Google and a Leadership Conference for Educators of Color

It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.

~Maya Angelou

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Pilot Program

In 2012 I was asked by the headmaster of my school if I could manage the  technology needs at a 4 day leadership institute for educators of color.  I gladly agreed and then did not think much of it until the time finally arrived.  It was April and the event was not until the middle of June.  The end of the school year can be a whirlwind of activity.  My energies and thoughts were all on finishing the end of the school year with grace and then I could devote my time to the leadership institute.  That first year, things went well on all fronts but it did feel as though we were feeling our way through it all.  It was a good institute but we knew that we could do better.  We are now heading into our 5th year of the Kingswood Oxford Leadership Institute for Educators of Color (KOLIEC) and a world away from the pilot program held in June of 2012.

From a technology perspective, the pilot program in 2012 only had a scattering of technology.  The most noticeable technology was our use of Skype to bring together speakers from across the country with us located in Connecticut.  I remember it well;  we had a lot of individual video calls scheduled:  one with the Head of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the Head for Diversity of  NAIS, The Head of Columbia University’s Klingenstein Center and a couple of multi-party video calls with Heads of Schools from California.   It was very cool getting together people from around the country via Skype for the purpose of having a conversation.

Best High School Mascot in the Country

We “upped our game” for the second institute held in June of 2013.  Oddly, the idea for enhancements to the use of technology at the institute came from my school’s participation in the USA Today’s Best Mascot Competition held in March of 2013.  The contest was simple, vote for your favorite high school mascot and vote often. Win your state competition, advance to the regionals.  If you win that, you advance to the national finals with 4 other high school mascots. Our school mascot made it to the national round and took 3rd place overall.  That was an experience all by itself;  one that deserves its own future post.  The competition was great but what intrigued me and what I found the most fascinating was the communications and the connectedness that was born from this event.  A small group of recent graduates from the school organized themselves, created a Facebook page and reached out to hundreds of others and convinced them to participate in this tedious and repetitive act of entering a code and hitting enter on a keyboard.  We were all alone in our offices, homes and in our rooms, separated by huge geographic distances but we were all unified and connected via the Facebook group. The bonds amongst those who participated fully in the mascot contest grew strong because of the shared online experience.

Google Plus

As the 2013 KOLIEC approached I knew that we had to transform the group of 20-25 individual educators into a unified andScreen Shot 2015-03-28 at 5.43.11 PM cohesive group.  But how?  They were coming from as far as California and throughout the east coast of the United States.  We needed to get them together, to break the ice and get them to know each other long before they arrived in Connecticut to spend 4 days with us.  The answer came as I thought about the experience we had during the mascot competition.  No, not


having them vote for a mascot;  providing them with their very own and shared online experience before arriving at the leadership institute.  To accomplish this, I turned to Google Plus.   At the time, it was a relatively new social platform but it provided us with tools that really made using Google Plus ideal.


Specifically, the Community feature in Google Plus was invaluable.  It became our go to before, during and after the institute.  It turned into our online central headquarters, digital billboard, digital water cooler and when we combined Google Plus with Google Drive, it became our way of sharing and dispersing news, pictures, videos and documents.  It became our way of getting the individual attendees to meet and greet each other long before the institute officially began.


One of the tools available in the input box is video.  Clicking on video buttonScreen_Shot_2015-03-28_at_5_31_11_PM presents the Input Boxuser with several options of inserting a video:  by URL, by YouTube, by upload or by record from webcam. This gave us the ability to have all the attendees insert a video where they introduce themselves and then answered a couple of questions.  After posting the video to the community the other members were able to write a reply via the input box that allows for long responses and keeps the conversations together underneath the initial post.  It was a simple and effective way of breaking the ice and getting the group to share and bond ahead of Screen_Shot_2015-03-28_at_5_32_35_PMtime.


We have now branched into the world of Twitter as well.  Twitter affords us another avenue to keep  the groups that have come through the leadership institute in contact, learn and share.  It is a valuable tool.  However, The community feature of Google Plus continues to be our hub.  It is a power and elegant platform that allows for great visual displays (picture or videos) and longer text responses.   I have found that as Google Plus has become more established  as a platform it has become easier to enroll institute attendees into the Google Plus communities.  In the second year of the institute I worked tirelessly to explain to all the attendees what Google Plus was and how to join, then navigate around the platform.  Today, it is a well known and common tool making it easier to find people and invite them to join a Community.

