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”.

The Failure Conundrum

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Last week, the school year in Saudi Arabia ended.  It is certainly a busy time of the year.  In class, we wrapped up the work that needed to be completed, prepared an awesome presentation for the end of year assembly, took time to reflect and celebrate our accomplishments, and said good-bye to each other before embarking on a summer break.  I had a few end of year meetings with families of kids who required a little more support and attention than their peers throughout the year.  In closing one of these meetings, a father shared his concern that his child would “fail” and need to repeat grade three.

At that moment, I could not help but empathize with this father, sharing his greatest fear for his child.  A fear that his child would not succeed, that they would fail.  I think it is a universal fear shared by all parents.  So, I quickly tried to put him at ease, reassuring him that his child would be moving on to fourth grade.  I also took the opportunity to reinforce the great accomplishments of his child.  Yes there were some challenges, but the year was a success because of the growth and learning that transpired.

Since ending the meeting, I have found myself thinking about failure.  In schools, it is a bit of a four letter word.  Great schools, like great educators, believe in their students and know that for their kids, failure is not an option! In the same way that actors do not mention the play MacBeth on stage for fear of cursing a performance, failure seems to be an abhorrent word in schools.    Kids openly share work that they see as successful.  They also hide their failures.  So do teachers.  When collaborating with colleagues, teachers are more likely to bring to the table what works rather than discuss what didn’t.  It is called being human.  No one likes to hear about or experience failure.

But here is the failure conundrum.  Learning isn’t easy.  School should not be easy. It should be a struggle that requires effort.  Failure, like success, plays an important role in a classroom.  It is only a bad thing if it leads to a dead end and stops the journey.  I believe that to fail is to learn.  Failure simply provides another opportunity to revise, reconsider, deepen understanding, and grow.  It is failure that makes us stronger. It is failure that ultimately leads to success.  Think about it.  How many toddlers learn to walk without falling?  There is a reason people train for a marathon. Two weeks ago I deleted my last blog post while learning to use the WordPress app on my iPad.  I wish I could get it back, but I can’t. I have learned something that will help me in the future.  As a teacher, I’ve had my fair share of lessons that were a failure.  Lessons that despite my best planning and effort, did not produce the desired outcomes.  Subsequent lessons were inevitably better because failure provided me with the opportunity to change and grow.

My parents worked hard to instill the belief that there is no use crying over spilled milk.  Instead, clean it up.  Understand why it happened and turn a potentially negative situation into a positive one.  In that sense, failure is a learning opportunity.  I recognize the importance of supporting students in their learning, but I also don’t ever want to prevent failure either. Ultimately I would be hindering exactly what I am trying to accomplish.