This is part of an ongoing series of posts on my experience in becoming a Google Education Certified Innovator. You can view the other portions As Well.
I already shared that the people involved in the Google Innovator process are the most important piece, as is the case in all educational initiatives. That said, the process is also a key component. Google has refined and improved their efforts over time to make it as impactful for educators as possible, even changing the name of the entire initiative. What was once the Google Teacher Academy has become the Google for Education Certified Innovator Program. That last word is important. It is no longer just about a few days of learning and creating with like-minded educators, but it has become an ongoing connection to a community of creators. So, due to these evolutions, my experience with the process is likely to be different from those who were part of it in the past or those who may participate in the future…but it does still give you a lens into how the magic happens. This part will cover the process of my application and the following post will cover the process once I was accepted.
Beginning with Google Edu
So the pathway to becoming a Google Innovator is not an easy one nor is it guaranteed. That though is true of most worthwhile things in life. It is about learning and refining as you incorporate other EdTech tools into your repertoire while you continue to use everything at your disposal to improve the instruction of your students. It begins with learning and mastering Google tools through their online or in-person training. In NYC the training is part of a partnership program the city has with several EdTech vendors who provide training and certification. Outside of the city schools tend to connect to a certified trainer. You should begin by working towards becoming a Google Level 1 and Level 2 Certified Educator and then a Certified Trainer who can guide other teachers. That can give you the necessary insight into how educational systems need to shift and how you can begin to formulate a plan of innovation.
I will share that the initial part of that journey for me did not bode well. Several years ago I attended a Google level 1 training at the Google offices in New York City. The venue was nice and Google was a gracious host, but the presentation was horrid. First, they had a couple of teachers share their experiences in ways that were not universally relatable. There was one gentleman wearing a Google Glass (long after it was fashionable to do so if ever it was). He, after only having taught at an elite private school, expected everyone to have had the same experience as him. He told a room full of teachers with Mac and Windows laptops that if they didn’t a Chromebook, they were lesser. How does he know what our needs or the needs of our students are? That’s some arrogance. It was ridiculous and left a bad taste in my mouth. To her credit, a Google employee, Iris, iterated that what he said wasn’t Google’s policy and they were actually device agnostic, but the damage had been done as was apparent from teachers’ reactions.
After that, we were expected to go off on our own time and take the Google online training course. Most didn’t. I waited about a month as I was in no rush based on my experience, but I was familiar with Google tools personally so I began to explore. As I began to work through the information online I saw a number of great ways students could use Google tools to express themselves and enhance their voices. I also discovered great resources like Crash Course for information. I quickly finished level 1 and level 2 and passed both exams. I set about getting a domain for my school and set up our GAFE admin system. I began training teachers in its use, though I wouldn’t become a certified trainer for a few years (more procrastination and not seeing the need then). The opportunities to collaborate and connect with coworkers and students were clear though and I was committed to improving our school’s instruction with Google’s offerings.
The Application Process
Eventually, after training over 100 teachers in Google tools and setting up access in several schools, I was confident enough to try and apply for an Innovator cohort. The problem was I had to find one that would be possible with my school schedule and was in English. I submitted to one in 2017 where they asked about my vision and wanted me to create a slide deck to exhibit that vision. There were also weird Googley questions like ‘what would the movie of my life be called. Those types of questions were the hardest for me to answer. I thought my submission was pretty good, but there were mitigating factors. I hadn’t officially become a Google Education Trainer yet, didn’t have anyone look it over, and had a fairly meager online presence at the time. Those may not have played a role in their decision to reject my application, but they certainly didn’t help. I guess, like when I wanted to become a teacher, I’d have to try again.
So last April I saw another opportunity to apply. The requirements were slightly different. No vision deck was necessary beforehand. I guess they wanted us to hold off on formulating solutions that we may later have to discard. So I put together a new submission and actually created multiple responses to many of the questions. My ideas were a bit more refined, but I vacillated too much over probably unimportant questions. I spent way too much time creating a ridiculously long list for what my life’s theme song would be along with 10 things I would put in a box for teachers to transform education. For the record, the song was Mechanical Heart and I even used the box itself as an item. So I had multiple coworkers look through and see what responses they thought were best. I also was able to use this blog as an example of my efforts to reach out to teachers. Based on their input I then edited together a submission video that I thought was pretty clever. I submitted it well in advance of the deadline and waited.
The biggest tips I can give anyone else are these:
- Take the time to present your best self. Be honest and genuine, but be confident in the work you do and present it as being as meaningful as it feels to you on the good days.
- Be true to your passion. If your thing is games, class movies, nature walks, or pineapple chart PDs then embrace it and share why you think it’s awesome. It will shine through.
- Be specific. A generic idea like make the school better and more fun with fewer tests is a nice idea but it’s too generic. Be very specific about a specific population of students or teachers that you want to help. Think of a detailed problem you think you could help fix in education or specifically in your school.
- Look for help. Connect to your PLN to refine your ideas, but look for the many helpful guides online also (like this one).
- Follow the rules. If there are maximum time limits for videos and maximum word counts for responses then don’t go over. And definitely, be prepared to submit it early because you should expect tech glitches as the deadline approaches. Breaking these will mean immediate disqualification.
So about 12 days after the applications were due (quick turnaround!), I received an email with a message of congratulations on being accepted into the LAX18 cohort of Google Innovators. I admit I didn’t read the full email before clicking the acceptance box, but, hey, I was excited. I would work out the details later.