The Importance of Creating a Culture of Innovation
An interview with Liz Anderson, Google for Education team
The Teachers Guild sat down with Liz Anderson of the Google for Education team, our first Collaboration Host, to talk about their Collaboration question: How might we create rituals and routines that create a culture of innovation within classrooms and schools? Read on for our interview with Liz Anderson, global lead of Google for Education adoption programs, to find out why this question matters to her and her team, and what they hope to solve in the next 10 weeks and beyond.
Q: In this online Collaboration with The Teachers Guild why have you asked teachers to share ideas on improving culture, and what is the problem you’re trying to solve with them?
At Google our culture encourages tackling pie-in-the-sky goals and trying new things, even if we fail — that’s why as a company we’re able to rethink what’s possible. Rituals and routines help us live this culture in our day-to-day work. You might have heard of 20% time — the time Googlers can spend working on passion projects outside of their core job — or seen some of our colorful, open-office designs.* This culture of innovation has helped spawn new ideas like Gmail, Google Glass, and Self-Driving Cars.
Similarly, schools who want to innovate need a culture of innovation. But we still don’t truly understand how teachers and schools go about cultivating such a culture. What are the rituals and routines that will contribute to this culture shift? And what are the larger organizational changes that need to take place to promote this culture? We couldn’t think of a better way to answer these questions than to work with educators themselves.
Q: Why is it important that we try to solve this problem?
Only a fraction of the world’s students have access to the digital resources and tools they need to open their worlds. This is changing as governments, organizations and schools prioritize technology and connected learning, but we know there’s much more to be done. The tools we’re building — like Google Apps for Education, Classroom and Chromebooks — are designed to support this shift by providing options for low-cost, high-impact resources.
Education needs to change, and access to technology is just part of the equation. Excellent teachers, committed leaders, and strong school cultures are central to any successful transformation. We know change is hard, and we want to support these institutions along their entire journey. We want to have a positive impact on education. We want to help turn students into lifelong learners and innovators. We want to prepare them to become solvers of problems we don’t even yet know exist to prepare them for jobs that have not yet been created. Our goal is to support the different parts of change that makes this possible.
That’s why we need to understand how to build a culture of innovation: so we can help schools establish it for themselves. With this culture in place, our hope is that educators will be eager to experiment, open to occasional failures, and inspired to think big about how technology can help improve learning.
Q: Have you seen any teachers or schools that are being innovative with their classroom or school culture?
Absolutely. There are many around the world we haven’t had a chance to see in action, but we’ll share a few examples of folks we’ve had the opportunity to work closely with. There’s Kevin Brookhouser, a Google for Education Certified Innovator and director of technology at York School, who created his own version of Google’s “20 percent time” and helps teachers apply this ritual to the classroom. He gives students one day a week to work on a project of their choice, and has found that students come up with awesome ideas when given the freedom to control their own learning. In Kevin’s classroom students have created projects ranging from a YouTube channel that encourages literacy among young people to a clothing recycling project that promotes sustainable consumerism. While this may not be possible everywhere, schools can adapt “20 percent time” to fit their needs.
Schools are also creating cultures that embrace failure and are teaching students that asking questions is more important than finding the right answers.
Bullis Charter School in California is taking a new approach to test-taking: math teachers let students retake any test questions they miss for half-credit. Students can work together, ask their friends and family, and consult outside resources to solve the problem. As a result, they learn to try new things. Even if they fail, they can try a new approach rather than get penalized.
Some teachers and schools are taking even bigger steps to cement the culture they want at an organizational level. Summit Public Schools employs consensus-based decision-making; every teacher is involved in every major decision. There are many effects of this, but one is a feeling of empowerment and trust that encourages everyone in the school system to work and experiment toward a shared goal, which often results in more innovative solutions.
Q: What is Google going to do with this work?
Teachers are all design thinkers — this process is our way of encouraging that ideation, then helping grow and refine those concepts. We look forward to exploring teachers’ ideas for how to build a culture of innovation in classrooms and schools. We plan to test a few of these solutions with real schools.
We also see this process as one small part of the transformation work already going on in schools around the world. Thinking critically about culture is an important part of catalyzing change. We hope that by participating in this collaboration teachers will learn from each other, and that the experience itself may inspire a cultural shift — however small.
Q: So how do teachers get involved? Do you have any advice for them as participants?
The Teachers Guild is a free and open platform, so all you have to do is sign up to join us in this design process. We hope you’ll stick with us through the entire collaboration, but feel free to participate as much as you want.
In terms of advice: think big! We have a saying at Google: “Think 10x.” The idea is that if you set an incremental goal, like 10 percent improvement, you’ll get an incremental change. To make big change happen, you need to set an “impossible goal.”
We’ve found that it is often easier to make big changes because you are forced to think differently. The future isn’t defined. Don’t be afraid to envision and share a school culture that is wildly different than the status quo.
*Note: If you’re interested in other examples of how Google and other organizations create positive workplace culture, check out the book Work Rules by Laszlo Bock, our Senior Vice President of People Operations.