The Google Teacher Academy for Administrators

This post is largely a reaction to a conversation that has developed on Twitter, in the edublogosphere, and elsewhere over the past several days. But first, I need to announce the event here! In case you haven’t seen it yet, here are the basics:

The Google Teacher Academy for Administrators is a FREE professional development experience designed to help K-12 educational leaders get the most from innovative technologies. Each Academy is an intensive, one-day event where participants get hands-on experience with Google’s free products and other technologies, learn about innovative instructional strategies, receive resources to share with colleagues, and learn how to apply examples from our innovative corporate environment. Upon completion, Academy participants become Google Certified Teachers who share what they learn with other K-12 educators in their local region – and around the world. This GTA will be held in San Antonio, Texas, right before the ASCD conference. If you’re already planning to attend ASCD, we hope you’ll also consider applying to the GTA for Administrators. Learn More and Apply Now

If you are an innovative and forward-looking educational leader, I encourage you to apply… and if you are not, but you know someone who is, I hope you’ll encourage that person to apply.

Though it’s no substitute for being there – and though this Google Teacher Academy (GTA) will be a very different event (due to the focus on administrators), if you’d like to know more about what to expect from the day, you might explore past GTA agendas and past Google Workshops for Administrators produced by CUE (particularly the most recent one). Though the GWA agendas look similar at a glance, the entire focus of the presentation (as well as many of the examples) are shifted to concerns related to leadership (and administration) in education. (More on this below.)

The Conversation

For the last few days I’ve been very busy on the home front (what with the holidays, a move, and a second baby due a week from tomorrow) and with work (making preparations and wrapping things up before the holidays and my “paternity leave”). But, I’ve followed the conversation from the beginning – and even taken some action behind the scenes. In some ways it’s been frustrating not to have the time to jump into the broader conversation earlier and to compose responses for everything I wanted to reply to. But, it’s also been illuminating to see the conversation evolve without my participation. Mostly, though, it’s been humbling (and exciting) to discover that many of my colleagues have very high expectations for this event – and that so many are passionately invested in it.

At times it’s also been frustrating, disappointing, and even embarrassing that some of my colleagues seemed to assume the GTA planning team wouldn’t be addressing the concerns they raised – or that we’d ignore the things that are really important when planning a professional development experience for educational leaders. In a few cases it’s been sad to see something that might’ve been more tactfully addressed to me rather than posted in a public form – and I’ve tried not to take any of it too personally.

It has, of course, also been thrilling (if not heartwarming) to see so many of my colleagues “leap to the defense” of the event, the Google Certified Teacher (GCT) program, and in some cases, me. Ultimately, I’m grateful for everyone who engage the conversation with a positive and constructive attitude.

In any case, I think a few responses are in order. I’ll start (of course) with David Jakes’ post, which was born out of others’ passionate responses to his (admittedly puzzling) initial reaction (on twitter) to news of the GTA for Admins:

I’m not buying the Google Teacher Academy for Administrators. At All.”

Though many people (understandably – and thankfully, from my perspective) reacted to David’s tweet’s and blog post by explaining how valuable the GTA experience and GCT community have been to them, I don’t see David’s post as an attack on the program (but I see how it might be taken that way). After all, he started his post with a big IF – “if it’s just the GTA re-purposed, I think it might miss its mark.” He’s right… it would be. But it won’t be. Of course it won’t be. Also, the issues he brings up are valid concerns for an event like this – and for the most part these are issues we are already planning to address as part of this new version of the GTA.

The Source of The Confusion

I think the root of his concern (as well as others’ concerns) regarding the value of this event stems from the fact that the already sparse description of the GTA was only slightly rewritten to promote this new event. This is a factor of three things:

  1. As with all GTA’s the funding was made available only a short time before the event needed to be announced, we were coming off of the GTA in DC – and into the holidays, and we needed to get the announcement and description live as soon as possible.
  2. When we did put our heads together to re-write it, we discovered that almost all of the language still applied to our vision of the GTA for Admins (though it certainly isn’t an exhaustive description of it… it was never even a very complete description of the GTA), and we felt we didn’t need to re-write it much to get the ball rolling.
  3. It’s the first GTA for Admins and we won’t really know what it looks like until we’re done with it. :)

So, admittedly we could’ve spent a bit more time on rewriting the description, but I think we’ll be able to attract the right people anyway (more on this below, too). The description and agenda from CUE’s Google Workshop for Administrators (GWA) might serve as something of a preview of what it might be like, though this too only scratches the surface of what happens in a GWA – and it certainly doesn’t represent the much higher-octane GTA-level event we have planned for March!

