Sunday, May 29, 2016

I'm a Google Innovator, You Just Don't Know Me Yet...

It's the first line of my application video for the 2016 Google Certified Innovator Academy and I believe every word of it.  That doesn't mean I always did.

Let's rewind.  Years ago, in my undergrad educational technology class, we were introduced to Google Docs.  After living much of my life tied to various types of drives--Mainly floppy (the ones that literally flopped, the 3.5" ones) and flash (which consistently failed me at 11PM the night before a major paper was due)--this concept made so much sense to me.  In our world of internet and connectivity, why shouldn't you be able to start writing something on one device and pick it up on another without having to deal with multiple versions and formatting issues?  Why shouldn't you be able to share something with someone else to work on it at the same time?!

Fast forward to January 2014, and my school decided to go 1:1 with Chromebooks, starting with my classroom and the rest of our math and science departments.  My love and appreciation for all things Google had continued through these years, in fact, my students had personal Gmail accounts so we were able to use Google Drive and its capabilities even though we weren't a GAFE school yet.  This was a big turning point in my teaching career.  After having signed up for the computer lab or laptop carts for EVERY class period for over a year, it was exactly what I and my students needed to increase our efficiency.  I'll admit I was very excited that the startup time of a Chromebook was 7 seconds, compared to the nearly 15 minutes it took to acquire and get logged in on our school laptops.

I've been accused of being over-reliant on technology in my teaching, mostly by those who don't understand the motive, method, and madness.   I have used my personal time to acquire knowledge and skills, often submitting presentation proposals so I was able to attend the conference for free.  I went into this knowing it is difficult for a district to justify sending a math teacher to so many tech conferences, and I'd made attending a career non-negotiable.  I'd go alone, not knowing a single person and have a blast being out of my comfort zone.  I've come to realize being out of my comfort zone may just be my comfort zone.  I quickly found my people, two kinds of them actually.  One group, they had these really cool Google badges.  They were confident and simply amazing at what they did.  I found there was a shared knowledge between myself and them.  Whatever it took, I was going to be one of them.

It was at one of these conferences, MOREnet 2014, that I found another group of people who would become the biggest support system I never knew I needed.  I found my #tlap crew (Teach Like a Pirate).  I've told the story several times and will continue to tell it as I move through my career.  After hearing Dave Burgess speak, buying the book, participating in a LIVE #tlap chat, and basically "drinking the Kool-aid" of the entire #tlap concept, I was inspired to focus on creating an environment I would want to learn in and that I was excited to teach in.  The power of this community was in being connected, weekly chats and inspiration 24/7.  It took care of the post-conference lull I would have after returning to my school with great ideas, but not one who really "got it."  The list of names of people in this group who inspire me daily is long and wonderful.  I would not be the educator I am today without this amazing community.

By melding this and technology together, I was able to tweak what learning looked like in my classroom.  I have also taken the same approach with how I teach and support other staff in my building with technology.  Whether it is for this reason or others, one thing I do know:  Students and teachers enjoy coming to learn in my class.

The best advice I got from Google Certified Teachers (now Innovators) at these conferences was to just these tools in my classroom.  That seemed easy enough.  So I went another year using Google apps in my classroom, then passed the Google Certified Educator Level 1 test quite easily.  Due to the rush of the school year, nearly a year passed of planning to take the Level 2 test.  I was going to wait until the summer once I realized there wasn't really enough time to get in on this round of Innovator applications anyway.  Luckily, some people in my PLN reminded me that inaction is telling myself "No."  My good friend, and Google Certifed Everything (Level 1, 2, Innovator, Trainer, Administrator) Nick Cusumano refused to let me make excuses.  He never treated me as anything less than a Google Certified Innovator, and I will never be able to thank him enough for seeing that in me.

It was with the busiest week ever (state testing) I arrived at my decision to go for it.  I spent at least ten hours each day going over and over the materials from the Google for Edu Training website and working with tools to make sure I was ready.  I holed myself up at home, put the dogs, who lay on my computer to get me to take a break, outside and took the Level 2 test.  With time to spare, I saw the words on the screen that let me know I passed.  I almost didn't believe it.

The next week was still busy.  Things I put off the week before still needed to be done, but I was as determined as ever to finish my Innovator application.  I was ok with the idea of not getting in, but I had to try.  The hardest part of that process wasn't answering questions or even the time restriction (down to the wire) I had put myself in, it was deciding which thing I am passionate about would become my Vision Project.  Originally, I had thought I would do one on better PD for my school, but the video I had in mind would likely have not been very highly regarded by my admins.  Including teachers saying lines such as "Couldn't this have been an email?!" when referring to staff meetings and trainings would have been true and entertaining, but the biggest change would have been the stability in my career.  At the end of the day, I have a car payment.

I decided on Google Parent, an initiative to help schools educate parents and help parents who are seeking more information on the use of Google tools in schools.  On a daily basis, I am reminded of the gap between school and home and that even when sharing a link, some parents just don't understand how to interact with it.  And that's ok, for now, but that also means that we still have a job to do.  Innovator or not, I was excited to see where I get to take this project.

I clicked submit and put it all in the hands of the people at Google for Edu.  Watching the other videos made me worried, made me second guess myself and my ideas.  But I began to see that this process was about so much more than just getting an acceptance letter, it's about me doing the things that make me, well, me.  It's about not settling for the status quo.  It's about connecting and finding ways to innovate in my own way.  No matter what happened in the next ten days, nothing would discount the strides I had taken as an educator and the impact my style of teaching has on students.  More importantly, it would not stop me from continuing to do so.

Of course, all of this was running through my head during THE.  LONGEST.  TEN.  DAYS.  OF.  MY.  LIFE.  SO.  FAR...and this was in my inbox on May 20th!

I didn't do this alone, I did this with the love and support of people I (mostly) haven't met in real life.  My family doesn't bat an eye anymore to the idea that I talk so often with people I've never met.  I never was good at listening when told not to talk to strangers.  In turn, I haven't known many people to be a stranger (at least for long).  I can't wait to get to Boulder and meet everyone in the #COL16 group.  What a ride this has been and will continue to be.

When I said "I'm a Google Innovator, you just don't know me yet."  I meant it, but that doesn't mean I'm stopping there.

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