I wanted to be a Google for Education Certified Innovator. As an unabashed Google fanboy who once begged a work supervisor for a GMail invite back in the day, I have always been impressed with the creativity and innovation that is Google. As an educator, I couldn’t think of a more incredible opportunity than to become a Google Innovator because it would give me access to a small, but passionate, group of like-minded teachers. As an international teacher, the challenge was always location. It didn’t seem possible for me to apply to, say, the Mountain View, California cohort when I live in the Middle East. And so, I watched applications open and close, wondering how I could make the application work with my schedule.
At the beginning of 2017, I began to frequent the Google for Education Certified Innovator website to see when the next academy dates would be announced. I knew very little about the program, only that it involved a select few who got to visit a Google headquarters, much like Charlie visiting the Chocolate Factory, to receive the best PD of their life. So it was with elation that I saw the announcement in my Google+ feed that the new application had opened, and it would be taking place in London, one of my favorite places in the world. Not only that, but London was achievable, it was regionally accessible, and it was just the kick in the pants I needed to get the application started because the due date for the application was rapidly approaching.
The application consists of three components: a written document, a short video, and a vision deck. The application asks you to identify a ‘wicked’ problem in education, and your idea for fixing it. Having been involved in a three-year passion project with my school, I already knew that fostering creativity and innovation in students would be my focus. I wrote multiple drafts of the written application, constantly trying to synthesize my thoughts down to a surprisingly limited number of characters (note: 500 characters is very different from 500 words). In my mind, I tried to think of ways that I could use my vision video to fill in the gaps of the written application. I had to condense my concept down even more for my vision deck, 5 Google Slides that summarized my solution to the problem. I revised the application multiple times during my breaks, late into the night, on the plane returning from a conference, and, it seemed, even while I slept. The due date arrived, and I submitted my application, trying extremely hard not to get my hopes up. It would only be a matter of weeks before applicants were notified, and I did my best to patiently wait.
Google announced the day, but not the time, that they would notify those who were accepted into the program. And so, like one of my students whom I constantly refocus away from their cell phones, I anxiously checked my inbox all day. I went the whole day without hearing anything. I checked Twitter and Google+ to see if anyone was celebrating, or crying. I found like-minded educators on pins and needles waiting for the announcement.
I went home and started making dinner for my wonderful wife. As I was sauteing mushrooms and preparing the chicken, my phone vibrated. I quickly unlocked the phone to find one message…a Google Hangout invitation to join the LON17 Hangout group. But what did it mean? Did I make it in? Is that how they announced the winners? By sending them invitations to Hangouts? Another vibration, another invitation to a LON17 Google+ Community. This had to mean I was accepted right? But wouldn’t there be some kind of acceptance letter, or was Google flying a drone to deliver a letter to me, much like Harry Potter receiving his acceptance to Hogswart via an owl? Another vibration. A shared Google Doc. A gif image of a previous cohort waving at me with frantic jazz-hands. I was in! I immediately started jumping up and down in the kitchen, my dog staring at me with a mixture of curiosity and concern (or maybe he just wanted some chicken). Twitter erupted with emojis and 140-character freak outs. People began posting images of their acceptance emails to Twitter (I would later figure out that my acceptance letter had gone to my Spam folder. A tad ironic.).
And thus, I freaked out. And then the reality started to slowly sink in. In one month, I would be going to London to join 35 other educators from around the world, to attend what a few weeks ago, had only been a dream.