Sydney 2019 Google Certified Innovator Academy #SYD19

This week, it was a great honour to attend the Google Certified Innovator Academy in Sydney and graduate as an official Innovator. I just joined the most phenomenal, inspiring and elite group of educators in the world and enjoyed the best week of my career! I’m struggling with this blog post because, genuinely, I don’t know where to start. I could choose any hour of this week at random and it would be worthy of a blog post in itself. My summary will barely scratch the surface and definitely won’t do it justice (it might seem like a long blog post but I’m actively holding back). With that in mind, it’s my great pleasure to share some highlights.

My Innovator Project

Innovation is about solving meaningful problems. The application process involves identifying a meaningful issue so that a solution can be developed during the Academy. I identified the issue of social media misuse in secondary schools and I was wondering what more primary teachers can do to pre-empt these issues. Before the Sydney event, we interviewed our users, created empathy maps and developed ‘How Might We’ questions. I landed on this one:

How might we scaffold students’ use of social media?

But the hard work really kicked off at the Academy.


“You’ll hate me all week but you’ll love me at the end,” said Monica Martinez affectionately on the first day. As a facilitator during the design process, she knew that she’d have to push, challenge and question us throughout. She was right, of course; We loved her! As the name suggests, the Sprint sessions were fast-paced and I’m now wondering if that’s a positive thing rather than a limitation. The time pressure forced us to think quickly and there was no time for procrastination. Monica led us through the design process which included empathising with our users, generating ideas, creating a prototype and testing it out. Throughout the process, we worked together as a cohort to guide each other and offer suggestions. I’m purposely not going into much detail here because this is definitely worth a separate blog post. I’d like to dive deeper into this later.


In all other areas of learning, it makes sense to model, scaffold and gradually release responsibility. I, therefore, believe that primary teachers have a much bigger role to play with regard to social media. The design process, as well as the guidance from my teammates, led me to my final idea. I would like to create a website for teachers, students and parents that will share examples, case studies, lesson plans and resources all around the positive and scaffolded use of social media. In particular, the website will support teachers because they will have to embrace their responsibility as positive digital role models. The site will include a section for becoming certified. I will design an online course that will equip teachers with be necessary skills and understanding and reward them with a certificate and digital badge (we all love badges). Again, I don’t need to go into much more detail at this stage because I will write more about it as the project develops, but if you’re interested and/or have suggestions, please reach out. Watch this space!

Side note: speaking of digital badges, did you see my new one?

Innovator Official Badge (1)

Spark Presentations

Sprinkled throughout the event were presentations by Googlers and our coaches. These included messages to support us on our innovation journeys. Some key takeaways included the T3 model for technology integration, how to address fear (also discussed later) the snakes and ladders analogy for implementing innovation and seeing the value in ourselves and our colleagues. We also learnt about sustaining innovation by exploring this question: “What happens when the rockstar leaves?” Food for thought! For innovation to be sustained, it must be co-created so that everyone has voice and ownership. I suggest looking through the #SYD19 tweets to see the other takeaways from these presentations.

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The SparkCamps were opportunities for us, the Innovators, to step up and facilitate a 30-minute session around an idea or passion. These did not have to be related to education. The presenters each gave a short pitch and then participants could choose which sessions to go to. The invitations to present at the two SparkCamps were sent out before the Sydney event and, considering how fortunate I felt to be accepted, I didn’t want to say no to anything!  I signed up to present at both.

Blog StandardI shared my passion for blogging and was thrilled that many people (more than I expected) were interested. I got a decent turnout at both sessions and this generated interesting and worthwhile conversations. Most of the participants had blogs from years ago but they had given up on them. They had their own reasons for stopping but they seemed disappointed by this. I gave my advice, suggestions and reassurance and I’m delighted that these blogs are now being revived. There were also one or two participants who are now starting new blogs. I can’t wait to read the content from these inspiring educators and I’ll be very proud to take some of the credit!

I also had the opportunity to attend some Spark sessions led by my new friends. These included making NZ treats with Sarah Dwan, mindful drawing with Tracey Catling and bringing AI into the classroom with Paige Lahaise. SparkCamps are a great way to get to know each other while also picking up some new learning.

Product Updates

IMG_2580During our time at Google, we had the opportunity to meet some Googlers and learn about how they work and what they’re currently working on. We saw the roadmap for various Google products and got a sneak peek at some exciting new features. Unfortunately, much of this was confidential so I can’t write about them at this stage. However, I can share some highlights. John Bailey spoke passionately about Google Earth, Sue Zhang spoke about her very cool job collecting Streetview images in remote places (we also saw one of the Streetview cars) and the Google Photos team shared an upcoming school app that sounds fantastic. Jeff Kurtz shared the roadmap via Hangouts from New York and we were able to suggest ideas and ask further questions. This discussion confirmed that Google values our feedback and is constantly trying to improve the products for us, the users.

Google Culture

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Google famously looks after its employees by providing meals, a variety of different work spaces and a wide range of facilities including a games arcade, nap rooms, a cinema and even a music room for jamming. A fellow Innovator described the office as Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, which is probably the best way to describe it! There isn’t much that I can share publicly but we had the opportunity to see it for ourselves and, believe me, it’s special. However, Google culture is not about the “stuff”. Stephanie Borgman said it best during her opening message:

“You can’t just walk in and make a culture. It comes from defining values and finding people who also believe in them.”

Stephanie Borgman

We had the opportunity to speak with existing Googlers about what it’s like to work at Google and I was particularly interested to learn about the recruitment process. According to these Googlers, the rigorous process is primarily about finding the right people who demonstrate the necessary soft skills and believe in the same values. The more teachable hard skills come second to that. They also mentioned how, frustratingly at times, they refuse to hire anyone until the right person has been found. As a result of these expectations, everyone in the building has the right attitude towards ongoing learning, innovation and collaboration.

