A free salmon or chicken dinner in a buffet spread is something most public K-12 teachers will not see in their schools’ lounges, but Google’s cooking up a different type of professional development for educators in New York City.
The tech giant has partnered with Educate LLC and the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) to create an educational, social mixer called Google’s Teacher’s Lounge.
“One thing I noticed going to edtech events is that there are very few teachers. Teachers want to have a space to socialize, hang out and build a network just like any other working professional,” said Kyle Liao, manager of strategic partnerships at Educate LLC, a small education technology professional development company based out of New York City.
The Division of Instructional and Information Technology office at the NYCDOE has built a strong partnership with Google. However, its relationship with Educate LLC is new. The small company has not held many events like this in the past, but as a professional development organization operating in NYC schools for 16 years, they were able to draft a proposal good enough to convince Google and the DOE to partner with them. According to Liao, even though this is only their second lounge event, they have sold out both times.
The lounge, at Google’s headquarters in Chelsea, Manhattan, is carefully designed for educators. It opened at 4:30 pm, just after school, and lasted till 7:00 pm. The spacious room is organized in clusters to encourage conversation and interaction. About 60 full-time teachers, the maximum capacity allowed at the event, entered the space like tourist—wandering curiously and taking photos with the Google signs.
“One of our hypothesis is that teachers can learn as much from an informal conversation with other teachers as they can from any formal PowerPoint type of professional development,” says Liao.
Though the event begins with a social hour, there were structured activities. “We wanted to give teachers an opportunity to meet other teachers and then do meaningful work,” says Becca Garrison, an instructional technology coach at Educate LLC. Garrison designed the event to allow educators to focus on the topics that interested them. The first lounge, “Finding Our Focus,” featured surveys, polls and activities that helped the team at Educate LLC design future events.
“One of the topics that were really important to educators was ‘self-directed learning,’” says Garrison. So her team took the theme and broke it down into five parts: flipped classrooms, blended learning, back to basics, executive functioning skills, and student self-assessment and self-regulation. Each group in the room is led by NYCDOE assigned teacher-leaders who serves as Single Points of Contacts (SPOCs) for schools’ technological needs. They discuss, train, and share ideas on the topics. Teachers were encouraged to move freely from group to group throughout the learning period.
“There’s no fluff theory about education, no paradigms, no shifts. No, this is practical stuff that will help make your life easier,” says Carlos Acevedo, a ninth grade English teacher and SPOC leader from Morris Academy in the Bronx. “The more comfortable a teacher is, the better they teach, and the more students learn—these are tools that take the edge off,” says Acevedo.
Acevedo has been teaching for 11 years and considers himself a Google guru. His students use Google Sites, Forms, Docs, Mail and Classroom. He proudly displays the websites created by his students on his iPad, proclaiming: “I don’t use paper anymore. I don’t have to take home anything. I can grade essays right now on my phone or while I am in the doctor’s office.”
Acevedo is not the only Google believer in the room; the suite of tools plays a prominent role throughout the event. Educators use Classroom applications for surveys and the entire “back to basics” session focuses on Google education apps. By the end of the day teachers who weren’t so warm on the products, slowly begin to change their minds.
“When Google Classroom first came out I did not like it,” says JoJo Farrell, a professional learning specialist from the NYCDOE’s Division of Instructional and Information Technology. “Now I am a huge fan because they took our feedback and changed it,” says Farrell.
For Iris Valle, who manages Google’s education outreach efforts in the northeast U.S. region, this type of feedback and response system is a continuous part of her work. “Although we have a small education team at Google, our Classroom team and group of engineers are receptive to teachers and their needs. All of our testing and training has been remodified every ISTE [the International Society for Technology in Education conference] based on teacher feedback. We have literally taken our entire testing program and revamped it,” says Valle.
At this moment, the lounge is only available in New York City.