#NYC19 Google Innovator: Strangers to Family Edition

You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you. – Frederick Beuchner

Image of the NYC19 GoogleEI Cohort members

Who knew that an insightful application, coupled with a burning desire to impact education, could result in the greatest professional development opportunity known as the Google for Education Certified Innovator Academy in New York, #NYC19 ? Who knew it would bring 42 hopefuls plus 7 coaches together to form a familial bond and a forever friendship in the span of 3 days? I didn’t…WE didn’t…and yet WE did….YES, WE DID THAT THING!!

The Decision Email

There are several moments in your life where time seems to stand still and waiting on the August 13, 2019 email from the Google Innovator Program was definitely one of those times! A group of us hopefuls formed a slow chat on Twitter to help manage the 10 day wait a little bit better, but for some it caused a new level of anxiety. Many of us were frantically refreshing our email, repeatedly clearing the spam folder, checking the certified innovators website , finding multiple ways to keep our minds distracted/occupied, and secretly sending the Ed Tech Team DM’s via Twitter on the off chance that we would be let out of our misery just so we could relax our spirits and finally go to sleep! The exciting events of our day lasted until around 8:44 PM EST when the flood of emails were received indicating acceptance into the NYC Cohort or extending encouragement to apply for a future cohort.

Bonding Began In Google Hangouts

One of the emails included an invite to join the NYC19 Innovators Google Hangout where we began talking with these 49+ people involved with the program as if we had known each other for decades! Many of us were members of a bare minimum 2 Innovator related hangouts and all of them were simultaneously occurring all day every day. The conversations evolved around: meeting our team and coach; working together to solve riddles; helping our “Affinity Buddy” with their challenge; encouraging everyone who dealt with Imposter Syndrome; collectively designing and voting on the cohort logo; arranging transportation and NYC living arrangements; and just generally getting to know each other which inevitably grew us closer together.

The Academy

October 1, 2019 found 95% of us arriving in NYC and many celebrated that first night with traditional New York pizza and cannoli treats!



Although we were “meeting” for the first time in person, we greeted each other with heartfelt hugs and rejoiced at the sight of everyone as if we were at our 10 year high school reunion! Those who were not in attendance at the pizza dinner were undeniably missed, thereby making the next 3 days together even more special, because if this dinner was any indication of the camaraderie we created through virtual meetings, we knew once we were all gathered together it was going to be an epic experience!

Day 1

More hugs and more bonding! We arrived at the Google Office and began the first leg of an intense professional development designed to challenge our thinking and dispel preconceived ideas about who we are as educators, and education in general, that would eventually lead us toward learning effective brainstorming tactics that will help us create a solution for our challenges.

The 7 teams bonded through signature cheers, song, dance, laughter and Breakout box stories. Being vulnerable became a natural part of this innovator process and everyone willingly shared something personal that helped shape their approach to the activities of the day.



For Google to be a greatly tech-infused company, we worked without technology until about 5 PM! Post-It notes and markers were the tools of choice. These sticky-notes were plentiful and abundantly used causing many to be out of their problem solving comfort zone. What is this place? I can’t draw, I can’t think, and I definitely don’t see how this is helping me come to a solution!

How do you turn words into pictures when you’re not good at drawing, let alone drawing out your thoughts? Simply do the best you can. Draw from the heart. Talk it through with your team and coach. Ring the fail bell if you need/have to. We’re going to be okay, plus they’re serving us 3 meals today!


Lessons of the day: 1) Become comfortable being uncomfortable with how you will discover a solution for your challenge. 2) It’s okay to fail forward, ring the bell signaling a pivot, and rejoice because you’re not alone!

Day 2

Everyone returned! More hugs! More sticky-notes! Time for rapid-fire thinking. Jot down your thoughts, one per sticky-note, in 1 minute. Seriously? Yes, these people are truly evil! This time we get to work with others aside from our team and with our “affinity buddy” because every idea needs fresh eyes and different perspectives to help generate creativity and foster a breakthrough! THE hardest thing was hearing questions and statements that challenged your beautifully sketched out solution: What makes this better than that? Why would anyone want to use yours over the others out there?  What are you trying to do? I don’t get it. WOW!

