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
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!