Aubrey Yeh

Google for Education Innovation Academy #DEN18 Wrap-Up

After quite a bit of traveling after the academy, I finally made it back home on Thanksgiving, and I've had the chance to reflect a bit more on my #DEN18 experience. I wrote a bit of a wrap-up post the morning after, but I know I was exhausted, and hopefully this one will make a little more sense :-). Warning: it's not short.

It was amazing and challenging, all at the same time. Both a struggle and a highlight of my professional career.

The Academy itself was amazing. Let's start with the people there–bringing together brilliant educators from all over the world creates a powerful think tank! There was a sense of purpose in the group–to change the world through education. And I'm not exaggerating when I say "change the world." We were consistently encouraged to start small, but dream big about how to impact the lives of students, teachers, leaders, and communities. I know that this community will continue to encourage, inspire, stay connected, and do great things throughout the year and beyond!

Our three days went by quickly with a mix of team building, inspiration, work on our projects, and just plain fun. At first, I was overwhelmed at how I would get from my "problem" into a "solution" in such a short time, but everything was broken down into small steps, and I feel like I made a ton of progress. There was never enough work time (but is there ever enough?), but we kept moving anyway, and the limited time actually fueled my thinking and stopped me from over-analyzing every bit of my ideas (which I am prone to do). Constraints really do breed creativity!

One of my favorite parts was getting to give and receive feedback from a wide variety of people. I feel like my project is a mix of all of the ideas other people gave me, rather than what I came up with, which makes it so much stronger! I loved that we were all there to push each other and ask the hard questions. In education, especially, how often do we hold back on asking a question to avoid conflict? My experience is...too often. I loved the expectation that we would kindly deliver critical feedback, which would make our projects better. Pivots and changes were celebrated, not seen as failures. Risks were encouraged, and support was everywhere!

Another big reminder–the environment really does make a difference! Being taken out of my normal context, being surrounded by balloons and decorations and, before long, our work on the walls, created an energizing space to work in. The team at Google did such a good job of taking care of us and keeping us well-fed (you know food had to make an appearance somewhere in this blog!), which meant that I was free to focus on my work rather than where to go for dinner. With all of this, I was in a mental space where I had the freedom to dream, which leads to innovation!

As I alluded to in previous blog posts, there were some tough parts too. My personal journey was much more of a roller coaster. Let's start with the people. It's way too easy to be in a room with all of these people and fall into the comparison trap. "I haven't done this like they have...they're so good at in the world did I get invited to be a part of this group?" And then, going to a place of fear about what others think: "What do they think of me...why did I just say that, it sounded stupid?" I wrote about this in Part 4 and Part 5 of my live blog reflections, but it was a huge turning point when two of our morning sparks focused on Impostor Syndrome (@deanstokes) and "This Is Me" from The Greatest Showman, with the question, "What's your story?" (@cutiablunt). Two phrases from these sparks really hit a chord in me: "You are not a fraud" and "I'm not scared to be seen, I make no apologies, this is me." It was at this point that I remembered who I am - someone who loves to connect with others, who cares about her faith, who is passionate about pretty much anything she can get her hands on, and who is quirky and nerdy at times - and was affirmed in living that out. No more comparison. This is me, and I have something to bring.

(There were also so many other great sparks - these just hit at the right time for me!)

Here's the secret about being an Innovator: Your project is important, but it's more about your mindset. Until that point, I was pretty focused on myself, and wasn't able to absorb as much as I wanted to (which I was aware of, and it was frustrating me)! I'm grateful for my friends (in my area and PLN tribe alike) back home who were able to give me a bit of encouragement through this (living in a connected world is so wonderful). Once I was able to settle my thoughts, I was able to focus on learning. I began to see so many connections between what we were learning and not only my project (which is only somewhat related to my job), but my daily work as well! The tools and ways of thinking I engaged in at the Academy have truly changed how I approach problems in general, and that will benefit me in everything I do!

Another one of my big takeaways was to have fierce conversations. My #Admin2B group did a book study on this book (Fierce Conversations) not too long ago, but I never finished it, and this trip was a great time to dive back in! This is relevant both in our professional and personal lives. Be brave. Confront reality. Don't fear conflict (but DO approach it with kindness) - diversity in thoughts and perspectives makes us all better.

Finally, I was inspired to create some magic. Disclaimer: I tend to be a pretty practical person, and it's easy for me to roll my eyes (on the inside) when we go way above and beyond what is necessary. But there's something amazing in experiencing something that goes so far above and beyond expectations that it truly feels magical! Whether it's with the refugee students I work with, my teachers, or the foster kids I serve every couple of months, I am inspired give them a moment to remember...even if it costs a little bit more money, time, and effort.

Yeah, I'm not going to make this blog post any longer - more later (that's for you, @markwagner)! I am hoping to build a resource to help educators find training about working with refugee students, to help them connect meaningfully with families, and to give refugee students a platform to share their stories. If you have any ideas about what you would like to see or what would help you, please let me know!

In case this wasn't long enough (kidding!) and you want to read my live thoughts and reflections, here they are:

  • Part 1 - the beginning of the adventure + pre-academy thoughts
  • Part 2 - arrival in Copenhagen + finally meeting cohort friends in person!
  • Part 3 - pre-academy reflections + excitement about meeting more of the cohort!
  • Part 4 - reflection from day #1, when I was in one of the "lows" of the roller coaster
  • Part 5 - reflection from day #2, after my "epiphany"
  • Part 6 - quick reflections right after it ended
  • Part 7 - even as a tourist, #DEN18 is already changing my perspective!
  • Innovator Spark Sketchnote - how I kept my hands busy all day!

Thank you to everyone who made this happen. To Google Copenhagen and the team for hosting us. To EdTechTeam and everyone who puts this program together. To our coaches and leaders who set the tone and shared their energy and expertise with us. To my fellow Innovators who pushed me to think further and more deeply. To my family, friends and PLN who have helped me get to this point. My experience is a compilation of all of the encouragement and inspiration you have given me over the years!

Aubrey Yeh is the Director of Fine & Performing Arts for Boulder Valley School District in Boulder, CO. This blog entry was reposted with her permission. See the original post here.
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