I read a column recently that was given to me by a teacher in my school district. It’s written by Kimberley Gilles, the 2014 NEA Teaching Excellence Award winner, and it’s one of the best things I’ve read in a long time. (You can find the column here on page 26.)

A little background

My school district just deployed 6,000 laptops to 4th, 7th, and 8th grade students. The laptops aren’t Google Chromebooks, and they don’t run Windows. Instead, they are imaged with ubermix 2.0, which is a free Linux-based operating system that was created for educators. Ubermix is based on Ubuntu, the world’s most popular Linux distribution. Using a free operating system brought the price of each laptop down tremendously, which made a 1:1 deployment feasible. The specifics of how we deployed the laptops are interesting, but what I find really fascinating is what Ubuntu means.


In Gilles’s column she explains that a teacher can avoid burnout by practicing a way to approach life: Ubuntu. Ubuntu is a Nguni Bantu word that means “human kindness” or “human-ness.” She quotes Archbishop Desmond Tutu, which helps illuminate this definition:

A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good… You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality–Ubuntu–you are known for your generosity.”

Ubuntu is a way of life–a world view or philosophy. A Wikipedia search will reveal various translations of the word, such as “human nature, humanness, humanity; virtue, goodness, kindness.” In some instances, Ubuntu is interpreted as a way of conceptualizing how people can rise and converge, creating a sense of humanity that’s not present when people act as self-interested individuals.

Archbishop Tutu elaborates upon this concept:

We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.

What we do affects our community. Every day is an opportunity to build people up or tear them down. This works on an individual and societal level. The organizations of which we’re a part can be strengthened or weakened upon our behavior. Cultivating Ubuntu encourages people to invest in the greater good.


Whenever a student or teacher turns on a 1:1 device in my school district, the word “Ubuntu” glows on the splash screen. This means, hundreds–if not thousands–of students see this word that means “human kindness” every day. Fortunately, what the students are a part of is more than just a name for a free operating system; they’re participating in a belief that given the right tools, all young people can create and learn at high levels. They can be assured that society wants to spend money in a way that allows them to literally be finger strokes away from all the knowledge the world has to offer on the internet. Blogs, Google Hangouts, Skype, and many other resources help students communicate and collaborate. In this way, our children will grow up in a world that values community, working together, and helping others.

These benefits are far reaching. Not only do students benefit from Ubuntu (the operating system and philosophy), but teachers do as well. Educators are forced to band together and learn from one another in this current climate of change. They also have to rely on students; I can’t tell you how many times students taught me about technology as I piloted 1:1 devices in my classroom last year. With all the new devices and software readily available, it’s impossible to know everything. As soon as one concept is mastered, a new one pops up, ready to be given notice. The j-curve is getting steeper, and the acceleration of technology is unprecedented.

We need each other more than ever. Society cannot fragment into stark individualism–there are too many people who need help. In fact, we all need help. Ubuntu is what can hold a group together and find common ground.

It can also help school districts overcome uncertainty and be bound in the worthy goal of teaching every single student.

2 thoughts on “Ubuntu

  1. I rarely read blogs but I am so glad I did today. What a nice reflection of what we should aspire to (Ubantu) and a reminder of the human community in which we live. Thank you for sharing.

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