Google Teacher Academy in Mountain View (#gtamtv) is in the books. I returned from California three days ago, and I’m still buzzing about the experience. There was such a build-up for GTA, and now it’s over – but not really. Because in a way I still feel like I’m there. It wasn’t meant to be two days and POOF it’s gone, but the relationships, inspirations, action plans and lessons learned are ongoing. Like the stockpile of awesome beverages in the many Google micro-kitchens, GTA will keep refilling my educational philosophies, connections and practice throughout the upcoming school year and surely beyond that as well. I love making lists on my blog (thanks for the idea, Buzzfeed!), so here’s the top five things I learned at GTA:
1. People are awesome. Without getting too Lego-moviey about the experience, everything WAS awesome about GTA…nothing more so than the people. Seriously, EVERY person I met was innovative, like-minded, forward-thinking, a great collaborator, and HUMBLE. GTA really knows how to pick them – with all of the collective knowledge in the room, it was amazing how not one person was braggy or intellectually unapproachable (we’ve all met the type). Heck, even the GCTs facilitating the event were called “Lead Learners” (which is an awesome term that I’m totally bringing back to my school). I felt honored and blessed to be amongst such cool people, and Google certainly made us all feel important. I made so many amazing connections at GTA, and through our Google+ page, Google Educator Group page and action plan collaborations, I know these connections will continue.
2. Raise the bar. When I facilitate professional development workshops, I pride myself on learners doing and exploring as opposed to me being the sage on the stage. But after living GTA, I realized there’s some things I can do differently – like for starters, raising the bar. Okay, all sixty-five of the participants in GTA clearly have Google and general EdTech experience, so you’d think it’d be easier to just throw us into the fire during breakout sessions and activities. Perhaps true – but not necessarily. Not once were we given “step-by-step” instructions on a tool or a procedure – we were instead given short intros, objectives, and challenges. The timer would be set, and we’d have maybe ten minutes to create something using Google Maps Engine. The Lead Learners expected us to dive-in, work together, and create – and if it wasn’t that good, that’s okay. It was our first try. And seriously, if I wanted a step-by-step for something I can find a YouTube video or directional sheet online in like 20 seconds. But that doesn’t inspire, does it? Ask yourself this: are you more likely to want to explore something further on your own after completing an engaging, short challenge or being given a more in-depth, procedural-based presentation? Because exploring further on your own and empowering yourself is the only way you’ll improve as an educator – so which would you choose? For me, I choose raising the bar and employing more engaging, “quickfire” types of challenges in my future professional development offerings.
3. Working with a team is the only way. Everything at GTA was team-based. Every. Single. Thing. And not in some hokey, “Okay, everyone – now we are moving to the team-based and partner activities portion of the program! YAY!” We’ve all been there, right? It feels so forced and awkward. But at GTA, it was sink or swim. You couldn’t NOT work with a team – the way activities were organized, you had a limited amount of time and had to collaborate, divvy up the work, and help your teammates to succeed. Participants were CONSTANTLY teaching each other new things (I’ll say again, the new tricks learned were participant->participant, not presenter->participant) – this is the way a classroom should be. The students can learn more from each other than the instructor in the front of the room, and the activities at GTA modeled this very principle every step of the way.
4. Friendly competitiveness is SWEET. I’m a competitive person by nature. I hate playing games I know I have no chance of winning at…call me a sore loser, but whatever. At GTA, many of the activities were structured around team-based competitions. We did an Amazing Race using Google tools, an Iron Chef challenge with Google Slides, Moonshot Thinking problem-solving – and most things were timed and sometimes we were competing (in a way) against other learners. And that’s okay – the Lead Learners made it fun, and it didn’t really feel like a competition. But like the ESPN principle of adding a timer to it’s sports talk shows, if you add a timer to activities (just simply Google set timer for 7 minutes, for example) it can really get the adrenaline going and give your actions more purpose. Oh, one more thing, and I alluded to this before – it’s okay to suck at something the first time. You WILL get better – and that’s the point. And it’s easier to accept not being great while working with great teammates and Lead Leaders, of which there was an abundance.
5. The hype is real! I can’t end this without mentioning the Google campus. Yes, everything you’ve heard is true. Modern facilities, micro-kitchens, state-of-the-art conference rooms, ping pong tables, pool tables, loungy sofas, comfy collaboration centers, cafes, relaxing on outdoor mats…I didn’t want to leave. It was my vocational Mecca. I know the point of GTA wasn’t to showcase the campus, but boy oh boy, it was an undeniably inspiring secondary treat.