Saturday, November 24, 2018

#DEN18: (A Slightly More Coherent) Wrap-Up (Part 8)

After quite a bit of travelling after the academy, I finally made it back home on Thanksgiving, and I've had the chance to reflect a bit more on my #DEN18 experience. I wrote a bit of a wrap-up post the morning after, but I know I was exhausted, and hopefully this one will make a little more sense :-). Warning: it's not short.

TL;DR Version

It was amazing and challenging, all at the same time. Both a struggle and a highlight of my professional career.

Photo cred: @IngviOmarsson 

The Academy

Photo cred: @markwagner
The Academy itself was amazing. Let's start with the people there - bringing together brilliant educators from all over the world creates a powerful think tank! There was a sense of purpose in the group - to change the world through education. And I'm not exaggerating when I say "change the world." We were consistently encouraged to start small, but dream big about how to impact the lives of students, teachers, leaders, & communities. I know that this community will continue to encourage, inspire, stay connected, and do great things throughout the year and beyond!

Photo cred: Innovator Program (@WendyGorton?)
Our three days went by quickly with a mix of team building, inspiration, work on our projects, and just plain fun. At first, I was overwhelmed at how I would get from my "problem" into a "solution" in such a short time, but everything was broken down into small steps, and I feel like I made a ton of progress. There was never enough work time (but is there ever enough?), but we kept moving anyway, and the limited time actually fueled my thinking and stopped me from over-analyzing every bit of my ideas (which I am prone to do). Constraints really do breed creativity!

Photo cred: Innovator Program (@WendyGorton?)
One of my favorite parts was getting to give & receive feedback from a wide variety of people. I feel like my project is a mix of all of the ideas other people gave me, rather than what I came up with, which makes it so much stronger! I loved that we were all there to push each other & ask the hard questions. In education, especially, how often do we hold back on asking a question to avoid conflict? My experience is...too often. I loved the expectation that we would kindly deliver critical feedback, which would make our projects better. Pivots & changes were celebrated, not seen as failures. Risks were encouraged, and support was everywhere!

Photo cred: @jlubinsky
Another big reminder - the environment really does make a difference! Being taken out of my normal context, being surrounded by balloons and decorations and, before long, our work on the walls, created an energizing space to work in. The team at Google did such a good job of taking care of us and keeping us well-fed (you know food had to make an appearance somewhere in this blog!), which meant that I was free to focus on my work rather than where to go for dinner. With all of this, I was in a mental space where I had the freedom to dream, which leads to innovation!

My Journey

Photo cred: @Itsbenwhitaker

Photo cred: @IngviOmarsson 

As I alluded to in previous blog posts, there were some tough parts too. My personal journey was much more of a roller coaster. Let's start with the people. It's way too easy to be in a room with all of these people and fall into the comparison trap. "I haven't done this like they have...they're so good at in the world did I get invited to be a part of this group?" And then, going to a place of fear about what others think: "What do they think of me...why did I just say that, it sounded stupid?" I wrote about this in Part 4 & Part 5 of my live blog reflections, but it was a huge turning point when two of our morning sparks focused on Impostor Syndrome (@deanstokes) & "This Is Me" from The Greatest Showman, with the question, "What's your story?" (@cutiablunt). Two phrases from these sparks really hit a chord in me: "You are not a fraud" & "I'm not scared to be seen, I make no apologies, this is me." It was at this point that I remembered who I am - someone who loves to connect with others, who cares about her faith, who is passionate about pretty much anything she can get her hands on, and who is quirky and nerdy at times - and was affirmed in living that out. No more comparison. This is me, and I have something to bring.

(There were also so many other great sparks - these just hit at the right time for me!)

Photo cred: @lesmcbeth
Here's the secret about being an Innovator: Your project is important, but it's more about your mindset. Until that point, I was pretty focused on myself, and wasn't able to absorb as much as I wanted to (which I was aware of, and it was frustrating me)! I'm grateful for my friends (in my area & PLN tribe alike) back home who were able to give me a bit of encouragement through this (living in a connected world is so wonderful). Once I was able to settle my thoughts, I was able to focus on learning. I began to see so many connections between what we were learning and not only my project (which is only somewhat related to my job), but my daily work as well! The tools and ways of thinking I engaged in at the Academy have truly changed how I approach problems in general, and that will benefit me in everything I do!

