Mike: How do you foster the close collaboration we see among Minnesota teachers?

Mark: I think a lot of our collaboration comes from the tradition among Minnesotans of a strong work ethic. People are willing to put in the time to help their communities.

Ben: Minnesota is an education-forward state. There’s a large community of people who have connected over the years at various events and online who share a passion for changing education.

Sean: Teachers are a special breed of folk. They give themselves over to making a difference in others’ lives. The thing that I do to foster that collaboration is provide space, time and tools.

Katrina: I look to three key ingredients: culture, tools and time. Culture is seeing the “we” and “our” in everything. These are our students, not my students. Tools like Google give us a starting point — a place for collaboration. The last piece is time: giving teachers the dedicated time to work together every day is essential.

Molly: We know that we’re better together. We’ve created an amazing network of teachers and specialists that share ideas and best practices, and know the lessons we have learned can really help other schools in the area. We share ideas at local conferences, present and attend the Summits featuring Google for Education, and participate in our Twin Cities Google Educators Group — all of which create an amazing network.

Mike: How do you help teachers support each other? 

Mark: In my district we offer year-long training for educators to become technology leaders in their schools. Molly Schroeder actually created and teaches the program, and it’s made a big impact. Participating teachers get 10 semester credits, and the school district pays part of their course fees. After this year, one in 10 teachers in White Bear Lake will have completed the program.

Ben: One great channel for teamwork is the Google Apps Hive, an interdistrict professional development program. The Hive connects pockets of innovation in schools throughout the region and brings together teachers in Google Apps for Education districts to share their best ideas, workflows, lessons and strategies. The goal of the Hive is to increase the quality of professional development and spread the word about good technology integration practices.

Mike: Which educator are you thankful for, and why? 

Sean: My dear friend Andrew Rummel, a former English teacher who’s now teaching English education at St. Cloud State University. We share a sense of the possible and the potential in education. He challenges and encourages me to remain dedicated to learning about the hard stuff. How do we do better for all kids? How can we use teaching to improve the world for our own children, and the children of people we'll never meet?

Katrina: I am profoundly thankful for our middle school media directors: Karen Qualey, Tara Oldfield and Christina Lindstrom. They get stuff done with a can-do attitude — they’re focused on students and learning and they’re willing to experiment, fail, learn and iterate. Because of their leadership, Bloomington Public Schools smoothly introduced 2,500 Chromebooks for all of our middle school students, a process that would have certainly been less successful and more painful without them.

Molly: My mom. She was a kindergarten teacher for 36 years, and touched the lives of so many people in our community. When I became a teacher, I knew that I wanted to know the students I taught as well as my mom knew her students. She showed me that being in education didn't just mean teaching the students, but really knowing them and their families. To this day, former students stop my mom and tell her what a great teacher she was, because she cared about them.


Editor's note: From the typewriter to the propelling pencil to our favorite, the world wide web, inventors and innovators from the United Kingdom have brought us brilliant advances that have changed the way we work all around the world. During Global Entrepreneurship Week, we’ll promote entrepreneurship in the UK through a handful of stories from early-stage disrupters and trailblazers who are using Google Apps for Work to overcome the challenges of starting a new company and inspiring others to start businesses. Today, we hear from Rob Forkan, co-founder of Gandy's, a flip flop brand dedicated to helping orphans.

My brother Paul and I started Gandy’s with the idea that something as simple as a flip flop could be inspiring. In 2004, when Paul was 11 and I was 13, we lost our parents in the Indian Ocean tsunami while on a family trip in Sri Lanka. After returning to London and finishing our education, we wanted to find a way to honor our parents’ spirits while helping children less fortunate than ourselves. We decided to create a sustainable brand to give back to children in need.

