Home Adaptive Learning Interview with Education Technology Thought Leader Terry Heick of TeachThought

Interview with Education Technology Thought Leader Terry Heick of TeachThought


Teacher, visionary, innovator, dreamer – Terry Heick shares the vision behind TeachThought and explores ideas that will push education forward.

Terry Heick is the founder of Teachthought.com and a self-described “education dreamer”. Since leaving the teaching profession to focus on evolving the TeachThought website and brand, Heick has balanced efforts between “utopic opining” (as he so elegantly phrases it) through blog posts and other creative efforts, and maturing some of his many ideas into practical services and tools that educators can use to make a difference in their classrooms. Terry took some time to talk with EmergingEdTech about the evolution of fresh education ideas, many of which can be facilitated through technology tools and services.

TeachThought logo Terry Heick

1. Hello Terry, and thank you for taking the time to participate in this digital dialogue. TeachThought is a great resource for those interested in the ever changing relationship between technology and teaching and learning. Would you mind sharing a little about what led you to walk away from the classroom, which I imagine was difficult for a passionate teaching enthusiast like yourself, to found TeachThought?

I am honored to speak with you.

I started getting the sneaking suspicion that teaching may not be the best fit for me when my district adopted a scripted curriculum for my content area (English-Language Arts), and I was the only teacher that seemed bother by it. I knew I was a bit “off.”

For me, it neutered everything I thought teaching was–artfully connecting students and standards through personalized and self-directed learning. So I made the difficult decision to leave that district for a position in a neighboring district, where it was even worse. I could sense administrators struggling to get everyone “on the same page,” and even some confusion about what that entailed and required. Rather than the “rigor” and “alignment” and “common and viable curriculum” that was being sought, instead what was happening–at least from my perspective–was an increasingly homogenized learning experience for students. It sucked.

There was a strong desire to get teachers A, B, and C doing the same thing on the same day in a very similar way, with (what I perceived was) little attention paid to instructional design, critical thinking, curriculum framing, transfer, curiosity, questioning, personalized learning, changing notions of literacy, the role of technology in the classroom, the relationship between schools and communities, and what it really meant to be “student-centered.”

At this point I had only taught for a couple of years, so I railed against “the system.” Asked a lot of questions. Challenged trends and directions. This earned me a reputation as not a “team player,” which hurt. At that point, I could tell it was probably time to do something else.

2. On the site’s About Page, you have a wonderful list of things you think about in sculpting what you do on TeachThought, such as “the role of play in learning”, “clarifying digital literacy”, and so on. Another concept listed there is, “marrying mobile learning and place-based education (especially through mentoring)”. This sounds like blended learning with an added emphasis on mentoring. Can you expand on this a bit?

The idea here is that learning is changing, even if education as a system lags behind. People are mobile. When they need information, access networks, solve problems—so much of this is mobile. It’s not a huge leap to think that education should be too.

Place-based education is just the idea that understanding is necessitated in affectionate local communities to solve authentic, personal problems. To separate the learning from the place is separate the human from the need—and from their own affections.

Mobile, place-based education makes a lot of sense. The problem isn't with that as a learning model, but trying to figure out how to “make school” within this kind of model. They don’t jive.

3. I notice that TeachThought has a number of specific topics listed across the top of the site’s Home Page – “Learning”, “Trends”, “Common Core”, “Technology”, “Mobile Learning”, and so on. I’m curious to know, what drives which topics you choose to display there?

It’s a combination of what educators seem interested in with what I’m interested in—the overlap. Ultimately I try to explore ideas that will push education forward. Illuminate something that’s currently dark. Otherwise, what’s the point? Clicks? I share a lot of stuff that I know won’t be very popular. Just trying to make light. Crowds scare me anyway.

4. Another reference from your site’s About Page site is the “design of learning models, curricula, apps, and other progressive learning tools to experiment with what works …”. What might be some examples of some progressive learning tools that TeachThought has proposed?

We’ve got some frameworks on mobile learning and digital literacy. We’ve done a self-directed learning model, and a model for an “Inside-Out School.” Characteristics of high-performing classrooms. A whole lot more. I need to put all of them on a single page. Had quite a few readers lately ask for that.

