Bringing More Google to Schools

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I believe in “Google” schools. I want more schools to be “Google” schools.  When I think of a “Google” school, I am thinking beyond the world of Apps for Education.  Rather, I want my school and the schools of my children, to be filled with educators who would be equally at home working at Google.

It is no surprise that Google often ranks at the top of innovative companies in the world. It also frequently tops the list of companies that most college graduates want to work for.  Yes, the compensation that these top companies offer is undoubtedly attractive. In this respect, the world of education can’t and shouldn’t try to compete.  But there are some things that Google considers when hiring that we in education should try to emulate.

The first is “smarts”.  Being smart is important at Google just like it is in education and many other professions. But at Google, being smart is not enough.  Intellectual curiosity is considered even more important and is something they look for when hiring.  Think about it in the context of education.  The phrase “Life long learners” commonly appears in the Mission and Vision Statements of schools around the world. Yet how often is the idea of intellectual curiosity factored into hiring?

Quite naturally, Google wants every person they hire to be good at what they do –  be it coding, networking, marketing, or finance.  Schools are no different.  Kindergarten teachers need to be as good at what they do as a Middle School drama, or an IB Calculus teacher.  But a clear difference lies in the fact that Google expects everyone to be a leader.  They actively seek out people who will take control of a situation instead of waiting to be lead.  According to Tony Wagner, Google has a bias towards action.  They want their employees to always be asking the important question, “How can I make things better?”  In other words, If you see something is broken … fix it!

I like the Google mindset because it is what I think we need more of in schools. You can never have too many people working together to make the world a better place.  I think at its core, schools need to be incubators of intellectual curiosity, places where everyone is teaching and everyone is learning.  Schools benefit by being populated by professionals who lead without necessarily having the positional power. I guess that is why I am fascinated by the work of Dana Watt’s and her research into “Disruptive Leadership in the International Schools”.

A Tip of The Hat to AES

In my experience, teachers by nature seem to be natural collectors.  As an international educator on the move, I don’t collect stuff.  Instead I collect recommendations for schools, principals, and headmasters.  In the back of my mind, I always have an ever changing list of five schools I would like to work at, five principals I would like to work with, and five headmasters I would like to work for.  Although my list is in a constant state of flux because of professional opportunities and retirement, one thing has remained a constant over the years … The American Embassy School (AES) in New Delhi.

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Years ago, AES appeared on my radar based on recommendations for principals and headmasters to work for.  Not long after, I began to work and collaborate with past and present AES faculty.  One thing has stood out from my experiences … AES faculty have all been  top-notch educators and innovative professionals.  More recently, my professional work has been enriched by AES’s innovative work with mobile learning and iPads.  In November, I had the opportunity to learn from so many educational rock stars while attending The iPad Summit at AES. Dana, Ben, Stacy, DavidGary, and so many others did not disappoint.  They knocked one out of the park with an amazing professional conference. So save the date for The iPad Summit 2014!

Then AES went and did it again.  A friend and colleague in Taipei shared a refreshing video from AES on Home Learning.  It discusses their shift from being a Homework to a Home Learning school. They understand children. They understand learning. They understand families. They understand technology. Yet again AES is leading the way. It is a shift I hope to see in more schools.  So in my best Stephen Colbert, I wanted to give the great folks at AES a “TIP OF THE HAT” for the wonderful things they are doing.

Meetings … Too Many? Too Few? Just Right?

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Simply put, schools are busy places.  Busy in a good way.  There has always been a lot of energy, enthusiasm, and excitement in the schools where I have worked.  There are team meetings, parent meetings, faculty meetings, district meetings, co-curricular, extra-curricular, and cross-curricular meetings.  Outstanding schools, like exceptional educators, are collaborative in nature.  They are places filled with people working together to foster student learning.  It is impossible to collaborate alone.  You need  to meet.  I like meetings; I always have.  Professionally, I  look forward to the opportunity to spend time with so many outstanding colleagues.

However, schools are busy places, filled with busy people.  Time is a precious commodity and a limited resource.  So meetings need to be purposeful and efficient.  It is crucial to make the most of the time you have.  My wife and a number of colleagues just returned from an Adaptive Schools training at NESA 2013. They are excited to apply the great things they learned from Bob Garmston and company.  I am excited because I find that structured collaboration, organized agendas, common agreements, and the use of protocols, to be essential elements of successful collaboration.  It’s also nice to see others sharing a common belief.  When meeting, my colleagues and I try not to waste meeting time by following through on nuts and bolts, sharing information, and managing the logistics of teaching, to a minimum. We prefer to get these tasks done by email so that our meeting times are focused on what we teach, how we teach, and how we meet the individual needs of our learners.

Is there a “right” amount of meetings?  I don’t believe there is a quantifiable response.  I see it as just the right mix of meetings that keeps a school moving forward in a culture of positivity.  Too few meetings can drain a school’s energy and enthusiasm for continual improvement  as quickly as too many meetings.  Whether it is a formal or informal meeting, I think people should leave with a sense of excitement or enthusiasm.  Finding the right mix of purposeful and efficient meetings is a great starting point.

It’s All About Trust

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Today I wanted to talk about why some schools are more effective than others.  I started to ponder this idea after reading about what the top 100 places to work have in common in Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?.  Trust, not compensation or benefits, is the crucial ingredient that the top 100 places to work had in common.  What I found to be most interesting was that the top 100 Places to Work not only shared the common ingredient of trust, but they also outperformed their peers.  The message was clear.  The businesses where people care about their product or service, care about their colleagues, care about their superiors, and care about the company itself are also the places where more work gets done.

I started to reflect upon my own professional experiences, trust, and what that might look like in a school.  I found myself using a Frayer Model to help with my thinking and realized that time spent in a community being cynical about students, parents, teachers, principals, and headmasters greatly hinder learning.  I don’t know anyone who wants that, but I have certainly experienced cynicism is schools.

Effective educators create a climate amenable to learning.  Principals in particular accomplish this by ensuring that learning is at the heart of the daily activities of all community members.  They have established basic qualifiers like safety, orderliness, communication, and scheduling.  When all of the details that are taken for granted when they are in place, educational leaders can devote more of their time and energy into developing non-qualifiers.  They can spend more time building trust by developing a supportive, responsive relationship with children, parents, and teachers.  And like the business world, the Wallace Foundation found that schools with the highest rating of instructional climates out perform schools where principals are in the process of developing an atmosphere of caring and trust.   In schools with a positive climate, teachers and other stakeholders are more  likely to find that the motives and intentions of learning leaders are good. This has an enormous positive effect on learning.

So what can be done to help develop trust in a learning community? Here are a few easy ideas …

* Expect nothing less than unconditional respect for each and every member is an essential ingredient.

* Say YES, and say it often. Which would you rather hear?  “That’s an interesting idea.  Let’s explore it further.” or “That’s an interesting idea, but …”?  The first certainly feels more trusting than the latter.  Buts just get in the way.

* Remember your Ps and Qs.  Please and Thank You are extremely powerful words.  Your students and colleagues are more likely to be supportive of your ideas and requests when they are asked rather than ordered.

* Focusing on solutions rather than blame will help establish a positive, upbeat and accepting environment.  Your students and teachers will be more likely to experiment with change, adjust their practice, and try something new,  when they do not fear making a misstep.

I believe that it’s clear, the most effective schools, like the most effective businesses, are those where people care about their colleagues, their administrators, their school, and of course the learners.