Photo cred: @markwagner
Another one of my big takeaways was to have fierce conversations. My #Admin2B group did a book study on this book (Fierce Conversations) not too long ago, but I never finished it, and this trip was a great time to dive back in! This is relevant both in our professional and personal lives. Be brave. Confront reality. Don't fear conflict (but DO approach it with kindness) - diversity in thoughts & perspectives makes us all better.

Photo cred: @markwagner
Finally, I was inspired to create some magic. Disclaimer: I tend to be a pretty practical person, and it's easy for me to roll my eyes (on the inside) when we go way above and beyond what is necessary. But there's something amazing in experiencing something that goes so far above and beyond expectations that it truly feels magical! Whether it's with the refugee students I work with, my teachers, or the foster kids I serve every couple of months, I am inspired give them a moment to remember...even if it costs a little bit more money, time, & effort.

My Project

Photo cred: Me, myself and I
Yeah, I'm not going to make this blog post any longer - more later (that's for you, @markwagner)! I am hoping to build a resource to help educators find training about working with refugee students, to help them connect meaningfully with families, and to give refugee students a platform to share their stories. If you have any ideas about what you would like to see or what would help you, please let me know!

Follow Along Live

Post-run selfie! Photo cred: @MrGutoA
In case this wasn't long enough (kidding!) and you want to read my live thoughts & reflections, here they are:
Part 1 - the beginning of the adventure + pre-academy thoughts
Part 2 - arrival in Copenhagen + finally meeting cohort friends in person!
Part 3 - pre-academy reflections + excitement about meeting more of the cohort!
Part 4 - reflection from day #1, when I was in one of the "lows" of the roller coaster
Part 5 - reflection from day #2, after my "epiphany"
Part 6 - quick reflections right after it ended 
Part 7 - even as a tourist, #DEN18 is already changing my perspective!
Innovator Spark Sketchnote - how I kept my hands busy all day!

Thank you!

Photo cred: @KatieF
Thank you to everyone who made this happen. To Google Copenhagen & the team for hosting us. To EdTechTeam & everyone who puts this program together. To our coaches & leaders who set the tone and shared their energy & expertise with us. To my fellow Innovators who pushed me to think further and more deeply. To my family, friends & PLN who have helped me get to this point. My experience is a compilation of all of the encouragement & inspiration you have given me over the years!

So...are you applying next round? Let me know if you want help through the application process!

Photo cred: @IngviOmarsson

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

#DEN18: Design Thinking in Real Life (Part 7)

Since the Google Innovator Academy ended last Friday, I thought that things might slow down a little bit - ha! My mom & I have continued to be on the go with touring around Copenhagen, viewing the Aurora Borealis up north, and sightseeing in Stockholm today! There is a lot to share about our adventures, as well as a lot to share about the academy, but I haven't quite had the time to compose my thoughts yet. Instead, I want to share a real-life moment of design thinking that we heard about today.

We were at the City Hall in Stockholm, where they host several events, including the Nobel Banquet. As our tour guide explained to us, Ragnar Ă–stberg, the architect, knew that ladies in high heels and fancy gowns would likely be entering the hall by going down that staircase, and he didn't want them to trip and fall and make a spectacle of themselves! He was determined to create the world's most perfect staircase, and created a shorter model to test. His wife was the lucky guinea pig, and she gave him feedback several times until he settled on a final design. This staircase includes shallow, wide steps that are (very) slightly tilted back so you don't feel like you are falling forward when walking down them.

Now, let's take a step back. Whether it's because I just finished the Innovator Academy or my training over the past few years, all I could hear when she was talking was DESIGN THINKING!

He empathized with his users, the ladies who would be walking down this staircase in their party attire;
He defined the problem of needing to make a staircase that would be safe and effective for them;
He ideated to come up with his first draft;
He built a prototype to test & perfect his design before building the real thing; and
He tested his prototype by having his wife give him feedback and went through several cycles of adjustments until he settled on a final design!

As a result, there is a beautiful stairway there that is very easy to travel up and down - and many people have kept their pride intact without even realizing how much thought the architect put into it!

How do you see design thinking in real life? How do you encourage your kids to see design thinking in real life?

Friday, November 16, 2018

#DEN18: It's Over Already? (Part 6)

It's hard to believe - but just like *that*, the Google Innovator Academy is over. Those three days flew by! At the same time, it feels like we've been together for a month with all of the work and bonding that has gone on. It's a pretty special experience!