Since 2011, we’ve sold more than a quarter of a million pairs of flip flops, online and in department stores, to people around the world. The proceeds have funded a children’s home in Sri Lanka, and we plan to keep building more as the Gandy’s movement grows. Inspiration goes a long way toward building a company, but we also needed the right technology. Google Apps for Work tools have helped us lower the barriers to entry in the following ways:

1. Starting a company around an idea rather than infrastructure
From day one, we faced the challenge of immersing ourselves in Gandy’s without worrying about IT issues. We started with an enthusiastic group of young people, many who worked part-time from home, and needed technology that matched our flexible style. Google Apps helped us get the team set up quickly, easily and cost-effectively. It took me five minutes to give the whole company their own accounts. Because everyone had used Google technology before in their personal lives, I didn’t have to train anyone, which allowed us to focus on the product. A year and a half ago, we bought Chromebooks for our team of seven so they could work from home, our kitchen table, a music festival, or wherever they happened to be.

2. Competing with established players by moving quickly
As we started selling our flip flops, we realized we faced competition from companies that had been in the business for decades. Our success depends on reacting quickly to trends and adapting to consumer desires. We use Apps to work more efficiently, whether that’s viewing one another’s calendars to set up meetings or using Google Drive to share a photo of artwork that could inspire a new flip flop design. We rely on the mobility of Gmail, Docs and Drive to share ideas as they strike, and keep on track of our work when we’re on the go.

3. Staying organized in the face of complexity
One of the first barriers we faced was breaking into both wholesale and online retail, two different markets with different processes. We started using Drive to keep track of our product designs, marketing materials and merchandising assets so we can stay united as a team. Shared folders organize everything product-related, which lets us work faster on design and ensure our final products look great. Our designers easily store and share inspiration artwork, product sketches and design files. Once the design is complete and the product manufactured, we share photos with retailers so they can see how the product will look on the floor as well as on a computer or mobile screen.

We face a different challenge every day, especially as we continue to set our sights higher. Hundreds of thousands of flip flops and cups of coffee later, we’ve proven to ourselves that we can overcome these challenges using the fast and flexible technology of Google Apps.

Click to expand the full infographic below.


Everywhere I travel in Asia Pacific, I see how people are more connected than ever before. Whether in a taxi in Singapore or a train in Bangkok, at the office in Mumbai or at home in Sydney, we have the tools and opportunities to stay in touch with our friends and colleagues anytime, from anywhere. And we expect the same when it comes to work — we want to work together from anywhere, using any device, with cloud-based tools that allow us to collaborate on the go. In fact, according to a Forrester survey, nearly half of all workers in Asia-Pacific say that they work from home at least a few times per month.* It’s a new way of working, where we can pick up where we left off no matter where we are, which ultimately makes us more productive.

On December 4th, we’re bringing together business leaders and technical experts to talk about this new way of working at Atmosphere Live Asia-Pacific, an entirely online experience. All you need to join is a comfortable seat, an internet connection and a computer, tablet or phone. You’ll be able to watch and learn from visionary speakers, interact with Google experts and ask questions — or, if want to join the conversation now, you can use our social media visualizer to add your voice to the conversation.
Keynotes speakers include Sundar Pichai, SVP of Product Development, who will talk about bringing visionary products to market. Amit Singh, President of Google for Work, who will help you imagine what the future of work looks like. Breakout sessions will focus on business productivity, next generation cloud platforms, and mapping technologies for decision making. And forward-thinking customers like New South Wales Transport, Globe Telecom, Indiamart and Avago Technologies will share rich insights on subjects ranging from employee productivity to data visualization to workplace technology in the age of Cloud Computing.

We hope you’ll join us for one of our biggest work events of the year. So mark your calendars for December 4th and share your thoughts, impressions and questions using #atmosphere14 on social media. Register today and we’ll see you there.

* Source: Forrester Research, Inc., Business Technographics(R) Global Workforce Benchmark Survey, Q4 2013


As an IT manager, we realize you spend a lot of time managing devices, applications and security settings for everyone at your organization. To make your job a bit easier, today we’re announcing new security tools to help Google Apps users take more control of their security online.

A new Devices and Activity dashboard gives your users additional insight over the devices accessing their Google account. The page shows a comprehensive view of all devices that have been active on an account in the last 28 days, or are currently signed in. And in case any suspicious activity is noticed, there’s a setting to immediately take steps to secure an account and change a password.
We are also launching the security wizard for Google for Work accounts. The security wizard guides users through steps they can take to turn on or adjust security features, like providing contact info for account recovery (if the domain security policy allows it), or reviewing recent account activity and account permissions. Plus, it only takes minutes for users to update their settings. This tool prioritizes all administrator settings for security features that end users are permitted to turn on. Access the wizard at
Security in the cloud is a shared responsibility and keeping your company information secure is at the core of what we do everyday. By making users more aware of their security settings and the activity on their devices, we can work together to stay a step ahead of any bad guys.


