Inside the Google Innovator Academy-Days 2 & 3
It’s been close to two months since I returned from the Google Innovator Academy in Mountain View and published my first post about my Day 1 experience. I’ve been busy preparing for the second annual TEDxYouth@BHS event, however I wanted to highlight the rest of my time at Google and share what resonated with me the most about days 2 and 3.
After my team, coached by the impeccable Kevin Brookhauser, won the lightbulb competition, we heard from Googler Gina Rosales. Gina gave us an inside look at Google X, the division of the company responsible for what Google calls “moonshot ideas.” This involves identifying huge problems, finding radical solutions (think science fiction-type stuff here), and developing breakthrough technology (check out Chris Urmson’s TED talk on how Google’s self-driving car sees the road). We learned that Google doesn’t just take existing tools to solve problems, rather they work to develop ideas and technology that will fundamentally change the way people work and live. Ideas and technology that may take 5 to 10 years to be developed, and this is only after most moonshot ideas are “killed.” There are Googler’s whose job it is to poke holes in moonshot ideas and force employees to go back and revise, revise, revise until a viable idea is presented. Next, there are countless prototypes and extensive testing before a product or technology sees the light of day. See the various prototypes of Google Glass as proof! To learn more about Google X, the types of problems they are working to solve, and the “Peter and Petra Pans” who work at Google X, visit wesolveforx.com.
After Gina’s presentation, we heard from EdTech Team CEO Mark Wagner. Mark aligned Google X’s moonshot ideas to education. He started with the purpose of the Innovator Academy and why we were there:
1. To transform our schools
2. Advocate for 21st century learning throughout other schools and districts
3. To continuously grow and learn as professionals
Mark explained that moonshot thinking in education, similar to Google X, involves identifying meaningful problems, discovering innovative solutions, and employing appropriate technology to solve those problems. It involves asking ourselves what we are doing differently to reach the kids of the 21st century, especially the ones who are walking through our doors who’ve already been exposed to virtual reality?! And time is not on our side. The one constant in this world is change and this change is happening at a rate many of us are not comfortable with, prepared for, or in denial of, but it’s our responsibility as educators to prepare students for our rapidly changing world; to help them develop the skills they will need to succeed in the workplace of the future. To prepare them for jobs that don’t exist.
Next we heard from Google Certified Teacher and Founder of EQ Schools Roni Habib. Roni shared a simple, yet profound philosophy. It’s not money or status that lead to happiness in life. He revealed, and this wasn’t much of a surprise, that RELATIONSHIPS are the number one factor to being and finding happiness. Knowing this, Google works hard to ensure their employees are happy. If you’ve ever visited one of the Google offices, you fully understand why those Googlers are so darn happy! Roni’s assertion was that teachers should do the same for their students. I loved hearing this message and I couldn’t agree more with the philosophy.
It’s one thing to teach content, however kids need teachers who genuinely care about their happiness and well being; teachers who want to establish meaningful relationships. Think about the kind of relationship you want with your boss? These relationships become increasingly important if your students are coming from a difficult home life. For some children in this country, their teachers become like a second parent. If your students are coming to your classroom day after day and they’re miserable, find out why and do something about it, especially if you discover YOU are the cause of their misery! Connect with your students. Get to know them. Ask them questions. Have fun with them!! Get to the point where you can tell what their mood is when they walk through the door, just from the expression on their face, and get to the point where you can ask, “is everything ok?” Sometimes they will open up and tell you, sometimes they won’t. However knowing you care about them means a lot, whether they admit or not.
Develop a classroom environment your students want to be in, not a place they dread. A simple litmus test…are your students walking through your door with a smile? Are you walking into your classroom with a smile? I know this sounds somewhat touchy-feely, but for teachers and students, it matters. Happiness begets happiness. It’s contagious. Finding happiness in your profession as an educator, having passion for what you do, and believing your work is meaningful will be noticed by your students and colleagues. Working to ensure your students are happy can make the 180 days you spend together life changing for you and for them. If that’s not your goal, to change lives for the better, I don’t know why you would choose to enter the teaching profession. I’m glad Google spent time with us on talking about happiness! It’s often overlooked in business and in life in general, yet being happy is important both personally and professionally.
The next two sessions, which were like meeting true education celebrities, featured visits from Jonathan Rochelle and Dan Russell. If you happen to be reading this and you’re not an educator (I realize the odds of that are slim to none) Jonathan is the co-founder of Google Docs and a key developer of Google Classroom. He’s also an entrepreneur, innovator, and is doing some crazy work with 3D printing! Jonathan has created some of the most ground-breaking Google applications which have been true global game-changers in the education space. In addition to talking to us about the origins of Google Drive, Docs, and Classroom, he spoke to us about Google Cardboard and explained this technology, which brings students and teachers on virtual field trips, came from a hack by Classroom engineers.
