Ms. Fagin Went to Washington, Part II

Since new developments are the products of a creative mind, we must therefore stimulate and encourage that type of mind in every way possible. –George Washington Carver

I was chosen. Yes. Me. I was chosen. I was chosen to join 36 other educators to go to the mountaintop.  That mountaintop was located on the 9th floor of a nondescript building at 25 Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C.  I had already received an email message telling me that I would be part of the #WDC17 Google Innovator Cohort in June, but to be sitting in a room with the very same people who received the very same congratulatory email message was inspiring.  As a matter of fact, to hear, “We chose you.” from the people in charge of the program sent chills up my spine the very day they said it and still does today.

I am going to digress for a moment. I have mentioned before, I am a middle child. I don’t know how any other middle child feels, but this one feels like there is absolutely nothing special about being the middle child. I wasn’t the first, and I wasn’t the last. I don’t have children, and they each have a son and a daughter.  My grades were better than that of my brother and sister. I graduated from college before both of them and received my Master’s degree before they did, yet I have never felt special. I didn’t feel special the year I was selected Teacher of the Year in 2010 at the school I worked at which also happened to be my alma mater. I think it didn’t help that the principal said that from that point on, meaning after I was TOTY, it would mean something to be Teacher of the Year. It would no longer be a popularity contest, but a testament to the contributions the teacher made to the overall educational setting of the school. Wow? Really? However, for that moment in that room at the Washington, D.C. Google Office, I felt special. I was chosen out of the millions of people who applied (yes, slight exaggerations). Me. Leslie Renee Fagin was chosen to be part of a program that no doubt is going to stretch and push me more than any other thing in my professional career. That’s okay. I am up to the challenge. I hope. I do have some doubts from time to time about how I am going to turn a fully functioning school bus into a mobile STEM or STEAM lab, I am not quite sure, but I do know that I have a support group that stretches across the United States and Canada. For the three days that we were at Google, we talked, laughed, and grew together as a group. We shared our projects, our passions, our challenges, and offered solutions to one another. We shared resources and contacts and just the right amount of constructive criticism needed to keep us going in the right direction.  Now that we are back at home and knee-deep in another school year, we will work on our projects, our day jobs, our hobbies, and our families. We will send messages in our Google Hangout Chat,and we will follow each other via social media. We are a tribe. We are #WDC17. #WeAreInnovators.

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This is one of the things I worked on while at the Google Innovator Academy. I laid out plans for what needed to be done, created a prototype, conducted research about my end-user, and received feedback from my fellow Innovators.

Now, back to the experience of being at Google DC. I don’t know if that’s the official name of it or not, but that’s what I am calling it. I used to be an English teacher, so I often take liberties with making up words and names. We had a tour of the Capitol prior to the first session at the Google office. It was my intention to participate, but after sitting on a plane for nearly two hours and trekking across the city to get lunch and then head to the Capitol,  my feet just didn’t cooperate. In 2008, I fell down the Spanish Steps in Rome, Italy and tore my Achilles Tendon. It hasn’t been right since. My first day in DC was painful so I opted to skip the tour and have a fan girl moment with one of our coaches. When we were sent our initial congratulatory letter with Academy details, we were told who the coaches would be. I was impressed with all of them, but secretly I wanted Jennie Magiera to be my coach. I knew I would be good with any of the coaches, but I have been a HUGE fan of Jennie’s since ISTE 2014. As referenced in an earlier post, I was hired for my current position about two weeks before ISTE 2014. I had no idea what to expect, but I was excited to see that Ashley Judd was going to be the opening keynote on Sunday night. She was good. Jennie Magiera was BETTER. Ashley was a celebrity who was talking to educators about relevant matters. Jennie was/is an educator talking to educators about the lives we lead and the lives we touch. Jennie is in the trenches every single day just like we are. She understands because our lives are similar.  I was so pumped by what she had to say. I knew that at some point in my life I had to meet her. I never imagined that I would be fortunate enough to meet her and have her be my coach during the Google Innovator Academy.  Jennie’s voice was the first I heard at my very first ISTE, and I have not forgotten what she said or how empowered I felt as a brand new instructional technology coach. After spending three days with her and having the opportunity to share my vision with her and get feedback, I remember why I felt so empowered. She is amazing. If by chance the other coaches are reading this, please don’t think that I think you aren’t amazing. You are. I have learned so much from all of you and am thankful for the time spent with each of you. But I think you get it. Jennie was my coach, and I spent most of my time learning from her. She was sympathetic and accommodating when I had issues arise with my foster son and a certain unnamed state child welfare agency, and she was gracious enough to take pictures with me so I could send them home to my foster son. I would like to believe that by placing us in groups with similar project themes, the Innovator program people in charge meant for the people in the groups to connect on a deeper level. The #RebelRousers did just that.  We are forever connected by the times we spent sitting at our table sharing our life experiences, our hopes, our fears, and our visions on how to change education and leave a lasting legacy.

