What School Districts Can Learn from Google

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a Google for Education event at the Google offices in Seattle.  At the end of the day they took us on a tour of the complex.  During the tour I couldn't help but think about how public education could take a cue from the way that Google creates an environment conducive to the work culture that it wants to promote.  Here, in no particular order are some of my "take-aways":

  1. Cultivate Identity--If you work at Google, you're called a "Googler".  Why couldn't a superintendent come up with a catch phrase to use when referring to employees at this or that district?  After all many teachers do this when referring to groups of students--they say "class" or "students" or some other name because they know that groups of people form an identity together that needs to be nurtured. The point is that it needs to be short and concise and when it is used it must represent the best ideals of the organization.
  2. The Physical Space Matters--Googlers work in open areas, but none are identical--some sit in chairs; others stand up.  There are micro-kitchens all over the place stocked with drinks and snacks, break spaces with foosball tables and massage chairs, creative collaboration areas as well as quiet closed off rooms for video conferencing.  I realize there are fiscal and procedural limitations on public sector organizations, but couldn't districts be a little more creative with the use of space? After all, when it comes to human behavior, people do behave differently depending on external environmental conditions.
  3. Make Life Easier for Employees--From the onsite cafeteria with free meals and easy access to a workout facility, it is obvious that Google cares about the health and well-being of its workers. As evidence, consider this claim on the benefits page of Google's jobs site, "Our benefits are part of who we are, and they’re designed to take care of the whole you and keep you healthy, whether physically, emotionally, financially or socially."  Teaching is a demanding job--the little conveniences matter immensely.  Why couldn't a district offer free child care to its mostly female workforce? Or at the very least provide free meals from the cafeteria? 

As the famed corporate consultant Peter Drucker once noted, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast."  If that's the case, most school districts could take a lesson from Google.