We’ve got a lot more in store here as well. Those are actually my favorite things to do.

5. In our conversation, you mentioned the development of basic frameworks for some of your visions for education. Would you care to share an example or such frameworks and how they have evolved thus far?

The Inside-Out School is one example. I’ve talked to a small handful of schools interested in developing a full-on educational model around it. I get a lot of questions from educators designing schools of their own, or even putting together PDs, etc.

The Self-Directed Learning Model is another. It’s very much still a draft, but the idea is that should be the kernel for a way of learning, not just a graphic. Whether that’s a “school,” or is adapted some other way, that’s up to all the teachers out there that are smarter than I am.

6. The ever expanding array of technology tools at our disposal these days can be rather overwhelming to educators. In your work on TeachThought, do you see any specific instructional uses of technology that are emerging as being the most potentially impactful in terms of improving learning outcomes over the next few years?

There is a lot of abstraction here that’s pretty cool—accessing the entire digital universe with a smartphone, for example. That’s amazing.

But in terms of specific, outcomes-based, formally-assessed academic outcomes, adaptive learning algorithms really stand out to me. When somebody figures that riddle out—how to really use it to personalize the learning of every student in an infinite number of directions—if that doesn’t make a dent in the bar graph of your local data team meeting, I’m not sure what will.

7. If you had a couple recommendations you could make to teachers everywhere regarding the integration of technology and education, what would they be?

Think of it as a learning tool, not a teaching tool.

Become fascinated with how learning can improve the lives of your students, not the technology.

Technology is adaptable—force your will on it. Make it do what you want—or let it have its way and adapt your curriculum around it. But don’t limp along with mediocre edtech integration.

8. Are there other technologies that you see as particularly exciting for academic application on the horizon?

Wearable technology is the first thing that springs to mind. Bendable, wearable, adaptable, mobile technology.

9. You make reference to the influence of “a wide variety of thinkers, from Wendell Berry to Edward Wilson, David Hume to Henry David Thoreau, Jean Paul Sarte to Jeremy Bentham” and others. Are there a few seminal works you would refer readers to in order to inspire their thinking about the integration of education and technology?

Yeah. That part seems starchy, but it’s really true. I am diligent about sourcing my thinking about learning from a wide variety of influences. When I first started teaching, I was all about Wiggins, Marzano, Tomlinson, Kylene Beers, Harvey Silver, Richard Strong, the Dufours, etc. Then I realized that education is way, way more complicated than teaching and learning. I still love them, but it’s bigger. I try to juggle a lot of different perspectives.

Learning isn’t a pedagogy and assessment thing, it’s a human and habits thing. All learning should result in personal and social change. If not, why are we here? To answer questions better?

As far as reading, I’d recommend every teacher start with Wendell Berry and work backwards from there. He’s about as macro as it gets.

10. You have written, “we are a brand that participates in every level of teaching and learning, from the dreaming to the practice”. So what does the future hold for TeachThought?

For now, our focus is on supporting educators–starting with teachers, and those in charge of developing the next-generation components of learning. The marriage of learning, culture, and technology. We’ve got some cool things planned for the next 18 months educators should appreciate. Or I hope they will.

At some point, I’d definitely like to start some kind of “school”–but then again I’m troubled by that word and its connotations, so. Yeah. We’ll see how that works out.

I’m kind of scatter-brained. I need someone with a left brain to help me run one. I keep asking people to do it for me and just let me teach. So far, no luck.

Thanks again to Terry Heick for taking the time to share some of his inspiring ideas with EmergingEdTech readers. Be sure to stop by and check out TeachThought.com today!

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
Ed Tech Thought Leader Interview: Innovative CIO Phil Komarny (Part 1 of 2)
New Research Validates Effectiveness of Adaptive Learning
8 Exciting Technology-Enhanced Teaching and Learning Approaches That Teachers are Embracing in 2014


  1. Well, I must say the astonishing world of education technology is sprouting so fast, it’s frequently hard to continue with all the latest trends and products that are being adopted by schools and educators.


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