Google Teacher Academy for Administrators: It’s About Time!

Posted on Dec 22, 2009 by kjarrett 6 Comments

If the Leaders Don’t Get It, It’s Not Going to Happen.”
– Dr. Scott McLeod

Recently, Google announced its latest Google Teacher Academy (GTA), an event specifically for administrators to be held March 5th, 2010. Within moments of hearing the news, I gushed (complete with a typo):

Nonplussed, David Jakes replied:

He has since blogged about it, methodically laying out his own vision for such a program, one that rightfully focuses on learning that matters and not “just tools” (a familiar refrain in the edublogosphere.) One of the most respected minds in edtech, David writes from the perspective of an administrator (and former classroom teacher) who knows at least as much about the GTA as I do. He was a lead learner (presenter) at the September 2008 GTA in Chicago. I was a teacher (participant) at the NYC GTA in February, 2007.

Before I go any further, let me say that words can’t express enormous respect I have for the team that presents these academies, including Cristin Frodella, Product Marketing Manager – Education, K-12 at Google, as well as Mark Wagner of CUE, Inc. and I’m sharing my comments in the same spirit David is – to advance the cause, not hurt it.

I’d also like to say that difference of opinion about an event like the GTA is inevitable. It can’t be all things to all people. And while I  believe it is effective in its present form, it – like anything – can be improved.

So what do I have to add to this conversation? I thought I’d reflect on each of the ten points David makes in his post. Let’s get to work…

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

Not sure I agree here, and I’m really curious as to why David made this his #1. From my perspective, the purpose of the GTA program is to transform K-12 education by inspiring as many minds as possible, period. I don’t think the expectation is that an administrator would attend the GTA, “drink the Kool-Aid,” and decide that they wanted to their staff to have the same experience. Even though Google and CUE run “Google Workshop For Educators,” a “non-Certified” version of the GTA available to any group that wishes to have one, and the experiences are similar, there’s just no way they could accommodate the demand. Moreover, I am more hopeful (perhaps more naiive?) and don’t see the GTA as a marketing tactic. I believe in Google’s vision, I see the impact of its products in education, and I know the impact the GTA had on me. As I have said before, it was the most important single day of professional development I’ve ever experienced as a teacher.

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?

See above. While Google Apps for Education is certainly featured in the program, and its benefits & virtues are sure to be extolled, I’m pretty sure a detailed demonstration of the true power of Google Apps for Education would take the better part of a morning all by itself. This is however precisely the kind of side conversation that forms organically at a GTA, which then leads like-minded participants to commit time and energy to explore it further for their own districts. With the contacts made at a GTA event, most people will have access to all the knowledge and talent they’ll need to begin planning their own implementation.

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?

Understand the necessary policies themselves, no, I think not. Understand the NEED for such policies, yes, absolutely.

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

Great point, and while this issue (one I have explored personally) has been discussed at length in the GTA community forum, it certainly bears mentioning. People need to know where they can find these answers.

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

Wow, that’s the whole enchilada, right there. I’d have made this #1, David. While this issue could be broached in a one-day session, I doubt it could be handled with any substantial depth. This is more than a bullet point. In my view, it’s the contextual frame for the entire GTA.

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?

What a great example! I’m willing to bet some schools are aready using Google tools for RTI. I see this as related to #5 above. This is the kind of thing that REALLY MATTERS and GETS PEOPLE’S ATTENTION. We all know how crucial RTI is. This is what we need to be doing – looking at how new tools can make a difference in such “high value” activities. That’s when the discussion of Google technology transforms from a “nice to have” to a “must have” and that’s exactly what Google is going for, in my view.

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?

Wow. I’d guess the answer is no, but that would that make an outstanding journal article or keynote…

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?

There have been questions in the past about socioeconomic demographics for GTA attendees’ schools. There is a perception that few are in under-served districts. I don’t have the data and won’t speculate. As critical as the equity issue is, meaningful discussion about it is probably outside the scope of this program – but it’s something that could bubble up and be dealt with in the GTA community after the event.

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?

I would imagine Mark and everyone involved with planning the GTA is already working on getting the most qualified presenters possible, including current administrators who have been through the GTA program (I can think of several right off the top of my head). Let’s be realistic, though. Are these enough of these people? Are they available? Interested? Willing to devote the significant amount of time necessary to develop and deliver a world-class presentation? This changes the entire complexion of the planning effort…

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?

See #9. I can think of several administrators who fit the bill on all counts. Ultimately, it boils down to logistics, manpower … and money.

Let me try to wrap this up.

The drawing at right, the Project Management Triangle, is instructive here. In any project, there are constraints. A good project manager delivers results in the face of  these constraints. The GTA team faces very, very significant constraints:

  • The event is free – no admission is charged. {constraint: cost}
  • It is limited to one day. {constraint: schedule, a.k.a. time}

With limited funds and available time, the GTA team has no choice but to limit scope. David’s powerful, forward-looking questions above are scope-busters. Is there middle ground?

I view the GTA as a “thinktank” designed to assemble like-minded education professionals, demonstrate the transformative power of educational technology, and stimulate them into action, individually and collectively.

Would David’s questions above help inform that conversation? Absolutely! But in my view, what he has described reads more like the program for a weeklong conference that would easily cost thousands of dollars to attend, and many tens of thousands of dollars to deliver!

But, are David’s questions reasonable to expect to be addressed in the context of the single-day GTA as it exists and is funded, today? Unfortunately, considered together, I don’t think so. (I do think that David has identified several extremely powerful keynotes for the event [and elsewhere].)

So where do we go from here?

What if we drew inspiration from TED? Their TEDx events are becoming enormously popular. TED devotees are inspired to create their own events, in the spirit of TED, with their own speakers, agendas, resources and more.

Let’s think about this for a moment. If my calculations are correct, there are currently over 500 Google Certified Teachers (GCTs). What if we started “GTAx events”, where local GCTs of all flavors (teachers & administrators alike) gathered to share their knowledge and move education forward, with something like David’s 10 questions above as a manifesto? Then the GTAx organizers could find speakers, a venue, handle the program and logistics, and of course, do it all for FREE?

Wait, we almost did that.  Back in March, 35 of the 54 members of the NYC ’07 GTA cohort had a “reload” – an unconference style gathering at Google’s NYC HQ. (For the record, it was actually our second such meeting – a smaller group of us met at a school in Northern NJ for on a snowy day in December 2007.) We didn’t open it to the public – how much more fun it could have been if we did!

So how about it? If it was on a weekend or over the summer, and I could contribute in some way, I’d offer my help – in fact, I’d be on it like white on rice.

I’ll close with this thought. I distinctly remember thinking, at the end of my day at the Google Teacher Academy in February 2007, that as powerful, beneficial, inspiring and challenging the event was, the real people who needed to be there were ADMINISTRATORS, not teachers. You know, bonafide district leaders. Decisionmakers. People with real power. Authority. Responsibility.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the chance to become Google Certified, but I am positively STOKED about a similar opportunity for those who are actually running this show we call K-12 Education. Scott McLeod’s quote at the top of this post really sums it up for me. Bottom line, even though the event is far from perfect, the Google Teacher Academy for Administrators is a worthy exercise that administrators everywhere should consider applying for!

Hope this helps!