The Grand Conversations can take Center Stage.  

One of the things that I check for when using technology of any kind is does the technology get out of the way.    Does the platform, hardware, service disappear and allow you to do what you intended to do.   This is one of the reasons that I have enjoyed working with Google Plus, especially the community feature;   once set up is done and the members are part of the community it really does move to the background  and allows for the grand conversations to take center stage.   Yes, there will always be people that need guidance and assistance, that is true in any setting.  My experience with the community feature of Google Plus is that people take to it quickly; they begin to communicate, share and create with each other immediately.   We socialize.


Thanks for reading this longer post.  If you have any ideas or questions please share them below.


Music to my ears – Forms, Sheets, Sites and Chromebooks

“The opportunities are just immense.  We’re still in the first minutes of the first day of the Internet revolution.”

Sam Cook at the Global Internet Summit in Barcelona. 

WIAF Logo - Thanks to David Baker.

2015 KO Wyvern Invitational A Cappella Festival Logo – Thanks to David Baker.

Every Year in January, Kingswood Oxford hosts the Wyvern Invitational A Cappella Festival.  This is a major event and one of the largest A Cappella competitions in  the state of Connecticut.  There are lots of people involved and working behind the scenes to insure that to event runs smoothly.  This year was no different, the many hours of planning, effort and labor lead to a brilliant and entertaining night for the 12 high schools, the singers, the judges and the audience.

This year I was part of the festival for the first time.  No, not as a singer (trust me, you do not want me to sing).  I was approached by my colleagues and asked if I could devise a method for digitally inputting the judges scores and then have the scores automatically subtotaled  by group, overall score per group and then overall scores of the groups in the major categories:  male, female, mixed  and grand champion.

In previous years this was all done laboriously by pencil and paper; last year the festival used Survey Monkey to automate most of the process.  I took a different approach and went immediately to all things Google:   Forms, Sheets, Sites and Chromebooks.

There were 12 a cappella groups with each singing 2 songs apiece.  I used Google Forms to create a scorecard with three major sections and with each section having various categories that were going to be judged by the panel on a scale of 1 to 5. I used a grid in each of the sections and was able to put the entire scorecard on one digital page.  The judges did not have to scroll when the scorecard opened on a new window in their chromebooks; with 12 groups coming at them quickly, the judges needed the process to be quick and simple.

I used the first scorecard as the quasi-template, meaning  I copied the scorecard form 24 times (12 groups with 2 songs per group).  I then had the forms feed different sheets on the same spreadsheet.  Each sheet was receiving the scores of all the 4 judges and each judge was scoring 15 different categories per song.  Do the math-that is a lot of numbers to tabulate.  Or, you can have Google Spreadsheets do all of that automatically.  I created a subtotal sheet (25th sheet overall); this sheet subtotaled all judges entries per category, added all the categories into subtotals per each of the three different sections and then totaled the three sections together to produce a grand total for that particular song. This 25th sheet had 24 lines (24 songs: 12 groups x 2 song per group).  The 26th sheet pulled information from the 25 sheet and then displayed the super grand totals (the composite score of the two songs per group) in each of the major group headings:  Male, Female, Co-ed and All Around Grand Champion.

It was a lot of work to set up with a good amount of details but it automated the process and helped speed things up at the end of a great night of music.  All the prep work paid off in the end; once the last group finished singing, the judges inputted the scores for the final song of the evening and the final results were known immediately.  Once the judges completed the song scorecard/form and clicked submit, the scores appeared on their respective sheet and the rest of the associated sheets (#25 and #26) did the tabulations instantaneously. The judges went into their room to debate the individual awards but the group awards were all set and done.

Once the entire scoring and tabulating system was created, we needed a way to have the judges access the cards and choose a device that they were going to use in order to access the cards and to input their scores.  I used Google Sites to create a simple one page website that contained the name of the High School, name of the group and the songs  they were going to sing.  The names of the songs were active links to the scoring cards. Once clicked they opened in a new window.

We used Chromebooks because of their simplicity, the wireless capabilities and they have a  keyboard.  The year before the judges used IPads.  All the judges commented on the ease of the Chromebooks and they appreciated having a keyboard to enter the scores and to write comments for each of the songs. When speed and ease are important, this proved to be a good choice.

