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Over the last week, a few folks have been having a conversation about the Google Teacher Academy (GTA) for Administrators…the next one I know about is in San Antonio, Tx on March 5, 2010.  GTA describes itself in this way:

The Google Teacher Academy for Administrators is a FREE professional development experience designed to help K-12 educational leaders get the most from innovative technologies. Each Academy is an intensive, one-day event where participants get hands-on experience with Google’s free products and other technologies, learn about innovative instructional strategies, receive resources to share with colleagues, and learn how to apply examples from our innovative corporate environment.

Upon completion, Academy participants become Google Certified Teachers who share what they learn with other K-12 educators in their local region – and around the world. This GTA will be held in San Antonio, Texas, right before the ASCD conference.

In reviewing the agenda, folks like David Jakes and others have pointed out that this training isn’t any different than what teachers experience, replete with Read/Write Web tools and less about leadership. David Jakes writes the following:

Why do a teacher academy for administrators?  I guess it could imply that everyone is a teacher, or it could simply mean the organizers did a bad job of crafting a title.
It’s a different audience with a different need.  And if they don’t know the tools by now, which is a reality, they [administrators] shouldn’t apply.  .  .The time has come for a different kind of experience, moving beyond tools.  Tools could certainly be included in the context of the day, but it needs to be more.

I don’t agree with David’s rationale, here. Simply, administrators need to learn the tools and they may find no better context to do so, no better impetus to access globally useful tools than through a GTA for Administrators…something that teaches them what they SHOULD know, that their teachers MAY ALREADY KNOW (not likely), in a SAFE, LEARNING ENVIRONMENT that AFFIRMS their willingness to learn. The badge of honor is not that they learned the tools but that they made the effort to step up and learn how GoogleApps are usable in K-12 teaching, learning and leading environments.

My middle school principal in a small, urban district in San Antonio, Tx was a technophobe. He believed our students should be using it, but he kept a flip-chart in his office, and never used the computer that sat perpetually powered down on his desk. He organized budgets to support technology but couldn’t ever use an Excel spreadsheet. Once, though, he made the effort to learn and sat down with teachers. He was easily befuddled and his lack of familiarity with technology showed. He excused himself after 20 minutes, citing some reason or another. It’s an attitude I’ve seen time again–administrators willing to support an innovative practice without the ability, wherewithal to achieve it.

It reminds me of Moses and Joshua overlooking the Promised Land (Deut 34). Moses got us here, but it was Joshua who would lead us forward into the change. Both are essential to the mission, yet only one is malleable and open to the changes needed. One is held back by their own past actions and failure to be true to primary mission…not that power comes from tools and how we use them but the collective benefit accrued that is irrespective of any one person’s effort.

Imagine that…there are some admin who will see the Promised Land of the Read/Write Web, but will not be able to cross into it.

And the Lord said unto him,
        This is the land which I sware unto Abraham,
            unto Isaac,
            and unto Jacob, saying,
                I will give it unto thy seed:
                I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes,
                but thou shalt not go over thither.
:5 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab,
    according to the word of the Lord.

If the GTA for Admin is a way of helping administrators see the Promised Land, a way for them to better understand the work of teachers, then it is valuable in itself. Or, if like Mel Gibson’s portrayal of Lieutenant General (Ret.) Hal Moore , it intends for the administrator to lead his men into battle, to model what real leadership is like, it may be a start in a safe environment.

Or, if we must examine all the options, poor ones as well, it may just be that this is a way of getting educators to adopt GoogleTools before Google hikes up the cost of its web-based services and tools for K-12 educators. In fact, the sum of an argument against Google’s Teacher Academies–whether for teachers and administrators–can be found in the following question:

What better way to hook K-12 Education than to offer its services for free, build up an educator network that advocates and has high profile speakers to push its product, and then leverage that new found “friendship and goodwill” to help pay for Google-based services in the Cloud?

After all, consider Discovery Education’s “Discovery Educator Network” (DEN). Isn’t such an effort exactly about generating excitement from educators who recognize the value of a product (e.g. united streaming) then tell their friends? But there should be no surprise there.

Building an online, vibrant global community that can create, connect, collaborate with each other is exactly what everyone of us should know how to do. Of course Google or Discovery Education are going to do this around THEIR tools, their services…that’s the common thread that binds them. And, as Diane Main points out in the comments of David Jakes’ post, the experience of becoming aware won’t hurt administrators:

…admins should also be aware of what teachers would be encouraged to use these ideas for and how teachers may already be trying to push to have change take place in their schools or districts.

