March 3, 2016

My Journey Towards Innovation- A Google Certified Innovator Story

“Life's a journey with problems to solve, lessons to learn, but most of all, experiences to enjoy.” (somebody very smart)


I am a Google Certified Innovator

This time last week, I was on my way to Mountain View, California to embark on an experience that is difficult to put into words. Well, I think I might have two words “Mind Blown” (*drops mic*).  Besides the excitement of my birthday (Feb. 24 - which happened to be a school snow day), I had the opportunity to join 34 other educators, from all over the world, who possessed the same passions, dedication, and mindset that I do about technology and innovation, making meaningful connections along the way. This group of educators were selected as Google Certified Innovators, (formerly the Google Certified Educator program). We are the first cohort to experience the new certified innovator program, so it was quite an honor. Although the academy was held in Mountain View at Google Headquarters, and Google is a tech company, this academy was very little about tech, in fact it was more about mindset. (however, I did get to experiment with a ricoh theta 360 camera). The academy was more about, ”How do we spark innovation, change our way of thinking, learning, building relationships, and school culture.

“You must unlearn what you have learned”-Yoda

All of the stories you have heard about the fabulousness of Google is all true! From riding your bike across the campus, all you can eat eateries, volleyball games in the courtyard, nap pods, and even heated toilet seats. As Google guests, we reaped all those benefits. I get Googley just thinking about it. But there might be some things you didn’t know about Google.  Google has specific beliefs about learning based on data. Google’s philosophy is “make our place the best place to learn.”  This hit home for me, as I connected it to my role as a technology coach working with students and teachers everyday.  


Google believes:

Learning is a process: people develop over time through practice, feedback, and reflection.

Learning happens in real life: It occurs through the challenges people face everyday.

Learning is personal: Everyone has their own motivations and preferences about how, when and what they learn. (by the way, nothing is mandatory at Google)

Learning is social: It happens as people interact with and teach each other. (Peers, teams, cohort, informal, and formal settings)

Happy employees are more productive, so they believe in finding the best people, growing them, and keeping them. EQ Schools Founder and Chief Happiness Officer, Roni Habib stopped by to talk to us about happiness and emotional intelligence. He shared some great teamwork and “happy building” activities we could implement in any classroom or PD day. He put it best, as he talked about students, “We shouldn’t just teach content, we should teach our students to be happy.” Ultimately, that’s what any parent wants for their child, and that’s what we really want for our students. Happiness. It’s just that simple.

Imagine if school districts across the country embraced that same mindset? Classrooms full of teachers and students who felt that their happiness and well-being was always at the forefront of the minds of the national and state level educational policy makers, school board members, and district administrators. I wonder what impact that might have on education? (Things that make you go hmmm....)

A little about the program:
As Certified innovators we are developing an innovation project for a problem in education that we want to solve. In exchange, we receive 12 months of ongoing support for our innovation project, a mentor, opportunities for growth and collaboration, and access to a global community of other innovators. Ultimately, the opportunity to Transform, Advocate, and Grow. "The goal of the Innovation Academy is to build community and trust, create connections with Coaches and Advisors, get inspired by Googley culture, and prepare to complete their Innovation Project within 12 months."

The beginning:

This was actually my first time applying. I had heard about the Google Certified Educator Academy, but the academy dates seemed to always conflict with my schedule, plus I felt it was a goal that was too difficult to obtain. There are only 1300 people in the world who have this credential. I have been a Google Certified Trainer for years, so when I heard about the opportunity to attend the academy at Google Headquarters in Mountain View California, I was pumped. This by far was the most extensive program application I have ever completed, because it required me to dig deep and embrace my passion. I had to really think about how I could truly impact and spark innovation in my school community and ultimately globally.


Take a glimpse into my application.