That exercise made some of us take a step back. I personally questioned every decision I had made in life leading up to this experience and then I cried. Yes, real tears. My ideas (seeds) were planted in fertile ground, they just needed a little rain to complete the growth process, right? Even though it was late in the evening, and most of the cohort was working on polishing their projects, I reached for the fail bell. My new family loudly cheered at the sound of the bell and it was in that moment I realized my life choices were perfectly engineered for me to arrive here, now, at Google NYC.




Lesson of the day: Passion and pivot are not the opposing forces life tries to make you believe they are, because it takes courage and strength to do both.

Day 3

Project proposal day is here! The day started as usual, a subway ride into the office, breakfast on site, dedicated time to work on any last minute ideas on our projects, more tours of the Google facility (they have a Lego room!), professional pictures taken, and above all, more family bonding time. After our final lunch, we prepared to give a 30 second “Once Upon A Time….” story about our solution. You could feel the excited yet nervous energy in the room because we were presenting in front of the room of Innovators, loved ones who were present for graduation, and it was also live streamed to the world! No pressure!

One by one, Innovators took the stage telling a beautiful story about how their solution is going to change the face of education as we know it. Listening to how different, yet similar, our challenges were, made being in that room full of like-minded individuals awe inspiring, extremely motivational, and overwhelmingly humbling. Even though 30 seconds might not have been enough time for a few of us, at the end of every presentation, the room erupted with cheers and applause, loved ones beamed with pride, and a huge sense of accomplishment washed over us all. We laughed together. We cried together. We encouraged each other. We supported each other. WE became Innovators together!


Lesson of The Academy

Two (2) months ago we didn’t even know the other existed. Now, because of 3 days in NYC, we will carry each other in our hearts for the rest of our lives. We’ve already celebrated a few birthdays together, virtually and in person, and we continue to support one another via social media outlets and the infamous Google Hangout. We are excited to see how everyone’s project unfolds and we will definitely celebrate any fail bell pivots along the way.

No matter what happens next, one thing is certain, every moment of each day prior to graduation, every fail bell ring that echoed the room, every moment of self-doubt that tried to invade our minds, every motivational and up-lifting speech that kept pushing us forward, was all worth it to see 49+ strangers become friends and now family!







Is Your Vision 20/10?

“The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.” — John Scully

A pair of eyeglasses on the countertop

One of my favorite movies is Field of Dreams (c). For me, it touches on an important aspect necessary to achieve greatness: Vision.

20/20 Vision

An annual eye exam trip to the Optometrist follows the same routine: stand on a predetermined distance line, look at an eye chart and call out the last line of letters/numbers you can clearly see without the aid of glasses. If you are fortunate you will be able to read the 8th line without any hesitation, which means you have normal visual acuity measured at a distance of 20 feet. However, if you are not as fortunate, you will need corrective lenses. Several days, and sometimes a pricey bill, later you carefully place your purposefully chosen specs on your face and look around the room. A sense of wonder waves over you as you ponder “What else have I not seen clearly in the past?”

20/10 Vision

Less than 10% of people tested have “perfect” vision which means about a maximum of 10 people tested every year per Optometrist are able to see things at a measured distance of 20 feet that the majority of people can only see 10 feet away. The main character in Field of Dreams had 20/10 vision when he decided to mow a chunk of his corn fields down and build a baseball diamond in its place. No one around him could see what he saw no matter how hard he tried to convince them otherwise. No one believed in his vision. No one appreciated his efforts. No one understood his resolve. However, everyone did see his dedication, determination, and belief in the vision. And because of his consistency everyone eventually “saw” the manifestation of the vision too.

If he were an educator, his actions would have been considered the same as “seeing” down the street and around the corner. His vision was unparalleled in comparison to others. And despite the criticisms and ridicule he experienced he never allowed what others thought of him and his actions make him lose his focus.

As an educator if you have 20/10 vision, be prepared for the times where you will experience criticism and ridicule. I strongly encourage you to stand fast in your resolve and find a friend to travel the road with you. Just like the main character in Field of Dreams, consistent behavior will convince others to get their vision rechecked. If all goes well, they may improve from 20/20 to 20/10!