Editor's note: From the typewriter to the propelling pencil to our favorite, the world wide web, inventors and innovators from the United Kingdom have brought us brilliant advances that have changed the way we work all around the world. During Global Entrepreneurship Week, we’ll promote entrepreneurship in the UK through a handful of stories from early-stage disrupters and trailblazers who are using Google Apps for Work to overcome the challenges of starting a new company and inspiring others to start businesses. Today, we hear from Kiyan Foroughi, founder and CEO of Boticca, a curated global marketplace for original fashion accessories.

While traveling in Morocco in 2008, I met a jewelry maker named Myriam who commuted four hours daily between her village in the Atlas Mountains and the market in Medina. I knew there had to be a better way for talented independent designers to sell to consumers and share their stories with the world. I returned to my role in finance with my interest piqued in solving this new problem. After a year of research and planning I quit my job to start building an initial team and website. Since launching in October 2010, Boticca has connected global customers with high-quality, handcrafted fashion accessories, designed all over the world.

We built our website with the vision for a different way of buying: telling a unique story for each product, and shipping directly from the designer. By creating Boticca, I’ve learned how technology can connect a global community and overcome the challenges of building a company from the ground up. Here are four of the biggest barriers we faced in growing our business, and how we broke through them with technology:

1. Finding a cost-effective solution that supports our growth
In the early days, we had to move quickly despite the constraints of a limited budget. Our team of six used separate tools for email, calendars and document-sharing, but when you stacked them together, our Frankenstein solution cost up to £30 per user each month. In July 2010, we switched to Google Apps to bring email, calendar, docs and sheets together into a single product. Since we can pay on a monthly basis with Apps, we didn’t have to invest a large sum upfront or sign a binding contract, as is common practice with other vendors. I can add accounts for staff as they’re hired rather than buying 100 licenses but using only 40. Besides saving us money, Apps gives us flexibility.

2. Creating seamless workflows with freelancers and external partners
Before we built our editorial team, we relied on clusters of freelancers to outsource work. We wanted to give external partners access to our workflows, brand guidelines and internal information in an efficient way. Google Apps helped make the experience working with freelancers seamless. When we worked with a freelance editor to write the product descriptions on our website, we used Google Sheets to share product URLs and deadlines for each 100-word description. Our development team could open the shared Sheets to see the descriptions take shape as the writer typed them, and then use the content to populate the website right away.

3. Focusing on product and service instead of administration
One of the first balancing acts we faced as a new company was managing the administrative side of the business while building our product. We like to test our product, break it, then re-test something new. If we had burdensome IT concerns about our tools, we wouldn’t be so nimble. Fortunately, Google Apps is easy enough for us to manage on our own. It’s so easy to use that the technical team can focus on running our platform and addressing customers, rather than managing users. When a we hire a new person to their team, we have access to set up a new account in the admin panel ourselves.

4. Communicating effectively to build an inclusive culture
As we grow, we need to maintain a culture enabled by technology rather than hindered by it. Google Apps tools help us maintain transparency and inclusion through immediate communication and easy sharing. One of our style-hunters uses Google Slides to create weekly presentations about new brands she has found to join our website. People working remotely can follow along with the latest version in Google Drive without having to email her for the file. Effective communication is the first step toward empowering each person in the company to take ownership.

Customers love being surprised and inspired, over and over again. With this in mind, we strive to come up with new ways to fulfill our purchasing philosophy. Tools like Google Apps step out of the way and let us focus on consistently delivering these ideals to both our customers and designers. If we didn’t have the ability to work and communicate together so nimbly — both inside and outside the company — Boticca wouldn’t have been able to achieve the success we have today.