I'm not quite sure what to say about it all. Hopefully I will come back after some time to reflect with insights & thoughts to wrap up the whole experience, but for today, these scattered thoughts are what my tired brain can come up with.

I appreciate how our hosts & leaders went to extra lengths to make this special. We felt valued, and there was a little bit of an air of magic, thinking, "What's next?" That intrigue, along with the fact that we were well taken care of, created an environment where we could learn & think creatively! I wonder how typical teacher PD could be re-imagined to look more like this?

I love being in a group that is not afraid to ask the hard questions. So often, we settle for what feels realistic, rather than dreaming. We also have a tendency to try to keep things comfortable, so pushing back on an idea or digging deeper doesn't happen as often as it should. But why? Why not dream big & dig in? I've been in a culture where it is normal & encouraged the past three days. How can we transfer that back home & develop that culture in our own contexts?

Being out of my "normal" context & focusing on an entirely different project has inspired me to go back and use some similar processes to solve some everyday problems back home. I had a lightbulb moment just before graduation yesterday - one of the issues I hear about the most from my teachers is the schedule, but could I apply a design thinking process with a group of them to collectively think outside the box and come up with a schedule that best fits everyone's needs? Why not? The wheels in my mind are turning about how to bring bits and pieces of what I've experienced back home and pass it onto my teachers!

I'll probably say more about this later, but there have been two parallel journeys going on the past few days - the journey of my project & the journey of me. As promised, the Innovator Academy was a roller coaster ride with highs and lows and twists and turns! And I felt all of that. Because that's the process of innovation.

Thanks, everyone, who has followed along on my blog! This trip will continue with lots of touristy fun over the next several days, and hopefully some sleep and time to process as well :-). #DEN18, an experience I won't forget!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

#DEN18: Work, Play, Learning, Fun, & Everything In Between (Part 5)

At Day #2 of the Academy, so much happened, and I am not even going to try to describe it all. Maybe I will be able to look back and write a little more, but right now my head is spinning from all of the activities and thinking we did! It was so helpful to see the protocols & processes our coaches took us through to stimulate our thinking & work through the design process, and I can see myself using them with students and/or teachers in the future. I also appreciated the way the day was broken up into manageable chunks of learning, work, inspiration, and fun! It flew by so quickly!

What I really want to focus on tonight as I write is the idea of telling your story.

I started the day by taking a deep breath, knowing I wanted to move past some of the insecurities & fears of last night, and also feeling very vulnerable that I blogged about it. That's the thing about putting yourself out there - sometimes, people actually read it ;-)! Almost immediately, we had two "sparks" (mini bouts of inspiration from one of our coaches or leaders) that really spoke to me. @deanstokes shared about Impostor Syndrome and feeling like a fraud, which I completely resonated with, and it was so good to see the whole room raising their hands saying that they've felt that way too! @cutiablunt played clips related to the song, "This is Me" from The Greatest Showman and encouraged us to tell our stories, which reminded me to be confident not just in my ideas or profession, but in who I am as a person. There were many other great sparks as well, but these two set me on a path to really thinking about identity and how important it is for all of us!

Of course, this led right into my project work, where I am focusing on refugee & immigrant students. Identity is very important to them, too and from conversations with them, I have heard that they can feel split between their "home" culture/identity and "school" culture/identity. We can talk about helping students learn, making connections between home and school, and giving everyone the resources they need, but if we are not truly recognizing sudents' multifaceted identities, we are only skimming the surface. Identifying this as a core need helped me focus my project.

(Side note: I'm not ready to share my project yet, as it is still very much in initial development, but it will make an appearance on this blog when it is time!)

In short, if I were to sum up my learning for today, it would be a reminder for me personally to live & tell my story and to empower others to tell their stories. And maybe, just maybe, if we all understand each others' stories, the world will be a better place <3.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

#DEN18: The Academy Begins (Part 4)

Today started off wonderfully, with a cinnamon roll & a 5.5-mile run. They cancel each other out, right? The run was a great way to see a lot of places in the city, and we definitely took some mini breaks for sightseeing and photo ops!

Do you see that star? It is Kastellet
- so cool!