Vision Deck:



Vision Video:



Before the Academy:
As soon as I received my acceptance email into the Academy, the journey and work began. We spent the weeks before preparing for the academy by building community through virtual team building activities, and extensive tasks. Each week we were given a different mission card with several tasks to complete. Our first task was to view each innovator’s video and vision slide decks.  Then to our surprise, we all received a mini breakout Edu box in the mail. Figuring out what to do with the boxes became our next challenge. My partner was Matt, from Wisconsin, he was awesome, and we immediately connected. By the time we got to Mountain View, our cohort had completed 4 mission cards, and probably exchanged more than 500 emails, hangout chats, and tweets. (We were a very connected chatty group)

The Academy:
We had so many powerful global leaders, heavy hitters, innovative speakers, and powerful conversations.. They just kept coming… We had sparks (inspirational talks), then sprints (speed work time), hypercamps (an edcamp 1st cousin), then reflections, dance battles, and magic tricks...we built prototypes, brainstormed ideas, had courageous conversations, and sometimes went really far outside of our comfort zones. And.It.didn’t.stop. and I didn’t want it to.  I was truly at a “nerdfest” and I loved every minute of  it. As I said earlier, “Mind Blown”!

Here are a few of the nuggets of knowledge I took away from the academy.

“He who knows others is wise, but he who knows himself is enlightened”

I learned about myself, and about the others around me. I found my tribe, and we made deep connections. Each innovator was placed on a team. We had a team cheer, name, symbol, and walk-up song. Our symbol was the Peace sign, so my team will be forever known as the Black Eyed P.E.A.C.E. (Passionate, Educators, Always, Collaborating, Effectively)


Our coach  Jay Atawood, introduced me to Derek Sivers. “what’s obvious to you, is amazing to others”. Often times we think our ideas are too simple, or just too obvious, and that everybody knows what we know, but the truth is they don’t, so you shouldn’t be afraid to share your passion, or hedgehog. Jay compared the fox and the hedgehog. A fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. Take your skills, values, and passions, and find your hedgehog.


“Be like a postage stamp, Stick to one thing, until you finish it” - Josh Billings 

Jennie Magiera reminded me to always remember the Why. Why do we do what we do? Sometimes you can’t share the why, because it can be overwhelming to others. But it’s important to always "keep your eye on the why". Keeping your “eye on the why”, prioritize the things that matter the most. Your “Big Rocks”, - big ideas, and organize your “Pebbles”- the must-do weekly items that will support or get you to the “Why”, and then make time for the “sand” all that other unscheduled stuff, (social media, emails, etc.).

Gina Rosales, the Google X Marketing Manager taught me about Moonshot thinking- a series of amazing audacious things. Moonshot thinking is all about solving a huge problem that affects a lot of people by launching moonshot technologies that make the world a radically better place. In order to have moonshot thinking, you have believe that the impossible is possible. You have to learn to say Yes, and… instead of Yes, but… You have to fail fast, and kill the bad ideas quickly, to move on to the good ones.

Mark Wagner, Google Edtech Team, taught me that our future as educators is in the past, and this is only the beginning for our students, but by “blending science and technology with the heart of a teacher, you can make the future better”.


Kevin Brookhouser author of the 20 Time book,  talked about giving students more freedom in what they learn and how they learn it. If we show students that their work has value, beyond the work they are doing, and how it affects the lives of others in their community, their learning has purpose.

One of my biggest takeaways came from Danieta Morgan, an Instructional Systems Coordinator from New Visions for Public Schools in NY. She taught me about overcoming fear. Fears have the ability to break you and hold you back, and control your mind. Most of time these fears are just in your mind, and are not necessarily real. Resist fighting fears, but instead, dance and play with fear and let it take you wherever it wants to go. “We can resist fear and get hurt, let it run our lives, or we can “dance with it.”

I started off this journey with a vision to change the way learning looks in the classroom, I now realize a major part of that change involves a change in mindset. I am now inspired and full of creative confidence. Now the real work begins.

This journey has not been easy - in fact it has been quite the challenge, but through these challenges I have become better, and more inspired.- P.Brown

I thank you for being a part of my journey.

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