Google Innovator Academy – #COL16 Reflection
As I sit at the airport in Denver to fly back home, I still struggle to put into words my experience with The Google For Education Certified Innovator Academy. It was an amazing time of learning from fellow educators from around the world and trying to steal the awesome things they do in their classes that could improve my school (Ash Grove School District, MO).
Here are my 4 biggest takeaways:
1. Networking, Networking, Networking.
One of the most powerful tools that individuals (regardless of occupation) can harness is the ability to network with other people. Growing up, this was a tool that I never really was taught. Yet, over the last few years (especially this last year), I have begun to understand the power in accessing the intelligence and experiences of those around the world. While I had slowly started building my own “Personal-Professional Learning Network (PLN)” (Check out “What Connected Educators Does Differently” by Whitaker, Zoul, and Casas for great ideas on how to form a powerful PLN), it wasn’t till the EdTechTeam GAFE Summit in July of 2015 that it completely rocked my pedagogy.
So why list networking at the Google Innovator Academy as the top on my list? Simply, I met “personally” some amazing educators who are actively challenging themselves to provide the best teaching experiences for their students/staff/community, and sharing it with the world. There is something powerful about seeing someone in person that provides a deeper connection for sharing ideas and questions. The exciting part about meeting these people personally is that I not only have their personal experiences, ideas, questions but also of their own “PLN” they have developed over time. When I ask them a question, they don’t have to know the answer personally, but probability has it that they “know” someone (either virtually through social media or personally) who could be of help. The academy provided 36 fellow educators (who became classified as innovators through the academy) and various coaches/mentors/developers who can help me to impact my school and beyond.
2. “Your fears are smaller than you think but your dreams are so much bigger than you realize.” Sergio Villegas (Twitter: @coach_sv)
This powerful statement from one of the academy coaches, Sergio Villegas, articulated everything that teachers believe about their students. How many times as teachers do we tell a student, “Persevere, you are so close! I know that seems like a big obstacle, I promise you the reward is worth it! It looks like a mountain, I know, but if only you can fight through it!” What hit me though about this statement was the power this could give to the staff members that we work with directly (as in our school district) or through our PLN (Social Media, Conferences, etc.). For much of my career I have allowed self-doubt and fear to keep me from making pedagogical changes that would make a better experience for my students and their learning. Ultimately, fear is a powerful tool, but dreams can drive you to places your fear could never fathom.
3. “84% of your staff are not ready to embrace your ideas. How are you going to excite them?” Jennie Magiera (Twitter: @MsMagiera)
Have you ever been to summer/church camp where you were with like-minded people who share your passions? Then once you returned “home” to the “real world,” you found yourself depressed because not everyone shares the same passions? Academy Coach Jennie Magiera discussed the idea of how statistically 84% of your staff, students, district, do not operate the same as you. So how do you “get them on board”? Her solution was as basic as you can get, yet the hardest things to do. Meet the 84% where they are and encourage every “little step” or “new iteration” they do to improve their students’ learning. If you are in the 16%, it’s likely that you are ready to “jump on the boat” with new and exciting tech pedagogy. Everyone else would prefer to use what’s “safe” because they have developed “safety nets” for those older pedagogical practices. So consider few steps, according to Jennie, to help move the 84% forward: Print out paper material for them to use as resources, guides, how-to, etc.; meet with them personally to help them get over the struggles they (and all of us) encounter (as this will help them to develop new “safety nets”); administrators need to model in PD or other staff situations what they expect their teachers to do in their classroom. If you are in the 16% and fail to meet the other 84% where they are, you will fail to truly impact the school district.
4. “Compare yourself to yourself from yesterday… nothing else.” Molly Schroeder (Twitter: @followmolly)
As I prepared to attend the Google Innovator Academy in Boulder, I looked through the other 35 accepted innovators projects and digital footprint. Honestly… I felt as if I did not belong because of how awesome their ideas were, along with all the awesome things many of them were already doing (via their digital footprint). Then as we collaborated at the academy, they would ask insightful questions and articulate their amazing projects! Then Molly Schroeder (My coach from team “Awkward Smoothie”) reminded us that the comparative game only has one powerful tool: Are you better than you were the day before? Is your project one step (even if an inch) closer to improving student learning? If you can answer yes to those two questions, then you are rocking it! Ignore the progress of others, unless that progress can help you move forward. Some ideas inherently get completed faster, but that doesn’t make them better. Do not look at the educators around you as though they are miles ahead and that you could never attain their “awesomeness” because it’s true. What you have to realize is that you personally have an “awesomeness” that no could ever attain. Be you, and make yourself a better “you” everyday. How does one do that? Read. Connect with others. Challenge yourself. Experiment and fail… frequently… then re-iterate.
As my flight arrives here shortly, I must wrap up a 3 day event that was a once-in-a-lifetime event. How do I wrap an experience where I was able to collaborate in person with just over 40 incredible educators of all skills, meet with Google for Education product managers to discuss how to better improve their tools for the classroom, and develop a project that will hopefully make this a better world for us all? I can not with words. I can however use these experiences to positively impact my own students, share it with the world, and then thank the Lord above for another day to live and do it all again.