The name of the event might also be a source of some confusion. The name “Google Teacher Academy” is problematic to begin with, because we’ve had many “Google Certified Teachers” who were not classroom teachers. We’ve had administrators as well as professors, professional developers, educational technology coordinators, IT personnel, and others apply for and complete the program. This time, Google has decided to focus on “administrators” (educational leaders and decision makers primarily)… because this will be a very different event with a very different (and possibly even greater) potential for effecting change when the participants return to their own institutions. We debated calling it the Google Administrator Academy (and a half-dozen other variations) but settled on sticking with the GTA for Adminstrators instead, for a few reasons:

  1. There is already a certain recognition and prestige associated with the GTA and the GCT community (and we want the new cohort to be a part of this same community).
  2. There are GCTs from previous events who are also administrators already (so there’s precedence – and we didn’t want to deal with “reclassifying” anybody.
  3. We couldn’t image any administrators (who would want to come to this anyway) who wouldn’t also consider themselves teachers, especially since we are explicitly seeking applicants who are also providing professional development.

I don’t know that we could’ve done any better with this. The name is what it is at this point.

Replies to David’s Questions

I can reply to a few other of David’s specific concerns in brief:

1. Will the academy help administrators understand why teachers in their schools could benefit from being part of the GTA program?

Absolutely… but it’s definitely not an explicit goal of the program… and I’m a little surprised that you would want that.

2. Will the academy help administrators understand why they should adopt Google Apps for Education in their schools? Will the academy demonstrate to administrators, clearly, the affordances that the use of such a system brings, and demonstrate how they know?

Absolutely! This is very much an explicit goal of the program, especially now that it is funded by the Google Apps: Education Edition team. Some of the administrators from the case study schools will be speaking, as will GCTs like Kyle Brumbaugh and Kern Kelley who serve in an administrative role, or help to train administrators – and have had a significant impact on their schools or school systems. There will be a lot of first-hand evidence on hand. Again, though, I’m sort of surprised that this would be important to you.

3. Will the academy help administrators understand the necessary policies that need to be developed to effectively scaffold the use of Google tools in schools?

Absolutely! See above.

4. Will the academy help administrators understand how they can meet mandated legal requirements (such as email archiving) when using various Google tools?

Yes. As you can imagine, getting this right is a very high priority for Google. That being said, there is a limit to how Google can advise districts in this matter, because Google is not in the business of giving legal advice. ;)

5. Will the academy address strategies for the systemic application of Google technology to support increased student achievement?

Yes, of course. But I would caution (and will help build the event in such a way) that “student achievement” (which is often equated with a narrow range of academic pursiuts – or at worst standardized test scores) is not the end goal of our efforts. I think I speak for everyone involved when I say that we’re much more interested in student development in many dimensions, including: innovation, creativity, problem solving, self-expression, and contributions to society (in addition to other elements of “the whole child”). And I know you value these things too – and they may well be part of your concept of “student achievement.” I’m just being explicit here so that people know what I’m after.

6. Will the academy address initiatives such as Response to Intervention and how Google technology can be used to address the student support required by such programs?

Yes. We’ve addressed this in CUE’s Google Workshops for Administrators and plan to include it in the GTA for Admins as well. However, it certainly won’t be a major focus of the day. See above. ;)

7. Will the academy address the negotiation of the uses of learning environments featuring Google tools and how that can be balanced against high stakes testing regimes and NCLB?

Yes, but only indirectly. We will share ways that Google’s tools (and Google’s organizational culture) can be applied for supporting student achievement (in the traditional sense of scoring well on tests) and in more important ways, such as helping students to build their own learning environments (and personal learning networks). Again, see above.

8. Given the focus on the role of Google tools, and that they should be used by teachers to help students learn, will the academy address, or offer suggestions and strategies, on how schools might address the technology gaps that exist in under-served populations in schools (defined here as those without home technology) so that access is equitable?

Perhaps. This is certainly relevant to the goals of the event, but we will likely not be planning for it explicitly. It may be a bit outside the scope of the event, but some of the administrators who will be speaking (such as Kyle Brumbaugh for instance) have made heroic efforts to get computers into the hands of students who need them. And, I would argue that even though Google isn’t in the business of giving away hardware to students in need, they are certainly in the business of providing free software to anyone with a computer that can browse the Internet. (And yes, closing the gap of students who don’t have that sort of access at home is important, but it is not an explicit goal of the GTA. Other programs are much better suited to that cause. But perhaps we can make an effort to highlight the work that Kyle and other GCTs have done to address this issue.)

9. Is the academy taught by fellow administrators or is it taught by the same teachers that instruct at GTA? If teachers, do they have the requisite systemic experience to understand the larger context of schools that administrators operate within?

