This summer I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Google Teacher Academy in Atlanta. The GTA program brings together educators for a free professional development experience to get the most out of innovative technologies. Held only a couple times a year in the United States at a Google office, the competition is steep to get in. I was honored to be one of thirty five at the Atlanta session.
It is a two part application process to get into a GTA. One part, which needs to be started well in advance of the deadline, is a one minute video. A simple search online will yield lots of examples of awesome GTA videos. Most of the videos you will see online highlight how innovative and amazing the teachers are who are applying or who have applied before. It can be a little intimidating, but that should definitely not deter you from applying. Here is a great playlist of videos from my GTA Atlanta cohort:
I chose to make my video a little more quirky than informational. Naturally, I waited until the day before the application was due, but luckily I had an amazing group of students who were willing to help me out. We recorded it in two class periods with two separate groups of students. I was going for a 24-themed/Bourne Identity/action movie with no budget and no real action video.
Here is my video:
The second part of the application is the written portion. There were only a couple of essay questions on the application, but I know this is where a lot of teachers do not make the cut. Your video is important, but the selection committee understands that not everyone will have the same tools available to them or the knowledge to be a great video editor. However, written word is a must-have skill. My recommendation is to use a critical friend to read over your application. I have an amazing cohort of educators that are great at giving honest feedback and I asked a few of them to help me flush out my voice and to cut extra verbiage that was not necessary. This can be a painful process, especially for a former English teacher like me, but it provides an opportunity for growth.
The wait was tough. I kept checking my email despite having set up an IFFT recipe to text me if I got any message from Google. When I got accepted I immediately searched for others who had received the good news. I added these strangers to my twitter feed and started interacting with them. These amazing go-getters designed t-shirts, planned a pre-Google get together, and even created a travel guide for those of us not from the area. This amazing group of people were from a variety of backgrounds. We had elementary through higher ed teachers and administrators from the U.S., Mexico, Canada and even overseas. Sometimes as a tech geek who likes to push the limits of what can be done, it can feel like you’re isolated. In this setting, you had a bunch of like-minded people who were also pushing their districts and schools to reach a whole new level. That task can be daunting, but there is strength being connected with others who can lend advice.
The Google office was really cool. In Atlanta Google only occupies one floor of an office building, so it is not a huge campus like in California. However, the same Google culture is present. The food is absolutely amazing. The cafeteria is like eating at a nice restaurant and everywhere you go there are free drinks and healthy snacks.
The training had be redesigned to focus less on apps and more on big thinking. We had many group discussions about how we could leverage technology to make real changes in the world. Google is focused on moonshot thinking, and we were challenged to stretch our thinking beyond our limitations.
The experience was amazing. Others from my group have detailed every step of the process here and here so I will not go into all of the details. My biggest takeaway from the whole process was to continue to keep pushing. I was reenergized and was connected to a great group of educators who will continue to challenge me. If you do not have that, then you’re missing out on a great opportunity. I will continue to shoot for the moon!
Do you have any questions about this experience? Feel free to ask them in the comments or find me on twitter @toddnorton.