Dan Russell is a writer, analyst, and researcher at Google and his work centers around understanding “what makes Google users tick.” He is the creator of two MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) dedicated to becoming a power searcher using Google. These are courses every teacher should take and consider having their students take as well, especially if you expect your students to use Google for research (who doesn’t?). The courses focus on skills students and teachers need to become effective searchers. Dan’s presentation, “Technology In An Innovative World,” was incredibly thought-provoking. He emphasized that we, meaning everyone in society, are already behind in terms of being able to keep up with the rapid pace of information and technology tools. In other words, we need to assume that we will be learning for our entire lives.
Dan pointed out the mistake our culture makes when thinking, “I can just Google that, I don’t really need to know it.” If that is true for your students, then you aren’t asking them the right questions. Dan explained that while Google is fundamentally changing how we need to teach, Google can’t contextualize information and link information together, although the company knows this and is constantly finding ways to innovate. Because change is constant and will continue to be constant, we need to teach students (and teachers for that matter) how to ask the right questions and use the right tools, often in unanticipated ways, to answer those questions. He used an example from one of his own classes. He shows his students an image of an office building and asks them to find the address and main phone number of the building based solely off the image. His search-savvy students are, of course, able to do this with no problem.
Dan also discussed the need to teach students how to discern credible information from the vast amount of bogus information that appears online. According to Dan, “finding incredible information online needs incredible support.” He showed us some pretty slick looking spoof sites that many students would deem legitimate. On the other hand, he revealed that many students can easily and quickly find the answers to complex problems. The example he used was hacking (for a lack of a better term) plagiarism detection sites. Do a simple search of “text spinning plagiarism” and see for yourself how easy it is for students to have text rewritten for them. Eye opening, and pretty scary to say the least! To learn more about the incredible work of Dan visit his website.
Meeting and hearing from both Jonathan and Dan was truly an honor and was by far the highlight of Day 2 at the Innovator Academy. My inner geek was on cloud nine!
There were two sessions during day 3 that impacted me the most:
- Overcoming Fear
- People Development at Google
Although the sessions were to some degree “Google focused” there were many parallels to education, or at least there were in my overly analytical mind! The first one was about overcoming fear. Presented by Danieta Morgan, this session talked about how fear is something that can break you, it can hold you back, and ultimately prevent you from reaching your full potential. Danieta talked about some common fears; fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of success, and the big one for many people…fear of public speaking. She encouraged us not to let our fears hold us back, rather to embrace them and develop a “fear management strategy.” We explored body language, high power versus low power body posturing, and how this can impact our level of fear or conversely, our confidence. I appreciated this session because it left me thinking a lot about my own fears, both personally and professionally, and what I can do to effectively manage them.
The next session, presented by Googler Erica Fox, was about People Development at Google. Erica shared the way Google finds, grows, and keeps their employees and the company’s mission to be the best place to learn (not work, LEARN). She explained how Google helps their employees realize their full potential through fostering and investing in a culture of learning and that Googlers must be able to learn on their own (sound like a familiar goal?). She continued by saying learning at Google is a process, it’s not a workshop or event. Learning at Google happens in real life, through facing daily challenges, and it’s highly personal. Learning at Google is also social. Googlers interact with and teach each other, essentially it’s Googler to Googler learning (again, sound like something you want to do in your classroom?). Employees at Google have and use their voices and to “grow Googlers” the focus is on developing time management, negotiation, presentation, and job specific skills. Google is also committed to building leaders. As an aspiring educational leader, I loved hearing about Google’s leadership philosophy.
Leadership at Google is an activity, not a title. Leadership exists at all levels in the organization. Leadership development occurs in small groups and one on one coaching. It’s highly personalized and employees are grouped by need, not title. Erica also talked about the management at Google. Their quest is to ensure every Googler has an awesome manager and those managers function as coaches who care about the wellbeing of their employees. Google managers can be evaluated every six months and their goal is to transform the organization through building an effective team. What is Google’s idea of a great team? Similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, effective teams have:
Structure and clarity
This session had so many parallels to what 21st century schools should strive to be and for me, more so than many of the technology focused sessions, underscored the types of working environments and employer expectations we should be preparing our students to enter.
Days 2 and 3, similar to Day 1, were fast-paced and overwhelming, but in the best way possible. There were many more sessions throughout the days that I haven’t mentioned in this post and all of them were inspiring. The few I decided to mention have stuck with me the most over the past two months and they are the ones I wanted to share through this post. If you have read this far, thank you. I hope you have found my reflections meaningful.
If you are thinking of applying for the Innovator Academy, go for it. If you are accepted, it will be a life changing professional experience and will challenge you to continue to grow, advocate, and transform teaching, learning, and assessment both in and outside of your school district. While it was certainly fun, being a part of the Innovator Academy is also a lot of work and doesn’t stop after three days. In fact, the Academy is #onlythebeginning.
I would like to thank my Principal, Mark Sullivan, Assistant Superintendent Patrick Larkin, and Superintendent Dr. Eric Conti for supporting my attendance at the Google Innovator Academy and giving me the opportunity to engage in this incredible professional development opportunity.
Work has begun on my Innovation Project and I am excited to share updates on my progress in future posts. Thanks again for reading!