A little of both. As I’ve mentioned, we plan to have administrators from the existing GCT community speak (there are many) as well as administrators of the case study schools. Some of the Lead Learners will be drawn from past GTA events, too, as many of them are already experienced with providing professional development for administrators. In any case, the team of Lead Learners varies significantly with each GTA (it was a 50/50 split between veterans and first timers in DC) and this one will be no different. We will put together the best team possible based on the unique needs of the event (pulling from the GCT community wherever appropriate). Like the agenda, this will also evolve until relatively late in the planning process. Incidentally, many people in this conversation mentioned inviting Chris Lehmann… and I’d love it if he could come, but I haven’t even asked – he’s already scheduled to speak at CUE’s annual conference in Palm Springs that day! As a member of the conference planning committee I’m thrilled he’ll be in California… but now that my time has been diverted to the GTA in San Antonio, I’m sorry I’ll miss him (yet again!) in California, and I’m sorry he won’t be able to make it to Texas. I’ve invited him to previous GTAs, but his schedule also didn’t allow it – I think this marks the third GTA I would’ve liked to have had him at. Sorry, Chris. Someday… if you’re still up for it. :)

10. Do the presenters, if administrators, have school-based examples to share, in the context of what Google offers, of what works, and can they explain how they know it works?

Of course. See above. And that being said, we’ll also be sharing many innovative and inspirational ideas that we can’t prove work. I think this is a very important freedom for a program focused on innovation and change. :)

Incidentally, now that more than a few of us have replied to your questions, I suppose I should say, “well done.” You’ve obviously asked some effective questions if they motivated so many people to respond in so much depth and with such passion. :)

Note: Anyone who’s interested can read GCT Kevin Jarrett’s in-depth responses to these questions too.

It Is About The Tools

David closes his post by saying (among other things) that while “a lot of administrators aren’t there yet in their understanding of…tools…well, I might suggest that there is a different place where that can occur. In my opinion, the day should be learning more than tools, and realizing that we can connect to each other digitally.”

Increasingly, the people who apply to the GTA come in well versed in Google’s tools… and still, when they leave, many of them have realized how much they didn’t know they didn’t know – it’s a very common comment on the evaluations. So, while we have been able to skip over more and more of the basics and jump right into advanced uses and real-world examples, it is still very much all about the tools. This isn’t an appropriate approach for every professional development effort (and not even all “educational technology” professional development), but it is an appropriate approach much of the time – and it is particularly appropriate for the Google Teacher Academy.

Consider this… if I were to show you (David or the reader) a new tool, would I need to explain to you how it could be used to support RtI, PLCs, Universal Design for Learning, good constructivist learning, or even just plain old good teaching? No. I’d just have to show you the tool and what it does… briefly. You’d get it. You’d make the leap. And you’d apply it in new and ingenious ways based on your experience as an effective, innovative, and often inspired educator. You’d apply the tool – and you’d apply your own brand of “good pedagogy.”

This isn’t true of all educators… and in many professional development workshops there needs to be more of a hands-on element, more explicit connections to good pedagogy, and more real-world examples. In CUE’s Google Workshops for Educators (which are open to the public and do not require an application), this is the approach we take. Also, this is the approach that many of the GCTs take in their own work with their colleagues. (Of course, admittedly, for some teachers there needs to be a good deal more professional development on how learning works and how good teachers can support it before even a workshop like this can be effective in changing practice.)

But, in the case of the Google Teacher Academy… hundreds of tech-savvy highly-effective educators apply to each event – and only the most impressive applicants are chosen to attend. These are people with whom we can “go full speed” – and they’re people we can trust to apply the tools in new and innovative ways – in fact, we count on it! For this event, we also fully expect that the administrators who apply (and are chosen) will also be well versed in Google’s tools (as well as many others). So we won’t be starting with the basics for them either. :)

In short, good professional development depends very much on the context. And at the Google Teacher Academy, the context is ideal for a day that is all about the tools (though “all” might be a bit of an overstatement). That being said, as you can see from my other responses, the day we have planned will be filled to the brim with good pedagogy and effective practices for educational leaders (and change agents)… with a healthy dose of inspiration to boot.

Also, as others have pointed out elsewhere, the GTA has continued to evolve since your involvement, David. One of the main goals of the last event was to make it “the most interactive GTA ever” and I think we succeeded, though of course we can continue to improve. Every segment included an expectation for the participants to make or do something. The entire event was enriched by back channels (official and unofficial), and a second day in an unconference format was added for continued networking, planning, and in-depth learning.

Oh, in addition to being about the tools, it’s also very much about the Google culture… and how that too might be a good model for schools. But that discussion would be another post entirely.

