Sunday, February 28, 2016

Innovation Across the Nation (Part 2 - Professional Reflection)

"A key ingredient in innovation is the ability to challenge authority and break rules."
- Vivek Wadhwa

Over the past 6 days, I have been fortunate enough to travel to California to attend the Google for Education Certified Innovator Academy at the Googleplex in Mountain View. This has been a life-changing experience, and to fully do it justice, I need to split the experience into two parts. This is my professional reflection and you'll find my personal reflection here.

While all of the sightseeing and memory making was incredible, the real reason I was in California was to attend the aforementioned Google for Education Certified Innovation Academy. To get you up to speed, I applied for the Innovator program in January. The process involved designing an ideal classroom, proposing a problem and innovative solution, a video, and other tasks (you can read more about the process in this NVDaily article.) After being accepted into the Academy with 33 other extraordinary people (who you can meet on this episode of the EduRoadTrip,) we began connecting and soon enough, the time was here. Our flights landed, hotels checked into, Ubers ordered, we were ready to come together and innovate. 

In a word: WOW. It was an incredible learning experience. I recorded a rambling reflection the day after the Academy which I think so shows how much I have rolling around in my head. We learned about moonshot thinking, mindfulness, happiness, qualities of an effective team and management, how to motivate others without overwhelming them, and a whole laundry list of other topics. The speakers were inspiring and motivating. It was an invigorating breath of fresh air with every new person who took the podium.

Team Black Eyed P.E.A.C.E.
Part of the expectations as Innovators is to design and implement an Innovation Project. This Project focuses on a meaningful problem in education and how we plan to solve it in a meaningful way. A large amount of time was dedicated to working on our Innovation Projects. My initial vision for my Innovation Project was an expansion of the Home-School Connection Nights to aid families in helping their children with math. Right now, the HSCNs are working on a varied basis. I really believe in the power of a family partnership and think that can make the difference in education. After discussing with my team, The Black Eyed P.E.A.C.E., and coach Jay Atwood I had an epiphany.

Perhaps my greatest passion in education is student empowerment. We discussed if the two could be combined and loved the idea. Within the next month, I plan to prototype this in my own classroom. The students will teach their parents (a twist on the Student-Led Conferences from the fall) and I will act as a facilitator. I'll be getting a Theta or Swivl to record these experiences to share them with other interested parties. I also want to implement some sort of gamification and more fun into these evenings.

UPDATE: My project has changed to Breakout EDU Digital, which you can read more about here. I did implement a prototype of my initial plan, which you can check out via KidsDiscover.  

All the Innovators
I am really excited to see how it goes. As the Academy showed me, there may be a need for iterations (minor course corrections) and pivots (large changes.) It's sometimes hard to let go of our ideas because they are so near and dear to us, but change needs to occur to maximize impact. Part of the Academy included opening up our idea for feedback from everyone, and now I have even more to consider as I continue developing my prototype. There is even a possibility that the project may be scrapped and revamped entirely as I grow and expand my horizons.

Beyond the Academy, EdCampSV also got the wheels turning in my mind. This was one conference where I am not walking away with a ton of instructional ideas, but with more ideas and lessons to ponder. In the “Things That Suck” session, we had some great debates about homework, testing, professional development, and mayonaise. I was able to defend my position on each, while also respecting the thoughts of others. These kinds of conversations are what push education further ahead and we need to be having them more.

This trip also helped me to think critically about my own self, especially in my interactions with other teachers. I am incredibly energetic and talk a mile a minute, especially when it comes to discussing technology integration. I often get frustrated when others don’t seem to innately understand seemingly easy tasks or are resistant to learning something new. However, traveling halfway across the country put it in perspective. The roads here in San Franscico are very overwhelming to me. Even riding in a car caused me anxiety. Now I can see what others may be feeling when I am getting super excited about technology integration. Just like I was out of my element, so are they. I need to remember this when helping others and help them overcome it, just like I did with embracing the traffic.

This resonates with what one of the speakers said about fear. We can resist fear and get hurt , let it run our lives, or we can “dance with it.” Change is coming and it needs to happen.

With Coach Jay Atwood
You’ll notice that these two blog posts were very lacking in discussion about technology, which you would think you would have found in this particular post. While we did talk a lot about the impact of technology, I believed the Academy was more about mindset. We have big problems in education and we need even bigger solutions. We need to empower students, families, teachers, and everyone in education to innovate every single day. Only then will we get where we want education to be.

To EdTechTeam, Google for Education, the coaches and mentors, the #MTV16 cohort, and everyone who supported me in this endeavor, thank you. It was well worth the money for this experience. You can check out the vlogs I made about the experience on YouTube. I hope to continue connecting with you all and look forward to big things from us in the future.

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