After that, I met up with some other friends (even though I had never met them before - we are all instant friends here) for some more walking around and lunch. It is so much fun to just stroll through the city and see what we see!

Next up: The Google Innovator Academy - the reason we are all here! It was so much fun to walk in and have it be real. We engaged in several activities that had us smiling, laughing, high-fiving, and getting to know each other. The evening ended with an amazing dinner by the staff at the office of traditional Danish food. Yum!

I always try to be honest on this blog, and I want to be real now. While parts of the academy today were awesome, other parts were hard for me There are so many amazing educators here, and I feel the fear of, "Will I measure up? Do I really belong here? Can I be myself and fit into this group?" It can bring a dose of social anxiety! Everyone has been kind and encouraging, but these questions surface and bounce around in my own head. It has been a good reminder that this is the way some of our students feel every day. It is also how teachers sometimes feel, especially when pushed out of their comfort zone. None of us are immune. So what can we do about it? I've been grateful today for the people who, without even realizing it, have answered/affirmed one of those core questions. A little positive encouragement goes a long way!

Tomorrow will be a full day of design work, and I am simultaneously excited about what is coming and exhausted thinking about how much hard work it will be :-). The possibilities are (almost) endless, and I am trying to embrace that place of being open to whatever comes!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

#DEN18: A Full Day of Fun! (Part 3)

Yesterday was a FULL day of tourist fun! My mom & I slept in (jetlag!), but then hit many of the sights in the city (and ran into many friends along the way)! Warning: this post is a little bit of a photo dump :-).

We started at the tourist center to get our bearings, but quickly went to Nyhavn, which was so cute and picturesque! The colors were both bright and blended together so well. It was a bit chilly right on the water, and all of the restaurants with outdoor seating had blankets on each chair outside - a brilliant idea! It was nice to stroll around a bit and see this iconic place. Leaving here, we ran into some other #DEN18 friends who were on a similar tourist route to us :-).

After that, we hopped on the bus (yay public transportation!) to to to The Little Mermaid statue. It is small, but popular. I was glad that I had been forewarned that it was a bit anticlimactic, because there's not much to do there besides see it, but I was still glad we went.

Back on the bus and to Rosenborg Castle - can't visit Europe without a good castle, right? We were able to inside this one, and see the massive amounts of precious metals, jewels, tapestries, and symbols of wealth. Apart from being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of it all, I was fascinated by the intricate detail of all of the art (paintings, sculpture, tapestries, furniture, etc). So much work was put into all of it, and it has been preserved for 300-400 years! That's pretty amazing to think about.

After this, my picture-taking went downhill, as it started getting dark outside (and I don't have a cool new Pixel with amazing night camera features). We again ran into #DEN18 friends and walked around the King's Gardens a bit, explored Torvehallerne (a market), and eventually made it back to the hotel. After a quick chance to sit down & rearrange everything, my mom was nice enough to come with me and drop me off at my new place with #DEN18 roomies! To get there, we decided to try the Metro, which was quick and easy.

Once here, it was so much fun meeting everyone and chatting and getting to know each other after only communicating online! We ended up meeting up with more people who arrived here a day early for dinner & drinks and staying out late (well, late for me, anyway). It's amazing how a group from all over the world can connect so quickly. That's the power of a #PLN!

Today, the Academy starts for real - it's already been a trip to remember and I can't wait for more! My biggest struggle right now is knowing I need to pace myself over the next three days. I want to jump in and fully engage, but I could burn myself out very quickly if I'm not careful. I'm trying to find the balance between diving in and saving a little bit of energy right now, but it's hard when surrounded by so many awesome people and so much fun!

#DEN18: Made it to Copenhagen! (Part 2)

Well, friends, since I last blogged, I have had what feels like one long, extended day with travel. Two plane rides, three airports, a train, and lots of walking + one loooooooong night of sleep (yay jetlag) have me here and ready to go!

Our travels included a layover in London for breakfast. Yum!

It gets dark early here, so I didn't get to see much of the city by daylight yesterday, but I did capture this picture from our hotel room. It rained on and off all afternoon and evening, but that didn't seem to bother the bikers that were everywhere! We also noticed that very few people had umbrellas - did that immediately identify us as tourists? :-)

 It was so much fun to meet up with some other members of the #DEN18 crew for dinner (thanks, @jlubinksy, for organizing)! I didn't get pics of all of the food, but it was delicious!

