This week I had the amazing opportunity of taking part in the Google Teacher Academy (GTA) in Sydney. Traditionally, GTA alumni or Google Certified Teachers (GCT’s) have graduated the two day event with an expertise in Google tools. This paradigm has slowly shifted to become more about pedagogy. Now the brilliant design thinking company, NoTosh, has created a new model for the Google Teacher Academy. And this is where the real surprise was for me:

Google Teacher Academy is not about Google

Let me explain by starting with the parts that were Googley.

The Google Experience

As far as hosts go, there are few better than Google. They give the impression they’re not even trying because you get the same sort of treatment as their engineers. You might have guessed, I’m talking about the food. It is ridiculously good and more than half is vegan (yay!).

The view from Google at Pyrmont

Free food? Any time? I promised myself to be less gluttonous the next day. Fail there.

Free food? Any time? I promised myself to be less gluttonous the next day. Fail there.
Walking through Google’s workspaces, you get to see the way they operate. Autonomy is central to the culture. In a Q&A with a Google Engineer, I told him that I see the Google engineers as being analogous with our learners. Their working environments relate similarly with our learning spaces. So I asked, “What is the employees’ relationship with their learning spaces? How do they come about and who decides how they operate?”

His answer focused almost entirely on empowerment. Google has an incredibly flat system, to the point where a manager doesn’t seem to ‘control’ the engineers but instead asks them to work on certain projects. As far as their working environment, they make changes as they see fit. If they want to vote on a shared space or offer an idea, they will use Google Moderator or field an internal ticket such as in the case of a Google Sydney employee requesting a monorail (which they subsequently bought and used as a meeting space). For more information on this culture, see Forbes’ article Google’s Secrets Of Innovation: Empowering Its Employees.

However, this wasn’t the focus of the engineer’s talk. What he really came to talk about was Google’s design process. It is well known that Google popularised a fast iterative design process as well as a culture of “Focus on the user and all else will follow.”; incredibly valuable advice.

Talking Google Tools

It was clear from the get go that the assumption was made that we were already experts in the tools. During the whole two days, I had one short conversation about Google Apps. One. We all used it to collaborate but it was ubiquitous. It’s not why we were there. We were there to talk about learners and learning. We were there to sharpen our moonshots and then go about making them happen; to get the skills to launch them. The mentor team showed some of the latest offerings from Google and some innovative ways we could use them in the classroom but it was by no means the focus of our time.

Annie Parker Talks Entrepreneurship

I was excited when Annie from Muru-D turned up. She’s a charismatic entrepreneur who I had previously met online through Code Club Australia. Annie recently secured funding from Telstra for Code Club Australia to grow with an accelerated “train the trainer” program targeting 500 teachers. I think NoTosh made a great decision giving us insights into entrepreneurship. As a teacher, it’s not something that I was terribly aware of. A lot of our moonshots involve connecting with others and community building, requiring that we package ideas in a way that people can get on board with. Annie asked, “What’s your ‘It’s not right, that’ statement?”, because if you’ve got the passion and you’re genuinely solving a real world problem, then you might just make it.


Most of the time was spent on our own personal moonshot. The whole two days revolved around crystallising it, questioning it, challenging it, reiterating it. Using design thinking we helped each other to question real needs in education and gradually, ever so painfully worked towards the point that we could start thinking about solutions. We had spent the previous month gathering data from different contexts and differing perspectives; interviewing, sketching and thinking deeply. At times it was frustrating but it was well worth it to be able to find the place where it all came together.
Chris Woldhuis was great to work with, raised my horizons and is a fiend at hexagonal thinking! This is us working with ideas early on.

Hexagonal Design Thinking

Chris Woldhuis was great to work with, raised my horizons and is a fiend at hexagonal thinking! This is us working with ideas early on.

I Thought You Said It Wasn’t About Google But You Keep Saying Google?

Have you ever searched for something using Google? Sure you have! You probably got to this site using it. In fact, you probably use the term ‘Google’ as a verb, as much or more than the term ‘search’. But what you’re doing isn’t about Google. You use their tools to find what you want. To get where you’re going. It gives you a boost but it’s not what you’re doing. This is what Google Teacher Academy is. It was at Google but it wasn’t the focus at all. The learners were the focus. Our learners as well as ourselves as lead learners. It’s just without Google, it mightn’t have happened.

It’s not about Google and its products. It’s about educators taking Google-style thinking, the type that can make real change, and applying it to education.

So why was Google Teacher academy set up this way? What do they hope to achieve? The way I see it, there is now 50 more teachers out there going about making their moonshots happen and armed with a community of like-minded bastard-minded individuals and the tools to actually make them happen. They’re all learner focused and they’re aiming at community building, connecting learners globally, improving pedagogy, improving professional learning opportunities, creating new paradigms for learning and the spaces to make these happen. The design thinking crash course and six months of mentoring and collaboration is all about giving clarity to these moonshots and the skills to make them happen.

A Google Certified Teacher is someone who sees a problem with no easy solution but will go about finding a way to do it anyway. These educators believe they can make a big difference in education. And many of us will.

And if you’re not excited by that? The food was bloody marvellous.

About The Author

Primary Technologies Teacher

Rob McTaggart teaches Technologies from K-6 in Newcastle, Australia. He is co-founder of the Digital Sparks regional student technology design challenge & expo. Rob is a Google for Education Certified Innovator who loves to help students to engage and create with the world using technology. He developed the RAPID Design framework to support students and teachers in these aims. Rob is a moderator for #aussieED and plays a logistics role for the team, managing the website and various channels. He is an ambassador and teacher trainer for Code Club Australia and runs a local Code Club for his students. His main gig is teaching 550 amazing kids every week which makes him a very lucky teacher!

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