Reflecting on #GTAUK 2014

Well I should have done this sooner, but as ever life has taken over! Google Teacher Academy #gtauk 2014 was two weeks ago, and was thoroughly enjoyable though equally challenging. Led by No Tosh and Ewan McIntosh the purpose of the event, as outlined in the previous post, was not to be a ‘tools training’ session but a ‘moonshot making’ hotpot of educators from all over the globe coming together to share ideas, delve deeply into problems, and try to find solutions. It was mind blowing in many ways!

In the first place I felt honoured to be selected for the event bearing in mind that I don’t feel I have proven myself yet or stepped out of any shadows or footsteps. In the build up I was admittedly pretty nervous – I’m never that good at meeting people for the first time and don’t naturally ‘talk the talk’ or spout pedagogy. I’m just average Jo 😉 But we were in very safe hands.

I should say that since we had to sign a non-disclosure agreement for this it might be one of those cases where ‘I can tell you, but then I’ll have to kill you’ kind of things…but I’m not going to be breaking any giant Google secrets for you, or explaining how you can break into the amazing cafeteria (the food was amazing by the way). Sorry about that!

Day 1 was introductions and getting briefed on what we were in for. We had the loan of a Samsung Chromebook for the two days which was a really enjoyable device to use – quick, clean, intuitive, and a good size screen and keyboard. Very tempted. Ewan and the mentors and Googlers made it clear from the outset that this was to be pedagogy focused, on solving real issues in schools not on tech. Which I liked. And that it was to lead to something sustainable and tangible, not just your typical CPD event where you go back to school and forget you ever attended. Which I also like.

We were introduced the No Tosh system of ‘design thinking’, akin to project management for problem solving and creation. In our teams we were coming up with issues that schools face that can lead to a ‘moonshoot’ – so not a simple issue, but something that can be broad in scope and require more ‘out of box thinking’ (not that we were allowed to use such cliches). The structure for guiding this design thinking was excellent, with delegates being guided through a series of steps from discussing education issues, whittling down to our ‘moonshot’, then coming up with as many ideas as physically possible and ‘ideation’ and then actually trying to create a prototype to share. Throughout all of this we had input from mentors, other GTA participants, Googlers and designers to give suggestions and share how this works in practise. You can see the whole process and structure in Ewan’s book and on the No Tosh website. We were challenged to not think small scale but to think 10x – that we should be aiming to change the world, and reminded that if we are dissatisfied with something then that should be our driving force to change it. Don’t just be the person who complains but never tries anything else.

We were reminded that although the tools used in daily life have changed leaps and bounds in the last 50 years, classrooms have not. Anything we do should be focused on empowering the student, the teacher and the school. Always keep your target audience in mind and do for greater good.

Day two saw us mostly working in groups to try to prototype our suggested solutions. My group was led by Dai Barnes (of the barefoot running fame) and was a good mix of educators from UK and USA, and across all phases and subjects. It was really interesting to see that despite their being a variety of schools represented in the arena when it came down to it there were only really three main issues that groups chose to tackle: those of risk, curiosity, and collaboration. Our team decided to work on this moonshot question:

“How might we build a culture of confidence where everyone embraces risk, uncertainty and fear, in order to develop courageous individuals?”

By this we meant that teachers often feel nervous or afraid of taking a risk and trying something different, for fear that if it goes wrong they may be judged, lose face, or not help students to make progress. SLT may not encourage risk taking for fear of results (which are, at the end of the day, the important thing!) taking a hit. And more and more I’m seeing students who are nervous of taking a risk, of being independent, of being curious, because they have been drilled for so long to think a certain way, to expect a certain result, to be given answers, and are feeling so pressured about results themselves that they are worried about failing. So how can we encourage a culture where failure is acceptable (even celebrated perhaps), and where we feel supported enough to embrace something new even if it might go wrong?

Our prototype as a group was essentially a website (or a school display if you were in a more analogue environment) that is for showcasing, suggesting and celebrating risk taking. This is all in progress and no doubt will change immensely, but we needed to come up with something that would be user friendly enough in most schools. So the idea is:

– website (or a risk box if going for non-digital) that has suggestions for ‘risks to take’ (think risk / chance cards like you get in board games) that are written by teachers and students that each can take, e.g. ‘no pens lesson’, ‘give your answers in a different language’, ‘don’t use the internet for 24hours’, ‘flip classroom’, etc,.

– website (or display board / life tv) then showcases examples of teachers and students having a go to celebrate. It can be tied into a reward system in school for students so they get house points for trying, whereas students can nominate a ‘teacher of the week’ or something to celebrate teachers who have tried something new.

– the website can connect classrooms globally, so you can see examples of what students and teachers are doing worldwide not just in your school

– tools like Hangouts/connected classrooms can be used to link schools up across the world to share their stories and celebrate trying something new

– create a RAG type app that suggests activities to do

– it can be run by digital leaders in school with teacher moderation if wanted

Anyway, as I said, it is a work in progress based on only a very very brief time of planning. Having said that, my headteacher is happy to trial this linked to our new school website in the next couple of months so even if it just encourages a bit more risk and curiosity in one school that is still something.

The whole two days were exhausting, but stimulating and exciting. We made good partnerships with others and got to work with people from across the world who were like-minded and all wanted to change the world. My takeaway from it? That we should replace fear, with curiosity. And that we should have a healthy disregard for the impossible. I hope I can keep that mindset going through the year.

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