Some administrators have been out of the classroom long enough to not fully realize how the student experience has changed . . . or perhaps desperately needs to change . . . in their own schools. Many admins are fantastic, current, and involved. But I have known a few who got as far as they could in their positions and then just dug in and stagnated.

I’m hoping that some of them could be reached by these programs and perhaps be the catalyst to energize their teachers to look into ways we can change how students experience school these days.

The time to have conversations about learning, teaching and leading, what’s possible, what’s not are critical…consider Sylvia Martinez’ blog post about communities of interest or practice…what would GTA for Admins be?

These groups of people learn to do their work not by lectures, but by everyone working together, from experts to newcomers, and most importantly, by talking about their work together. The concept of “Legitimate Peripheral Participation” is key to the idea of communities of practice. This is when newcomers learn needed skills by doing work that is on the periphery of the community, and as they prove their competence, being invited into more important roles. The other part of legitimate peripheral participation is how newcomers move into the community through talk. The shared stories of the community, particularly war stories told by experts, are part of the experience. 

Is there a way for admins participating in GTA to learn needed skills by doing work on the periphery of the community, proving their competence? Is there any mechanism for inviting them into more important roles, and how are those roles biased in light of Google’s (a corporation) push into schools for profit-making (it must come eventually, no matter how many free GoogleApps for Educator sites are put in place for K-12 schools)?

Although David certainly gets us there in asking some questions, they are Google-focused. Here are some questions I’d like to see answered–and not necessarily be the one answering them if I’m attending!!–by GTA for Admins organizers, if such answers can be found:

  • How can GTA Admins facilitate change in their own campus, district-level environments? One of the biggest challenges facing leaders is their unpreparedness to bring about change. This is a key topic that supersedes any discussion about using Google for data gathering, or achieving state/federal mandates, saving money, building personal learning networks, etc. IMHO.
  • How can we help GTA Admins–or any admin in schools–to realize that transformational leadership is a personal choice? Often, my experience has seen campus and district leaders who are merely “cogs in the machine,” locked into a top-down model (what Robert Quinn calls a “frozen bureaucracy”) that dictates what they are to do, whose agendas for “transformational learning” are determined by outsiders disconnected from the realities of public schools. Such a dysfunctional model limits who we can be, discounts the use of GoogleApps and other tools because they involve conflict that is undesirable.
  • How can we help GTA Admins re-examine the cultural values of their school community? Simply, what is it that we have come to value and how can we think different, do different things than we’ve done in the past that are aligned to those values?

Reviewing the GTA for Admin tools can be an empowering experience for individual admins, as well as those they serve. Learning how to use Google Sites, Blogger, and other publish at will technologies that empower collaboration are awesome experiences. Administrators need those experiences.

But more importantly, they need to know how to bring about personal transformational change, learn how to engage in conflict that aligns actions to cultural values or redeems values that have lost it. I may know 100 tools, but if I don’t know how to bring about change in the complex environment of K-12 education, I don’t know how to interact with others in my leadership environment, then I am an uncut diamond caught in the rock.

In truth, here’s what I’m looking for as a public school administrator:

  • Witness Google’s vision for education as expressed by the GTA facilitators and contrast it with my own, my organization’s.
  • Build relationships–expand my personal learning network–with other educators participating in the San Antonio GTA for Admins.
  • Allow myself to experience the enthusiasm and excitement of the GTA for Admins
  • Go through the process of applying, creating a video, etc. even though crafting a “creative” video is not one of my recognized strong points.

Admittedly, these are simple take-aways. If the GTA for Admins could give me a solid process for achieving the leadership and transformation questions asked earlier, then that would be terrific…but unlikely. Google has organized itself around TOOLS, around APPS…it’s taken care of the technology but left the transformation leadership in our hands…where it should be.

Ah…to end with a Moses analogy here, too. It’s not about the tools, it’s about the power and your use of it.

use the “staff” too much, you won’t get the benefits of the work…or, focus on GoogleApps too much, and you’ll never achieve the benefits of true leadership.
Does this analogy work? A little…it’s fun, though, to think of Moses the Lawgiver as a modern day administrator caught up in the tools, wielding his power inappropriately and not following directions rather than learning the true use of the power granted to him/her by the tools available. Is Google, God in this analogy? No. But certainly transformational leadership is a higher-power, the communal good of the people and right ways of behaving in the community of global learners.

Related Blog Posts on the Subject of GTA for Admin: (compiled by Brian Van Dyck)

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure