to share information in real time.  Every student was ENGAGED, and for the first time as an educator, I could ask a question, and review every student’s response. It transformed how I planned and how I assessed, but more importantly, it allowed every student to become active participants in their learning.

I was lucky enough to apply to become a Nearpod PioNear back in 2014, a group of innovative educators who help to test new technologies and share our feedback.    I’ve been able to see this company grow from start-up to the EdTech Digest Company of the Year in 2018.  Their commitment to excellence is second to none, and their content is simply amazing.

At the same time I was becoming a Nearpod PioNear, I was learning to become a Google Certified Educator.  Learning the power of the Google EDU platform was a great educational experience.  In May of 2014, months before it was released publically, I was one of the teachers to pilot Google Classroom with my students.  I saw how much potential Google Classroom had as a learning management system (LMS), and I understood all the possibilities that lie ahead of me.

I would graduate from SUNY Buffalo in 2015, and I never had to step foot on campus.  I asked myself, “If a digital immigrant could do this, why can’t a digital native?”

Little did I know back then, but my journey to develop The Distance School was rooted in my own lifelong learning experiences.

About the Author: Brian Tupper

Brian Tupper is the founder of The Distance School. He spent 18+ years in the classroom, teaching students from all social & economic backgrounds in the United States, South Korea, and Azerbaijan. He was a 2-time Faculty Global leader at Korea International School, Jeju and a 2014 21CL International Teacher of the Year Finalist. He helped Korea International School Jeju gain accredidation through WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) and Baku Oxford School gain accredidation through CIS (Council for International Schools). He’s also “da best” Uncle, according to his nieces.

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