Fail Forward and Rejection Rebound: A Very Personal Perspective

Never give up. People will always discount you, and you’ll always get rejected. But set your sights high. Be boldly ambitious. Be relentless and never give up. – Reshma Saujani

This year, so far, has had so many great things happening for me and in my life. I stepped out of my comfort zone professionally through Twitter, leading PD for my district, earning coveted certifications (Google Level 1&2, Google Certified Trainer) my oldest son and his family moving back to GA, my youngest son transferring colleges back to GA, and my husband getting the best dedicated trucking assignment since he began a new career in August 2017. We were all on a roll and life felt perfect!

Then came the disappointments: a job opportunity rejection; professional development proposals denied; not being selected for the Google for Education Certified Innovators Program; and general frustrations of standing still while everyone, and everything, around you are passing by at what appears to be lightning speed. I’ve been rejected from jobs before and I’ve rebounded rather quickly. However, this time it was rapid fire rejection. Three of them came 2 weeks apart. These feelings of failing beyond recovery were rushing in and doubt grew roots. I began to question myself and all the choices I’d made in my life up until this point. I needed a break from my thoughts ASAP!

Fall Break came 2 days after I got the email from Google, so it was perfect timing to go get out of my head, relax, recharge, and spend time with my husband on a get-away vacation we planned a few months earlier. We decided to go hiking, something I’ve never done before, in The Great Smoky Mountains and then drove on up to Gatlinburg, TN for the rest of the weekend. I was desperately in need of a respite from the emotional toll I was experiencing and I thought a walk in the woods, on a clear and cool Autumn day, would be the best medicine. Boy, was I in for a surprise!

As we approached the beginning of the trail, I became excited for the adventure we were about to embark upon and extremely nervous because I thought I wasn’t physically prepared enough to complete the course. Nevertheless, I strapped on my newly purchased survival backpack, grabbed my liter water bottle and my hiking stick, took my obligatory newbie photo and started on my way ahead of my seasoned hiker husband.

After what I thought was 1/2 the distance to the destination, I asked how much longer we had to go, he said “about 1.5 miles”. We hadn’t gone a mile yet! Ugh! I suddenly felt overwhelmed with the realization that I’m nowhere near the end and giving up IS an option because we weren’t that far up the trail- but that would make me a failure…again.

I started crying. I knew this moment wasn’t just associated with how much farther I had to go. These tears were deeply rooted in something else. These tears were about who I was at that moment and all the recent rejections I had received. I was questioning my ability to make sound decisions. My husband unhooked my backpack, hands me my water bottle, and sits me down in a cool shaded area. He asks about my welfare and what I was thinking. I poured my heart out. I felt: like a failure; inadequate; unaccomplished; stagnant; #failforward is a lie; #rejectionrebound another lie!

He wiped my tears away, looked me in the eyes and said “You’re not a failure, inadequate, unaccomplished, nor stagnant. You were rejected. If you give up on this hike you will experience failure. Besides, I’m not going to let you quit. So, rest in the shade, drink your water, rebound from the rejection, and let’s reach our goal!”

I shook my head in agreement, stood up, and started back up the trail. Along the way we came across other hikers coming down and they all said the same thing “you’re almost there; you can make it; the view is worth it-trust us.” Encouragement was coming from strangers…talk about perfect timing! An hour later we made it to the bluffs and the view WAS amazing! We sat down and soaked in the quiet serenity of nature for about 30 minutes.

On the way down the trail I began thinking about this post. Had I given in and turned around I would have failed at my #failforward #rejectionrebound mindset. I would have spent the rest of our vacation mad at myself and miserable thereby making my husband unhappy and he didn’t deserve that version of me.

I’m glad I checked off an item I didn’t even know was on my Bucket List by forging ahead when the going got really tough. We went Zip Lining the next day. Score another point for stepping out of one’s comfort zone and pushing personal limits. It was easier because of the previous day and both events brought clarity to my mind.

Fail Forward and Rejection Rebound are more than hashtags that sound great on Twitter. They are a mindset that should be active in every aspect of your life. My Fall Break vacation gave me new ideas about my next application to the Google for Education Innovators Academy. I received feedback about the other opportunities I didn’t get to be part of so I can make improvements on those applications as well. With each new application/proposal it will be #failforward because I tried, and if I get another “Unfortunately…..”letter/email, I will execute #rejectionrebound because I will try again.

