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Failing Forward

acceptance email header

Wait, what? Yes, that’s right. I was accepted to the #TOR16 cohort of the Google for Education Innovation Academy. This is a huge deal, and even though it’s been nearly a week since I found out, I still feel kind of like this.

I wanted to share my story because much of the time, our students, especially the younger ones, believe that adults are successful in everything they do. They don’t realize the amount of effort that underlies success. That needs to change if we want them to learn to persevere and follow their dreams. It’s pretty tough to follow a dream without ever making a misstep, and we don’t want them to give up at the first complication that arises. When we fail, we need to learn from it and share what we learned. Fail forward and iterate, right? So here goes.

I first heard about the Innovator Academy (then Google Teacher Academy) a few years ago, and thought it sounded interesting. I applied to go to #GTAATL in 2014 and was rejected. They were probably right not to accept me, although I wasn’t happy about it at the time and didn’t really understand why. You didn’t have to submit a vision, but you did have to do a video that focused on how you were innovating. In hindsight, I can see that while my video was fun and creative, it didn’t really show anything specific about what I was doing or how I was doing it. It was too generalized.

I was hoping to reapply again soon, but I wasn’t able to go to Austin, TX, and the opportunity didn’t arise again for over a year. The next Academy was in Mountain View in early 2016. As soon as the program was announced, I went to work on my application. This time you had to have a vision. Mine was a podcast for teachers who needed help doing innovative things in their classrooms. I thought it was a good idea, my video and vision deck were good, the answers in my application weren’t bad, but I wasn’t chosen. Maybe they felt a podcast wasn’t innovative enough. Maybe they didn’t like my responses to the short answer questions. I don’t know.

I decided to implement my idea anyway, and began a podcast with my friend, Lisa Nowakowski, who is a Google Certified Innovator. We called it Tech. Learn. Coffee. (a play on our Twitter handles) or (our supercool domain name) for short. We weren’t getting a lot of questions about how to do things, so we decided to start having guests on. We invited teachers who were doing innovative things in their classrooms but weren’t well known and whose work wasn’t being shared. It was great, and we saw a lot of room to expand.

In the meantime, the application period opened for the #COL16 cohort. I was nominated by a friend and decided to apply. I changed my vision, thinking that they hadn’t liked the first one, and made it be a website to connect teachers who were doing innovative work but weren’t sharing on social media. Again, I thought I did a decent job, but I wasn’t accepted. I was okay with it, and thought I probably wouldn’t apply again. After all, I had done a lot of work 3 different times and hadn’t gotten in.

Then I was nominated again, by a friend who is a Google Certified Innovator and a person I really, truly respect. I couldn’t let her down. I had to try again.

The Innovator Program conducted a Google Hangout for people interested in applying and I connected with someone from the #COL16 cohort through the back channel. She reviewed the short answers from the May (rejected) application and said that what I had was not bad but I needed to give much more specific answers and examples.

So I went back to the drawing board. I decided to return to my podcast vision, since it was really what I was most passionate about. Lisa and I had been doing it for a few months, and we both felt that there was a lot of room to grow. I wrote and rewrote and edited and refined my short answers (500 characters = 3.57 tweets; not a lot of space to work with) until I felt that they communicated exactly what I wanted and needed them to say. I redid the vision deck from my January application and made it much more focused. I created a new video: a trailer for the podcast including clips from some of the episodes. I submitted it, and crossed my fingers.

A week later, on September 6, I began refreshing my email every 5 minutes. I checked the #googleei hashtag on Twitter incessantly. Lots of great memes about waiting for a response, but nothing else. Until 5:05 p.m., when I got the email pictured above.

I am so excited to be heading to Toronto. Our cohort is already connecting and sharing, and I know we will do great things together. I’ll keep you posted.

P.S. If you are interested, here is the link to the playlist of all 4 of my application videos.