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The Long Road Leading to #TOR16

I will start off by saying that this post is WAY overdue. Being a timely and reflective blogger is not something that I claim to be as of yet, but hey, better late than never. #lifegoals. This will be the first in a series of posts reflecting on my Google Innovator Experience which really began about a year ago about this time and (based on my blogging timeliness) might be finished by the time I retire…

A brief history: The Google Certified Innovator certification re-booted at the start of 2016, and offered four Certified Innovator application periods and cohorts over the course of the year. Having the goal of becoming a Certified Innovator on my radar since becoming a Google Certified Trainer in 2014, I was all over the application opportunity. With the first cohort set to take place at the Googleplex in Mountain View, California, I began assembling my wicked problem which took shape through my “Tearing Down the Factory” innovator proposal. Through this proposal, I identified the following problem relating to the structure and nature of our traditional schooling model:

True learning potential that instructional technology provides in education is not realistic due to confines that our current model of education create. The factory model of education continues to be our educational norm.

Much to my dismay, I learned that my application would not be accepted for the first cohort of innovators. Although at the time I thought that my proposal was a sure thing (like most applicant’s, I’m sure), reflecting on the proposal, I found some room for improvement. Luckily, the next window of opportunity for applying for the second cohort in Boulder, Colorado was right around the corner.

Comparing my second attempt to my first, not a whole lot changed (what was I thinking???). The problem and solution remained largely the same, but I added some additional context to how the solution would take shape, as well as focusing on the actual implementation of (then called) Google Apps for Edu to accomplish the goals of the project. What you can’t see here is that I also updated my submission video, but that was a pretty lackluster modification, too. Here was my updated submission – look closely, I promise there are changes:

What shouldn’t come as a surprise is that this proposal was not accepted as a winner, either. SHOCKING, right? Not so much. I needed to regroup and rethink this thing for the next proposal. I had explored this idea thoroughly, and it obviously wasn’t getting the job done. The problem was that there was not a tangible and substantive plan for getting at the root of the problem, and (to be quite honest) was not realistic in nature as something that I could pull off. Back to the drawing board.

With the next round of certification opening up, set to take place in Toronto, Ontario, I found myself re-thinking the goals of my project. As I considered the ultimate goal of what I was getting at, I realized what I really needed to focus on was, ultimately, the question of how you start to drive change and advocate for schools that prioritized creation, critical thinking and an engaging student experience over content memorization and a one-size fits all model of education. As I started to dig deeper into this idea, thinking about the change agents necessary to bring about a real movement locally, I kept coming back to teachers and the critical role they play in not only their potential to drive the change but to create and propel the vision of what that change looks like. Thinking about a team of teachers that I had helped to bring together during my first year in my role as Director of Technology at Loveland City Schools, and having recently been inspired on many levels by the book How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, the idea of the District[x] Innovation Catalyst emerged.  With the goal of providing a framework for growing and supporting innovation in education, this idea was one that I had already started locally with small groups of teachers in my school district, but an idea that was still very much rough around the edges.

With the goal of providing a framework for growing and supporting innovation in education, although implemented in a small way already, this idea was still very much rough around the edges and needed some major refinement. Originally formed in my district to be initiative driven, thus far, this group of teachers was formed to help support and lay out plans for our Tiger One to World Initiative that would put technology in the hands of all of our students in grades seven through twelve. Realizing the potential of this teacher-leader group laid way beyond technology and devices, a bigger vision started to emerge, which I attempted to communicate fully through my Google for Education Innovator slide deck submission:

As my luck should have it, I found one of these waiting in my inbox a month or so later:

I couldn’t believe it. Over the moon excited, I was headed to Toronto for the #TOR16 Google for Education Certified Innovator Academy. Proud to represent my school district, stoked for the experience that I knew that I was in for, and thrilled to start this adventure, I knew that I was embarking on a journey that would stretch my thinking and learning in a way I had never experienced. Speaking now reflectively, I can say those initial and lofty expectations were no exaggeration.

Coming up next, a short summary of my experience with the Innovator Academy and my journey putting this idea and project into action.

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