My Google Train Ride Continues


The journey is part of the experience – an expression of the seriousness of one’s intent. One doesn’t take the A train to Mecca. –Anthony Bourdain, A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines

bitmoji briefcase

3 months ago I wrote about my professional development journey and eventually becoming a Google Certified Education Trainer. I mentioned that the journey has been a ride full of ebbs and flows, oh what a ride it has been, and it is not over! The beginning of a new school year is always filled with new challenges and excitement. I look forward to it every year! Each day highlights opportunities for students and teachers to take risks, #failforward is a celebrated option now, and use the next day as a reset if necessary.  With this in mind, I decided to take a chance and apply for the Google Innovators Academy in Denmark #DEN18.

Why Should I Apply?

The idea of applying to become part of such a prestigious group of educators is undeniably intimidating. Who am I? What do I have to offer? These are the two questions that were constantly going through my mind as I read emails reminding me of the Denmark Cohort application opening and closing dates. Maybe I should wait and get a few more months of working within my school, the district, in my professional portfolio before I venture out globally. What if I don’t get accepted? How will I handle that degree of disappointment?  No matter the outcome, I still will have grown from a year ago, and that, in and of itself, is reason enough to apply.

The Application Process

On September 3, 2018, I downloaded the worksheet associated with the application and I began to answer the questions. I was not prepared for the types of questions asked (they are designed to stretch your thoughts and perspective) and trying to express myself within the expected character limits was an even bigger challenge. Needless to say, I felt overwhelmed and I did not finish the worksheet at that time. Fear and apprehension had taken control and another week passed without me revisiting the worksheet. Next year, I’ll try again next year, when I don’t feel so out of my league.

An email arrived on September 10, 2018, with a webinar invite for all prospective applicants to go over tips and suggestions for a successful application video plus general information. Unfortunately I did not attend the webinar, but that email reminded me that if I don’t at least submit the application, I will spend the rest of the year wondering “what if?”. Another week was quickly coming to a close before I began working again on the worksheet. This also meant the September 21, 2018 deadline was around the corner and I needed to get the video together – yesterday.

As much as I talk about #failforward and transparency, I still find myself not wanting to be equally as transparent with others about certain things. However, I do understand the benefit of getting constructive feedback from others, so I invited friends and family to look over the worksheet and give me their opinions, suggestions, and, of course, their well wishes. After I got the feedback, I made the suggested and necessary adjustments to my short answers, those character limits were unrelenting, I uploaded my video, I completed the online application and hit submit.

Now We Wait

So now I’m back in a familiar, yet happily scary, place, as I, along with other applicants, some of them friends from Twitter, wait for the decision the week of October 1, 2018. I know I will be disappointed if I don’t make this cohort, I won’t give up though, I’ll just use it as an opportunity to grow. But if disappointment has to come I’d rather it be because I tried and not because I didn’t.

 Good Luck Everyone!

The 4th C of Feedback

Ever since I was a child I have had this instinctive urge for expansion and growth. To me, the function and duty of a quality human being is the sincere and honest development of one’s potential.

– Bruce Lee

Being a “sports mom” I got to see my boys, and their classmates, get a lot of feedback over many years. Many of their coaches adopted the 3 C’s of feedback: Compliment, Criticize, Correct. I adopted the same approach in my classroom and part of my leadership style but I modified it over time by adding a fourth C – Challenge.

4th C of Feedback


Every school year, get an index card holder and write something positive on each card for all your students. Add to it over time but keep everything positive. This way when you start the feedback conversation off with a compliment it will be sincere. Everyone likes medicine that tastes like cherries!


Now that the air is less tense, the criticism will be only about the “thing” that needs to be corrected/improved and less likely to be taken personally. I’ve noticed that sticking to one point of criticism during a conversation works best because it allows both parties to have moments of reflection during the conversation.


Unlike step 2, this process can be personal because it will need to focus on strengthening an area of weakness. If possible demonstrate the correct method. Allowing students the opportunity to execute the correction is the best way to see if they’re receiving the feedback as the help it was intended.


