ISTE 2010 Reflection: Google Culture

My Sunday session was an all day session with folks from CUE who are all Google Certified Teachers (a dream I have -if I could only work up the courage to make that video!)

You can read my session notes here if you are interested in what I took away in terms of the tools, but the bigger take away for me happened in the first 10 minutes of the day when Mark Wagner (@markwagner) talked to us about the Google Culture.  As a former English teacher, he made some great analogies about teaching and connected them to the Google philosophy.  It not only helped to set the tone for the day, it helped set the tone for the conference for me.

What was interesting to me was first, "Google believes no one should be more than 150 feet away from food."  I laughed at this as in my office, I think we have modified the rule to substitute chocolate for food.  Even our workshop participants are upset when we don't put chocolate out until the afternoons!!

On a serious note, the 20% "rule" was compelling.  Googlers devote approximately 20% of their work time to a project that might fall outside of their scope of duties but is a passion they have or something they want to fix with current Google tools.  Many of these make it to Google Labs (which is something everyone should check out) and many more become Google tools as we know and love them today. (Read here for an example that I found doing a quick (you guessed it) Google search!)

I wondered how education might be different if we allowed our students to pursue the 20% within our classrooms.  What if in my social studies class, I set aside one day for the students to investigate and create something related to the history we were studying.  Their choice on the topic and the way they would share the 20%.  I know, I know - grading.  But I think that might be easily addressed with a well thought out and developed rubric - one thought out and developed with the kid so that they had real ownership over the learning and the process.

What if in providing professional development to teachers, 20% of their day/year was following their own course.  If there are 8 hours in a work day, one hour (less than the 20%) wouldn't be about supervision or planning or the other things we do but in the pursuit of what we wanted to learn about.  I think the reason that collegial circles have been so successful in the district I worked in is that teachers chose what they wanted to work on and were given the time to do it.

What if in designing professional development, my team were able to devote 20% of their time to pursuing what they wanted to learn.  I certainly think they have this time and we have the resources available for them to do it -but I think they might disagree.  And the reason that my team would disagree and that students and teachers aren't doing what I suggest is that it isn't part of our culture.

Digging deeper into the Google website, I found their "Ten Things We Know to Be True" list that exemplifies their philosophy.  We all have mission/vision statements in our districts, but what if we created similar lists?

Digging further, I found another list related to design (also called "ten principles that contribute to a Googley user experience") - what if we created our own list that would be relevant for designing lessons and professional development?

Thinking about these things - I took a different view of what was being offered at ISTE.  How many sessions demonstrated that they had a different philosophy of education - one that encouraged design and creativity and play? (LOTS!)  How many teachers were willing to pursue their passions and learn more and learn differently? (LOTS)  So I am wondering about the changes the rumored 16,000 folks in attendance will make.  If each person makes one small change as a result of their learning here - that's a whole lotta change! And if each person were able to inspire change in just one more person who didn't attend the conference, that's a whole lotta change agents!

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