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My people. My tribe. My #RebelRousers with our amazing coach Jennie!

Yes, I was chosen. Yes, although I still struggle with the thought, I am special. Regardless of what anyone else thinks or says about me, I am special. Not because I was chosen to go to the Google Innovator Academy. I am special because of who I am, what I have done,  and what I will do. What will my legacy be? At this point in time, I have no idea. I do know that I have worked with children all of my adult life. I probably reached some of them and made a difference in their lives. I am currently working with adults. I know that some appreciate the help I provide with their technology needs. That may be part of my legacy. I have loved my family and friends, and most of the time, they know that. The love and dedication I have for my family will be part of my legacy. My Google Innovator Academy #WDC17 project will most definitely be part of my legacy.

I am still contemplating a name for the project though I know my mother’s name will be tied in somehow. My mother was a para-professional in our district for 15 years before a terminal cancer diagnosis cut short her career. She loved the children she worked with and spent way more time than she got paid for creating opportunities for them – all of them. Especially the ones who needed just a little extra love and attention. When my STEM/STEAM bus is riding around town, I want her name to be visible as part of her legacy. This bus will be for the children in our community – all of them. All of our children have dreams, and we have an obligation to give them a forum to nurture those dreams as well as the opportunity to create, collaborate, critically think, and communicate. This bus will be for the teachers in our district. They crave more although sometimes they are too tired to do more.  Guess what? They do more anyway because that’s what teachers do. They want to give our students every opportunity for success, and they want to be prepared in every way to help them. The bus will also be used for professional development so that our teachers are equipped to help the students. The bus will be for my mother because this is just the kind of thing she would have wanted. She grew up extremely poor and never had anyone to encourage her to think about a better life. Thankfully she married my father, a career Army soldier, so she got a better life. She never forgot where she came from and spent her life-giving back. Lastly, this bus will be for me. I was chosen. I am special. I want to leave a lasting legacy for the children in my community. It’s my community because this is where we moved after my dad retired from the Army. It’s my community because I was educated for the last five years of my school career. It’s my community because this is where I live and work. It’s my community because this is where I choose to make a difference. Every time I go into a school and look at our students, I see so many possibilities. Every night when I put my foster son to bed and we have our nightly chats, I see so many possibilities.  Those possibilities will become a reality as I work through the process of re-purposing the bus and turn my dream into a reality. The work began before I got to the Innovator Academy. I dug a little deeper while in Washington, D. C. It’s time to get to work and get this bus in motion.

I was chosen. I am special. I am preparing my legacy.  That’s what happened when Ms. Fagin Went to Washington. She found herself.

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The possibilities are endless. I was chosen. I am special. I found myself.

Until next time…

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#GoogleEI #WDC17 Some of the most amazing educators I have had the pleasure to work with and learn from.

 

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Ms. Fagin Goes to Washington, Part I

The innovation point is the pivotal moment when talented and motivated people seek the opportunity to act on their ideas and dreams. — W. Arthur Porter

The first time I applied for the Google Innovator Academy, I really thought that I had a good project idea. However, because of medical issues, I could not fully commit to putting together a top-notch application and video.  The day applications were due was the day I created my video. I had just been at home on medical leave for 4 weeks and not feeling my best. Needless to say, I was rejected. I was disappointed but not much.  I knew what I submitted was not my best work, so I couldn’t really be upset when I received the following email from the Innovator Program Team:

Rejection 1

The second time I applied, I loved my idea. I put together a great video and application. I eagerly awaited hearing back from the Innovator Program Team.  It wasn’t to be. Again. This time I was more than disappointed. I couldn’t figure out why I was not accepted to be part of the Boulder 16 cohort.  I remember watching the Twitter hashtag for the academy, and I was quite jealous. I felt like my time had passed, and I would never be a Google Innovator. I saved the second rejection email. I am not sure why, but I did.

Rejection 2

When I was rejected after the second application, I decided that I would take a break from applying.  I fundamentally believed that there was something wrong with how I was approaching the entire process, and I needed time to regroup. I also thought that there was something fundamentally wrong with me since I could not put together an application packet that was worthy of being accepted.  I would watch the #GoogleEI Twitter feed each time a new cohort was announced.  Each time I would see the congratulatory emails from those accepted, I was reminded of my failure.  I pretty much decided that I would not apply again.  I felt like I could make a difference without the Google Innovator label. Plus, I was tired of getting the email that said, “Sorry, we don’t want you but keep doing what you are doing.” Okay, that’s not what the email said, but that’s how I interpreted the message.