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I’m reminded of a blog post from last year that I wrote in response to some “bad egg” research. To recap, apparently just one “bad egg” reduces a team’s effectiveness by 30-40%. It seems apparent that Google’s giant success comes from the employees’ shared character and values, not just skills. I previously wrote about the importance of soft skills (click here to read that post) and this further supports that message. The Googlers also talked a lot about psychological safety. It’s an environment that promotes risk-taking because it celebrates failures. It might not seem like it, but Google’s road to success has been paved with many failures along the way.

Advocacy Labs

An important part of being a Google Certified Innovator is that we continue to advocate for changes that we feel strongly about and amplify our messages as much as possible. With Mark Wagner, we went through a structured process to identify our cause(s), our target audience and where we can find them. The coaches each led an advocacy lab based on a media of their choice: building an online presence, blogging, podcasting, authoring a book and delivering a keynote. Of course, I’m familiar with blogging already so I was curious about how writers get published. I attended the authoring lab and began to plan my own book by mapping out the chapters and preparing some anecdotes. I will continue to flesh it out and, who knows, it might be a published book one day.

Check out the Advocacy Playbook for more information on how you can make your voice heard.


The Family

Let me start this section with a story. On the second day, Lorinda Ferry (my coach) presented a Spark session about fears. We were asked to write down ours and I shared my fear with the group: public speaking (something I have written about on here before). Lorinda went on to share a quote by Brené Brown. Someone who actively faces their fears is a “badass”, according to Brené. That was the same day that I first presented at the SparkCamp. During my pitch, I jokingly referred to myself as a “badass” because I was doing exactly what Brené Brown had described, making a conscious decision to face my fear so that, eventually, I can overcome it.

I tell this story because this was the day that I noticed a change. The cohort had moved beyond simply a group of people and had become a family (as cliché as that sounds). I was overwhelmed by the support and encouragement that I received, to the point that I was genuinely moved by it. Never before had I been around so many supporters, cheerleaders or friends. I don’t know the scoring process of applications but I don’t believe that this was a happy accident. Being a Google Innovator, much like being a Googler, is seemingly about way more than knowledge and expertise. They must have known that they were inviting the kindest, most supportive and most collaborative people that they could find. We became a family that I am unbelievably proud to be a part of and I know that we will continue to support each other and cheer for each other. The goodbyes were hard, but it’s really just the beginning for us. Carlos Galvez, a #COL16 Innovator, said this to me before the Academy:

“The best part will be the people.”

Carlos Galvez

He was spot on.

Use this Twitter list to follow all of my #SYD19 teammates.



At the end of the third day, it was time to graduate (the fourth day was an optional Energiser event for new and existing Innovators). The graduation event involved each of us pitching our innovation on stage in the form of a story. The structure (outlined below) was inspired by Pixar and the way in which they pitch their movie ideas. We used their prompts to prepare our stories. Here’s mine:

Once upon a time… there were naive, vulnerable middle school students who used social media.

Every day… they used social media and this caused problems such as cyberbullying, over-sharing and even mental health issues.

Until one day… teachers accessed some online resources, ideas and PD that helped them to scaffold their students’ use of social media. They became social media role models for their students.

Because of this… students learnt how to use social media well and took advantage of the positive benefits and opportunities.

Ever since then… teenagers and adults have been using social media positively and responsibly and it has become a force for good.


Our graduation was live streamed and the link was sent to existing Innovators. Even though we have graduated, the hard work has only just started. We now have a year to turn our vision into reality with the help of our chosen mentors. According to my colleague Ryan Krakofsky, my face in the image above says “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” This is how I feel about my own journey as an innovator and it’s definitely how I feel about my #SYD19 tribe. I heard their pitches and felt their passion. I am confident that these guys are going to change the world and I will do my very best to contribute to that.

You ain’t seen nothing yet!


Finally, I just want to thank my cohort, the coaches, the Googlers and everyone who made this event so special. If you’re interested in becoming a Google Certified Innovator, you can find more information about upcoming cohorts and the application process by clicking here. It just might be the highlight of your career and the launch of an entirely new mindset. Go for it and please reach out if I can help in any way.

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  1. Adam what a well written and accurate post. You have done a mighty fine job in capturing not only the content but the emotion of the experience. I am so proud of you and even prouder to call you friend….and tribe member (House of Wombat #HOW).Big things are coming your way. You’re a top bloke! Keep in touch.

    1. Hi Maria,

      I’m touched by your lovely message. Thank you so much! We will absolutely keep in touch online and I’m sure we will see each other again at some point.

      Thanks again,


  2. Adam you are a star! A real nice bloke. It has been a real pleasure to have met you and worked with you at the SYD19 Innovator Academy. For people who are interested in applying for the Innovator Program or just want to know what the excitement is all about – then this blog post is a must read.

    1. Hi Lesleigh,

      Thank you for checking out my blog and for leaving such a lovely comment. It was an absolute pleasure to meet you and work with you too! I look forward to our paths crossing again but, in the meantime, I know that we will stay connected and support each other online.

      Thanks for everything! You are also a star!


  3. Great reflections dude! Thanks for the shoutouts throughout the week! I’m really excited to see where the year takes your project! Congratulations dude!

    1. Hi Carlos,

      Thanks for everything! I really appreciate all of your help and support throughout this process and I look forward to sharing my project with you as it develops.

      Thanks again!


  4. Champion post! I love the idea of helping younger students learn how to deal with social media as a method to curve problems in the future with it. I think middle school students will still make mistakes, but it will be easier to coach them if the ideas have been nurtured earlier. Thanks again for sharing the Twitter list!

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