Now that you’re done Complimenting, Criticizing, and Correcting, send the students off with a challenge!

Challenge them to continue doing the things that they were complimented about, especially if it’s attendance! 😉

Challenge them to consider the criticism as the self help it was intended and appreciate the love and context in which it was given.

Challenge them to make the corrections and execute the changes for their personal growth. Doing better = being better.

Challenge them to circle back to the 3 C’s of feedback process when they’re alone with their thoughts about a project or an idea or even about their personal lives as a guide to help them out of the slump.

Challenge them to be better today than they were yesterday and even better tomorrow!

Most importantly, let’s challenge ourselves to remember the power of the 4th C of feedback.

Stick And Stones May Break My Bones But Negative Words Will Not Define Me

I don’t want to be anything other than what I’ve been trying to be lately. All I can do is think of me and I have peace of mind. I’m tired of looking around rooms wondering what I’ve gotta do or who I’m supposed to be. I don’t want to be anything other than me. – I Don’t Want to Be Lyrics by Gavin Degraw

As a child I heard this phrase whenever someone was being bullied: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!” And as a child it gave me a sense of control to utter that at another person because I was letting them know that their words had no effect on me. Boy was I delusional.

Those words not only had an effect, but they had a power that unfortunately sometimes determined my choices. More often than not, they made me question my existence, and not in a positive way, because no matter how strong and brave I wanted to be, I was really a scared and vulnerable kid just trying to find her way in life.


Etymology, the study of word origins, is more associated with Spelling Bee participants or Historians versus classroom teachers who don’t teach Language Arts. However, I wish those who were in authority over me had considered the meanings of words when I was told I wasn’t smart enough to be in the upper level classes based on my GPA from 8th grade or that I shouldn’t be hired at my first teaching position because I was considered a slacker in high school.

Some words said by those teachers and counselors were easy to shake off but the ones that were also said by people whose opinions I valued most were the hardest to shake because they were believed to be more true. The battle of not letting someone else’s opinion/description affect you is hard enough without hearing similar things from the people we love, trust, and respect the most. If you hear it enough you begin to believe it. And once you believe it you begin to own it. It becomes convenient to exist in that reality rather than prove to them, and yourself, otherwise.

Actions Can Be Like Words Too

Every day the students come in the building is a new day to either plant or water seeds that can impact the fertile ground known as their self esteem. We can start by getting rid of behavior charts that are posted in the classroom or writing names on the board for behavior punishment. Both of these, in my opinion, place labels on kids that are very hard to remove. Because when other students go home to talk about their day and they mention again how Lil’ Rhonda’s name is on the board again, parents jump into protective mode and encourage their kids to stay away from the troublemaker.

Just like that she will forever be labeled as troublemaker to that classmate. And like an aggressive cancer cell the label spreads. No one likes a troublemaker. No one wants to be around a troublemaker. Can’t be friends with one either. A life defining moment for a primary grade student shouldn’t be made for them. Especially by those entrusted to protect and nurture them 8 hours a day during the school year.

I’ll Just Be Me

We don’t know every student’s story. The students that come into our building are the best and brightest their parents/guardians have to send. They’re “as is models prepped for awesome upgrades” and the best way educators like me can help them reach their potential is by carefully choosing the words said to them both publicly and privately.

Some students may not be told that they’re loved before they come to class, so we have to tell them. A warm sincere smile will speak volumes to a student who needs it. All students’ need is for 1 person to “see” them and help them see themselves. Remind students that a brief moment in time is only as defining as they allow it to be. Choose words and actions that constructively correct behavior as well as guide academic growth. Encourage students to be the best version of themselves while teaching others to accept their “differences” will work miracles if given a chance. I know because it worked for me.

6 Months Later And I’m #GoogleET

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride! – Hunter S. Thompson

Wow! Who knew that when I started this professional journey in January 2018 to challenge myself and grow as an Instructional Technology Coach, I would be here, a Google Certified Educator and Trainer!