Incidentally, I’d personally be happy to correspond with you (or chat with you) more about this, David. Thank you for the offer. In case anyone is wondering, I’ve also sent David an email about this, but that’s between us. I just wanted to be sure to publicly acknowledge his public offer. ;)

The Age of Google

Another interesting post in this conversation was Nathan Wagner’s (no relation) post about The Age of Google. This was brought to my attention by a Google Alert (of course, right?) before Alec Couros posted to twitter that it was one of his undergraduate students. Not knowing the source of the post, I read it on it’s own merits (not that I wouldn’t have anyway)… it moved me, and I acted on it immediately. Here’s an abridged version of what I sent to the other planning committee members about it:

The GTA for Admins picked up some flack from the edublogosphere. Some of it is undeserved, but much of it is well-intentioned concerns that we fully intend to address (in most cases, we’ve already addressed them, actually). I intend to respond to some of my colleagues that I know personally… in an effort to share what we have in mind, make the process transparent, and take advantage of their input.

There is one criticism, though, which came from someone I don’t know (ironically, since his name is Nathan Wagner), that I think revealed a flaw in the application – and it’s entirely my fault.

I introduced the phrase “in the age of Google” into our planning conversation, and while that is meaningful to me (and perhaps all of us) as a way to describe the state of the world (rather than a loyalty to a brand), it can be easily misconstrued by others. Here’s one example of how others might misinterpret it:

Now, I’m never interested in changing something good just because others might misinterpret it, but I also think the phrase might actually skew the content of the applications because applicants might only focus on their achievements using Google tools… where what we’re looking for are innovative (or in Ryan Bretag’s words, transformative) educational leaders. I took one look at the “describe your role as an educational leader” question and the video prompt about “innovative educational leadership” and realized both items were better without “in the age of Google” tacked onto the end.

The message goes on from there, and suffice to say the phrase has been removed, though there was/is still some debate about how to capture “the age of Google” in a non-branded phrase… but labels like “in the 21st century” or “in the age of Web 2.0” or “in the age of instant information and always on technology” (and other similar mouthfulls) don’t seem to capture it.

Ironically, I think most of the comments on Nathan’s post came after the phrase was removed. Now, it’s time for me to head over there and let him know the impact his reflection had. ;)

Incidentally, regarding his other concerns, I don’t think the YouTube requirement is terribly draconian. Most applications need to be formated or transmitted in a particular way… think MLA or APA style, double spaced, etc… or sent registered mail by a particular deadline, or whatever. In more modern terms, if we asked for the videos to be in .wmv, .mov, or, say, flv format, that wouldn’t be weird. It would be a normal expectation to facilitate the scoring process. Our scoring process is built around being able to view an online video in a predictable format. Plus, at Google they have a philosophy about “eating your own dogfood” that we try to put into practice with the GTA as much as possible. The application form is now a Google Docs Form, the video is submitted by YouTube, the Agenda is on a Google Site, and our slides are shared on Google Docs. Incidentally, we’ve never enforced the “must” be posted on YouTube bit… some people submit TeacherTube files, links to .mov files on their own server, and other URLs. As long as we can watch it and it meets the requirements, we’ve considered it. But, if it comes in in a different format (or it’s marked private) or in some other way is unwatchable, then at least we said it had to be YouTube. ;)

More of the Conversation

Wow. I spent too long on this already, and hopefully it addressed many of the questions and concerns that have surrounded this conversation elsewhere. I wish I could respond to more. A few other posts have caught my eye and brought up points I’d like to respond to here. It might’ve been obvious here already, but Jen Wagner’s (again, no relation) point about the packaging being all wrong to get administrators to take notice brings up an important distinction about this event: it’s not meant for most administrators – it’s meant for a very select few who are also tech-savvy innovative professional developers and change agents. They will receive materials they can use to help effect change in other administrators who don’t posses those qualities in quite the same over-abundance, but the event itself is meant for a very special type of administrator. So, don’t worry if your admin wouldn’t take notice or wouldn’t do well there. Just encourage the admins that would do well and would want to be there to apply! Incidentally, CUE’s Google Workshops for Administrators are meant for other administrators and that’s a very different professional development context.

Similarly, regarding the video requirement… we’re looking for administrators who will excel at that and pleasantly surprise us, even if they have to delegate some of the actual cinematography or editing. ;)

Wow, there are just many many more posts I want to reply to – particularly the more negative ones… and even the questions I’ve answered a hundred times already – but I’m not sure it would be productive… and I’m certain I need to move on to other work. And I’m sure I need to just let some of them go.

Let me conclude by saying that in most cases, your concerns (and curiosity) might be better satisfied by contacting the people you know are in charge than by making public presumptions. The planning team is made up of real people that many of you know (myself from CUE, Cristin Frodella and Dana Nguyen from Google, and Allison Merrick from WestEd – plus all of the GCTs that have been involved)… and at least you know where to find me. That being said, I also want to say a big thank you to all the GCTs and others who have stepped in and helped to answer questions, set mis-perceptions right, and make a true conversation of this.

Now to go fret about how you all will tear apart this post. ;)

Note: I’m suggesting the character-economical tag of #gtadmin for this event. :)