Recommendations for next year.  I would have the judges log in to their Google accounts or maybe create four Google accounts and call them Judge 1, Judge 2, Judge 3 and Judge 4 and use these accounts to log in.  This would allow me to click on the allow 1 response per person option.

I have used Google Apps and other Google services a lot and for several years.  I have always been able to create a solution for the task at hand using them.  For The Kingswood Oxford Wyvern Invitational A Cappella Festival Forms, Sheets, Sites and Chromebooks were music to my ears.

How about you?  How have you used forms?  Have you ever used forms for a large event?  What was your experience? I would love to hear your stories and thoughts.

Want to learn? Get people together and have a conversation

The best way to resolve any problem in the human world is for all sides to sit down and talk.

                                                                                                                            —–Dalai Lama

The YouTube Video below is of a conversation with friends and colleagues that took place over Google HangOut on Air.  The conversation centered around teaching with technology in the Foreign Language classroom.  Much of what was discussed and the tools and services mentioned could easily be used in teaching in general.  Enjoy!

I have always been one that enjoys a small group of people sitting around a table, sharing a meal and having a  conversation.  I do love a great meal (I am partial to Mexican food).   If there is a good drink to go along with it, even better!  However, it is the conversation that makes or breaks the night.   Have a great conversation and most likely  everyone in involved will have improved in some aspect.  Have faith in the people at the table, trust in their knowledge and experience, take a step back and give them the space to express themselves.

In education, the conversation could very well be the simplest and best form of professional development.  To be clear, a conversation is not, standing at the head of a classroom, amphitheatre or lecture hall and taking questions from the audience.  All must be seated at the table, metaphorically and if at all possible, physically as well.  I believe this makes the conversation more democratic.

In the last year or so, I have conducted many video calls, and lots of video conference calls using Skype and Google HangOuts.  Most of the Skype calls that I have administered have followed a more traditional structure, one person maybe two speaking to a group of many.  It is a good way to bring a speaker into a room or conference when they cannot be their in person.  However, the conversations that I have had using Google Hangouts and Google Hangouts on Air have been, truly, all of us seated at the table. It is a format that I really enjoy.   The participants all have the same amount of real estate on the screen, they all face each other, they can all hear each other, and they can all express their thoughts in a variety of means.  My first few posts on this blog have in some way mentioned Google Hangouts.  I do love the tool!  It is a great tool but it is only a tool! It is my preferred tool in getting people together.  That is my intention!  Get people together and have a conversation.  In this way, we are adding to the “Grand” conversation.

How have you participated in the “Grand” conversation?

For future consideration:  I am tinkering/studying the idea of organizing a group of Hangouts on Air  led by different people and discussing a variety of topics in education occurring over one day. Think of it as a PD Day on Hangout.  Right now, it is only a thought in my head but I am searching for anybody that would be interested or anybody that has done something similar.

Technology Just Disappeared!

“The human spirit needs to accomplish, to achieve, to triumph to be happy.”

                                                                                                                    -Ben Stein

The video below is a a conversation with Darren LaFrenier – Director of Instituto Cultural Reinaldo Macchi and Taylor Ross – English Teacher and College Counselor at Instituto Cultural Reinaldo Macchi.  They took a break from bike journey across the southern tier of the USA from Florida to California and were kind enough to spend an hour talking about their experience and the the reason for this trip.  Joining them is Ronald Garcia – Founder of Team Tobatí.

Darren and Taylor Cycle the USA  –

A Human Story  –  A Human Conversation

via Google’s Hangout on Air.

If you do have the time I encourage you to watch the entire conversation.  I have been a part of several Hangouts On Air and I have conducted some previously. This is the first major production that I have attempted.  I must say it is a very worthwhile experience.  There is something powerful and even somewhat magical about being able to gather together people spread across the planet  for the purpose of having a conversation and providing a place for telling their stories.  Although I was in West Hartford, Connecticut; Ron was in New Britain, Connecticut; and the “guys” were in New Orleans, Louisiana it felt as if we where in each others homes.  I could almost reach out and touch the brick fireplace behind Darren and Taylor while at the same time I could almost feel the warmth and comfort of Ron’s home office.