Put Yourself Out There

I’ve been a member of Twitter for years, but never have I used it for professional purposes. I attended my first professional tech conference in November 2017 and although I participated in the hashtags, pictures, and networking events, I still felt disconnected from others in my profession. So, I decided to expand my Twitterverse and I created a professional account. The first week I joined as many chats as I could find and as a result, I discovered so many like-minded individuals that I decided to become a co-moderator in my local district monthly chats.

Within a month of my first chat session, my contacts, #PLN, had grown, I was invited to host TECHtalkGA chat, and I was on my way to participating in edcamps and attending my first EdTechTeam Summit where I learned about getting Google for Education Certifications. I felt like a kid in a candy store full of Jelly Bellies and Chocolate and what amazed me the most was the fact that this store had been opened for business long before I wandered down the street!

As I continued to attend edcamps and host and participate in Twitter chats, I realized that I needed more. I had a fire inside that was pushing me to learn as much as I could from as many resources there were available. I consumed knowledge from everyone I encountered and I offered my heartfelt opinion as often as I was given the opportunity to do so.

Buckle up. The ride is about to begin.

Let’s Get Certified

Despite the fire, I had growing inside, I still found myself apprehensive about taking that plunge into the certification process. Not only was I attending edcamps every month, I was now putting my name on the board to hold a session about Google productivity tools. So what was I waiting for? I didn’t want to let my family down, but more than anything, I didn’t want to let myself down. Taking the famous Nike phrase, “Just Do It” to heart, I started the Google Certified Educator Level 1 process during spring break the first week in April.

Between moving homes, spending time with my family, and working on presentations I proposed for a local Digital Learning Conference, I once again found myself putting my certification pursuits on the back burner. Come on Rhonda, you can do it. Imagine what will happen to you once you do. Envision the possibilities. See your future. Go for it!

I scheduled a date on my calendar to take the exam. Once I completed the payment there was no turning back. May 3, 2018, gave me a 7-day window to fish or cut bait. Fingers were crossed and prayers went up.

I took the exam on May 6, 2018, and 3 hours later I got the results. PASSED! Bitmoji Yes

Whew! The apprehension I once had quickly dissipated and was immediately replaced with exhilaration and relief. I can do this after all. I began preparing for the Level 2 exam. Right around 5 days later I completed the training materials, took the exam, and again, 3 hours later I got the results. PASSED! I am on a roll!

Up next: Trainer or Innovator? Whoa, pump the brakes a little there Rhonda. Enjoy these accomplishments before you go reaching for the brass ring! Are you really ready to be a Certified Google Trainer? Have you done enough training yet? At all? Can you say ambitious?

After much consideration and deliberation, I decided to take a chance on the materials I had and I put in the application for Google Trainer. I felt a strong internal push that my timing was just right and that my application would showcase my uniqueness. It was now or never.

Monday, May 28, 2018, was the day a simple button click made me do a quick review of my life and all that I had done in such a short period of time. Everything was happening so fast! Was I really ready for the application to be accepted or was I going to use this as a learning experience and prepare better for a future application? Either way, I win right? Submit, click. Fingers were crossed again and more prayers went up.

The Waiting Is Finally Over

Despite the canned response of a 4-6 weeks processing time, every day for 2 weeks, I checked the status of my application. Anxious can’t begin to effectively describe the feelings I had as I slowly scrolled to read the status change from Submitted to In Review on my phone. I felt like I was free falling.

On Thursday, June 14, 2018, as I sat in preparation for my presentations, I looked one more time. Talk about taking a risk. If it is not favorable news, how will it affect my day full of presentations? If it is the previous status, In Review, at least it will be no worse than it was yesterday. But, maybe, just maybe today is the day. I began my usual slow scroll down the screen. This time In Review has been replaced with ACCEPTED!

I gasped out loud and a huge smile took over my face! My friend, who encouraged me to use the materials I had, was sitting next to me at the time, and all I could do was just show her my phone. She gasped out loud too and then gave me the biggest congratulatory hug you can imagine.

I posted this on Twitter making sure to thank all the people who supported and encouraged me along the way. Without my #PLN, I don’t know if I would have jumped out of the gate the way I did.


I did it! I set a goal in January to grow professionally and I am official #GoogleET. I cannot wait to see where this adventure takes me and I’m looking forward to working with even more great educators through this opportunity.

This ride is far from over, but what a ride it has been!