It was also so much fun to see/meet friends who I will be spending the next several days with! There's always this interesting moment when you meet somebody for the first time who you have interacted with online - it's like you know each other, but you are "meeting" for the first time - but that moment quickly passed and it didn't take long before we were all having great conversations over dinner :-).

As we walked home, we caught a couple of streets with beautiful lights up. It feels like Christmas decorations are already up here!

I crashed hard at night and slept for 10-11 hours, but hopefully that means I'm over jetlag now? Today will be a full day of tourist-ing before the academy starts tomorrow!

Thanks for following along in my adventure :-)! I love hearing from friends back home, and I love it even more when I hear from some of you saying that you might want to apply for #GoogleEI in the future - all I can say is, you absolutely should!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

#DEN18: The Adventure Begins (Part 1)

Yesterday morning, I grabbed my bags and headed out to the airport, ready for an adventure! After applying, getting accepted, and weeks of planning & prepping, it was finally time to travel to Copenhagen for #DEN18.

In some ways, it is surreal. I can't believe I'm here. In other ways, it feels like my life got a lot busier as soon as I applied this round (thanks, new job!), and I haven't had the time or energy or brainpower to focus on it as much as I would like to. I have loved all of the community building that has happened pre-academy, but I feel like I was just barely able to fit it in between other responsibilities. One of the things I am the most excited about for these three days is the chance to dive in, to be fully present, and to focus!

Of course, I'm not there yet. Stop 1 in my travels: Visiting my sister and seeing her show ("You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown") and then checking out this cathedral where she will be performing "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" later this year. Beautiful! We may or may not have sang a little bit in there to hear the acoustics - even with just two of us, it was ringing like crazy!

We enjoyed some good family time, as my whole family was here, and that will continue today. I've also appreciated the chance to rest, sleep in, read a book, and do some other things that have been missing in my life recently with the wave of busyness. It's nice to be on vacation :-). This evening, my mom & I will board the plane for the long flight across the ocean to start the second stage of this adventure!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Roads We Travel...

This weekend always makes me reflect, because it was a Colorado #EdTechTeam Summit that started me on my ed tech journey! For previous blog posts, read about my my first summit, how they've changed my life, my nervousness about presenting for the first time, takeaways from last year, the fun I had in Aspen in the spring, and the growth I saw after Colorado Springs in the summer.

So here I am, coming off of another great #EdTechTeam Summit. I always love the energy, positivity, enthusiasm, and learning at these events! It feels very different from typical PD, which sometimes equates to being told to show up, sit down, and listen to someone for hours. Here are a few reflections:

1. It's fun making friends, near and far! 

After attending several CO ed-techy events, you start to realize that there's a certain group of people you see over and over again. We are ed tech PD junkies. It's always fun to connect with these friends at these events and catch up!

At the same time, I meet people from CO or all over who I have interacted with on Twitter, and it's always awesome to see each other IRL and chat for a bit. And then there are the friends of friends, because it's a small world. Connections galore!

2. Sometimes, your authentic audience ends up right in your room.

Today, in a #BreakoutEDU session I was leading, one of the teachers in the room asked if I had written the game "Sneaky Snow Snatcher" (newsflash: the answer is yes, my sister and I co-wrote it). She shared that she had played it with her students last Illinois! Another teacher in the room had also played it with her students.

At lunch, another teacher tracked me down to tell me that she had attended my #BreakoutEDU session at the Aspen Summit in the spring, was inspired and got some boxes, and has been using it at her school.

When you put yourself and your ideas out there, they travel! I don't think we often get to see the results, but it's so special when we see follow-up from when we are bold enough to present a session or share a resource.

3. It's all in the family!

Once again, I had a blast co-presenting with my brother. There's certainly a bond we share, both being in education, and the fact that we know each other so well personally makes presenting together pretty smooth as well. Plus, it's just fun to get to work on professional projects together. It was a throwback to high school, where we got along well and took a class together, and were asked all the time if we were dating or what (nope, s-i-b-l-i-n-g-s). Between writing #BreakoutEDU games with my sister and presenting with my brother, I'm so thankful that my family is awesome and that we share some of the same interests!

As we enter the month of November, I am acutely aware that I have much to be thankful for, not the least of which is events to connect, learn, and grow, both professionally and personally!

How have you connected and what have you learned recently?