There is still much that I have to learn and much that I have to practice and hone about Google Hangouts on Air as I add it to my tech tool belt.  Like Darren and Taylor on their journey, I take it one day at a time, learn, adjust and most of all talk to people.  In the end,  it is about people! Trust  them, support them, provide the space and resources .   As I listened to Darren and Taylor share their experiences of being on the road, living and teaching in Paraguay, I was lost in their human stories and eventually technology disappeared.  Sure the technology made the conversation possible but it got out of the way quickly.  It was the stories, their personalities and the human interaction that quickly became the focal point.

What inspires me about anything and even about technology is the human element; in this case it was Darren, Taylor and Ron!

Have you ever had a moment when technology just disappeared?

Jen Weeks and the Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference

Enjoy the conversation with Jen Weeks.  She is a a passionate and knowledgable technology enthusiast.

Have you ever wanted to talk to a colleague but just never could find the time to get together and have that conversation.  My colleague, Jen Weeks and I, wear several hats at work.  Between teaching, coaching, advising and responsibilities as Academic Technolgoy Coordinators, our available time disappears quickly.

This week, I wanted to talk to her and learn more about her experience as a presenter at the Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference that she recently attended.  Since we did not have anytime during school hours we had technology help us,  in came Google Hangouts.

As you listen to Jen passionatley speak about her experience at the conference, her work with integrating technology into her French class plus her use of Evernote, keep in mind how the video was put together.

This is a Google Hangout on Air.  I used a  Macbook and Jen used her Ipad.  The video of the conversation was automatically saved to my YouTube account and then I used the URL provided by YouTube and embedded it in this wordpress post.

My first intent was to talk to Jen in a face to face conversation.  If we had succeeded in our original idea we would only have notes  scribbled on paper (if that). I am glad that fate conspired against the face to face conversation and had us do a Hangout on Air; now our conversation is recorded and available to the world.

As I now look at the conversation we had, filled with valuable insights on services such as Evernote and the Technology Conference, I think about all the possibilities available for educators and institutions with the use of Hangouts and Hangouts on Air.

One is to envite speakers into the classroom from around the globe.  Two could be to record speakers that come to the school while broadcasting the event to the larger school community.  I could go on but I end with a question and a challenge:

How many different ways can you use Google Hangouts / Google Hangouts on Air?  If you hav already, please share your story.


Male monarch butterfly

Picture by:  Captain-tucker – Wikimedia Commons

“Well, I must endure the presence of a few caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

As I contemplate taking up the task and challenge of publishing my words for the whole world to read, nerves bubble up and doubts set in.  Is it Butterflies?  Yes, Big Monarch Butterflies on their epic migration to Mexico! Except, they made a wrong turn and are now all floating in my stomach.  This is what my younger students must feel when called upon to speak in class in what is to them a foreign language, Spanish.  For me, this feeling has always been present before an event: a basketball game in high school, signing a contract or presenting the new LMS to the faculty.  Who would have thought that such a beautiful creature could have so much power! I guess the Kratt Brothers were correct, Monarch butterflies do have amazing creature powers.

As I begin this new journey, another feeling has crept in, “fear.”   Some of this fear is due to the mechanics of writing:  sentence structure, word choice, punctuation, spelling, comma usage and the list goes on.  Simply put, I struggle with this.  It takes me longer than most to produce a piece of writing.  I guess time and practice will help.

The bigger fear stems from 6 words,  Do my thoughts and ideas matter? Will my words, merely drops of water, even cause a ripple in the torrent that is the blogosphere?    Will I make a difference in what Jeanie Snyder in her post of December 2012 –A Personal Challenge for the New Year called the Grand Conversation.

I mention Jeanie Snyder’s post because she put in words the same circumstances and emotions I have been struggling with and pondering.

…While I have been an active consumer of the insights shared by others, I have struggled with how to start contributing to the grand conversation by sharing my own thinking… (Jeanie Snyder, December 2012)

I am struggling also…but my struggles are tinged with a bit of fear. And fear, real or imaginary is a hindrance and a block.  With Roosevelt’s words in mind and all the wonderful ideas and posts that I have read online, I begin to chip away at that block!

And, as to the question, do my thoughts and ideas matter?  Will they make a difference?  I often tell my students that the world we live in is connected in ways we do not understand.  I am the type that believes that when a butterfly (Monarch) flaps its wings in North America, in some way it is connected to the winds in the Sahara.

I flap my wings… let us see what happens.