That’s Mr. Google Certified Teacher

Yesterday I attended the Southern California Google Teachers Academy in Santa Monica. I’m exhausted. In addition to five hours in the car, the conference lasted another eleven+! From 8:30 am to 8:00 pm we lived and breathed Google tools and, perhaps just as important, Google culture. I’m still wrapping my brain around the day and need to reflect the uses of the tools more deeply (meaning, I will discuss some of them in future posts, no really, I will).

Living the Google life. Living la vida Google. OK, I’m still a little punchy from yesterday. Now I only got to visit the Santa Moncia office, apparently the Mountain View “campus” is monsterous compared to this office.

Without sounding too much like a Google employee (we were well fed, but didn’t receive any actual compensation!), I was taken with some of the elements of the Google culture. The environment was very simple, definitely not cluttered in any way. Even most of the work stations seemed clean.

In one of the main work areas we toured, there were a series of cubicals with tinted glass separating the employees. All of them opened up into the same area. I saw people meeting together in the center of the area having a discussion and others who wheeled their chairs into another person’s work station to look at something on one of the pair of 24 inch monitors each person had at their station.

One of the most inviting aspects of Google involved what employees did when they weren’t working. Microkitchens apparently dot Google facilities around the world, complete with drinks and a variety of healthy and not-so-healthy snacks – all completely free of charge and stocked by the company. In main kitchen, lunch and dinner is prepared by a gorumet chief. I overheard some Google employees eating at a table next to mine, talking “shop.” I can’t forget the game room, complete with a pool table, couches, and two wide screen televisions connected to a WII and my personal favorite, an Atari 2600 (I regret selling mine on eBay!). My tour guide also spoke very highly of the subsidized massages!

The most striking element of working at Google is what they call “20 percent time” which allows them to spend a fifth of their work week on a projects outside of their job description. Some of their newer products started as someone’s pet project. What a great way to spark innovation. Pay people to do it.

The collaborative and straightforward nature of the Google work place mirrors the nature of a lot their tools. Mostly in that they are collaborative, user-friendly, and not terribly imposing (plus they are mostly free!). They enable and reward innovation. I got the feeling that the employees were very happy to be there, that they lived and breathed their jobs. Heck, in a place like that, I’m sure it could be very easy. I have no idea how “family friendly” they are, but everyone I saw looked about 12 (which means they were probably in their early 20’s). Probably when I was that age, I would have loved a job like that, but now….

Throughout the day, I tried to think how this new corporate culture can be applied to education. I like the 20 percent time idea – both at the student and teacher level. If we gave our students the power to explore what they wanted within the context of our classes once week, some would no doubt do great things, others might not. The most influential characteristic of the Google culture has to be the collaborative nature of the work environment. So often as teachers we are isolated from one another, except for small chunks of time. I know my own experience at true collaboration this year has been powerful and positive. Google makes it an essential element of their philosophy.

Enough Google loving today. More soon.