After enough time had passed, and I found other reasons to be proud of my work (I co-authored #Edumatch 16: Snapshot in Education and signed a contract with my publisher to write my next book due next year), I decided that I could try one more time. I am not a quitter, and I could not let myself not try again.  This time I didn’t spend hours trying to find a project. I let my project find me. One evening I was online and saw a bus that had been repurposed into a mobile learning center. At that moment, I knew what I had to do for my next Google Innovator application project.  I am not the instructional technology coach assigned to the elementary schools in my district, but I do visit them from time to time. I also have an eight year old foster son living with me. He loves to tinker with stuff. There are many days that he will go in his room and make things. He then will ask me to come in and play whatever game he has made up.  His games usually involve throwing things and counting things.  When my idea hit me, I knew that we needed a mobile STEM lab in our district.  Our kids need places they can tinker, create, collaborate, critically think, and communicate with one another.  Just like districts around the country, money is an issue.  We cannot put STEM labs in every school, but we can have a bus that travels around the district and expose our students to as many opportunities as possible.

From the moment I had the idea to make a mobile STEM lab, I knew that would be the project that I would do regardless of my status as an Innovator.  I want it for my foster son and the children in our district.  I now know that in my two previous attempts, I was not passionate. I cared, but those projects did not keep me up at night.  This project does. This is the project that I want to complete and share with others around the world.  This project I want to use to train teachers in using STEM in the classroom.  This project will allow me to go from school to school in my district and possibly neighboring districts and watch students be amazed as they create and communicate with students in their classrooms and around the globe.  Yes, they will be able to do Google Hangouts while in the bus.

When putting my project application together, I had to do a slide deck explaining the problem, and how I hoped to solve it.  To complement the slide deck, I had to create a video and upload it to YouTube. I spent a lot of time on both because I wanted my passion to shine so that those judging the applications could see how important this project is to me.  I even went so far as to record my video on a school bus.  I felt that atmosphere would add just the right touch.  As I completed the various parts of the application, I had trusted friends look over it and give me suggestions.  I wanted to make sure that I was not overlooking anything.  The most consistent feedback that I got was to make sure that my project was scalable meaning I needed to make sure that the mobile STEM lab idea is something that can be replicated by others.  Sounds easy enough. Right? I tweaked the application and submitted it.  I will go ahead and tell you that I am not a patient person.  Initially applicants were told that acceptance letters would be sent out on June 4, 2017.  Somewhere along the way, the date got changed to June 6th.  I was tortured every moment of every day as I waited to see if I had finally been accepted to be a Google Innovator.

I began checking my email at 12:01 AM on June 6th.  I checked, rechecked, and checked again. All day long. I watched the Twitter feed. I checked my SPAM folder. I had two training sessions on Google Classroom.  My mind was half on the  training and half on my email.  Still no answer by the end of the work day. My church had Vacation Bible School that week, and I had registered my foster son and my nephew.  Let me apologize to God for what I am about to say.  I have no idea what transpired that evening during VBS.  I was checking email.  At exactly 8:00 PM, my pastor was praying.  I did not have my eyes closed nor was I paying him any attention.  I was scanning my email and saw one from The Google for Education Innovator Program.  Before I clicked on the message, I saw, “Congratulations from the Google for Education Innovator Program Team.”  Although my pastor was praying, my church is not one that is okay with folks screaming out during the prayers.  I had to refrain.  I opened the email and saw what I had been wanting to see for so long:

Innovator Acceptance

I made it!  Finally. I was going to be an Innovator.  I, Leslie R. Fagin, was going to Washington, DC, with 36 other phenomenal educators.  The #WDC17 cohort would be tasked with something similar to our predecessors – be different, be creative, be innovative, be the driving force behind change in our educational system and our communities and our world.

Of course, being selected to attend the Innovator Academy is not the end of my journey.  It’s just the beginning.  Since my intention is to share the process with others so they can replicate it in their districts, I will blog on this site and add videos on my YouTube Channel.  Not long after our acceptance letters were sent out, we received a ton of information about what to expect as well as things that we needed to do prior to our arrival in DC.  I will continue to share my experience as I travel the road to becoming a Google Innovator.  I can’t wait until I get to the Google Office in DC, nor can I wait to see the bus in motion sometime in 2018.  I already have a name for it, and I can’t wait to unveil it at the press conference.  Yes, there will be a press conference.

Stay tuned…

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