Editor's note: From the typewriter to the propelling pencil to our favorite, the world wide web, inventors and innovators from the United Kingdom have brought us brilliant advances that have changed the way we work all around the world. During Global Entrepreneurship Week, we’ll promote entrepreneurship in the UK through a handful of stories from early-stage disrupters and trailblazers who are using Google Apps for Work to overcome the challenges of starting a new company and inspiring others to start businesses. Today, we hear from Ben Pugh, founder of FarmDrop, the UK's first "click-to-harvest" online farmer's market.

Technology has the potential to bring consumers and producers together to make food tastier, more convenient and more sustainable. In 2012, I left my career in finance to test this potential and started talking with farmers, fishermen and consumers about how to improve the food supply chain. The following March, after months of researching and experimenting, we launched the FarmDrop pilot. More than 8,000 customers and 400 independent, local producers across the UK have signed up since and thousands of pounds of local food is being bought and sold through the platform each week.

For us, building a high-growth company has been about getting consumers and food producers excited about our online farmer’s market vision and assembling a team of talented people who believe in it even more. From scratch, Google Apps helped us tackle three of our biggest challenges head-on:

1. Establishing instant credibility without costly business tools
We started FarmDrop with no funding, but using Google Apps for Work right from the start helped shorten the otherwise difficult financial barrier to entry. Inexpensive email and collaboration tools equipped the team for work within a matter of hours, avoiding the complexity of software licenses, pricing structures and IT administration. A seemingly small thing like having an email addresses made our day-old company feel like a real business. Apps helps us present ourselves professionally, which boosted morale and built trust among partners and customers from the outset.

2. Creating transparency throughout the company from day one
Joining a startup is a risk but it’s also great adventure and it’s important that everyone in the company feels like they are part of the adventure. For that to happen, everyone needs to know what’s going on in the business. It sounds simple and easy but with so much going on all the time it isn’t. Google Drive allows us to share business strategy documents, goals and performance metrics, as well as product roadmaps, even as they evolve. We’ve created a detailed timeline in Google Sheets that tracks all of our activities leading up to a major launch, so anyone can check team progress in real time. With granular sharing controls, I can grant view-only access to protect crucial data while still providing team members with access to information.

3. Enabling team members to work flexibly from anywhere
Flexibility is an important benefit of startup culture, but we don’t want it to interrupt work. On any given day, we’ll have a handful of people in the office, another handful working from home, and the rest on a farm, meeting fishermen and bakers or meeting people from new pick-up points. Apps connects us no matter where we are or what device we’re using. The development team uses Google Hangouts for their daily meeting, and can easily share their screens or move the camera to a whiteboard to share information with team members who are working remotely.

With our growth accelerating, we need to retain our sense of mission whilst the team expands. That means working together in total collaboration and being connected as a team which Google Apps enables. Our love of authentic, sustainable food and the people who make it will continue to drive us forwards to a world of better food and a healthier planet.


(Cross-posted on the Google for Education Blog)

Editor's note: Continuing our EdTech leadership series, today’s guest author is Ryan Bretag, Chief Innovation Officer at Glenbrook High School District 225, in Illinois. Since age six Ryan has “thought big” about education, questioning why we do what we do and how we can do better. After spending 15 years in schools, his current role focuses on innovation, whole-child education and technology initiatives. Ryan is also completing his doctoral work on spaces people inhabit for learning. To learn more check out the full interview with Ryan or view these recorded sessions on innovation at work from Atmosphere Live.

It’s probably shocking to hear this, especially now that I’m an educator, but when I was a student I really disliked school. I had a hard time because there was not a lot of freedom — there were so many constraints. But one day something memorable happened. My teacher asked us to write a story about a place of interest in the United States. I drew an underwater school of the future. My teacher gave me a zero and said I had not addressed the assignment, but she also gave me 100 points of extra credit for creativity. It was the first time that I was really rewarded for being creative. That teacher lit a fire in me.

When I became a teacher, I realized that technology was one of the best levers I had to give power to students. During my second year teaching, my director of technology came to me and said, ‘There’s this thing that people talk about where every kid has a computer — what do you think you could do with that?’ I responded, ‘Oh, I hate technology; I couldn’t do that.’ She said, ‘Just think about it.’ I spent a weekend thinking and came back to school Monday with about 50 pages of sketches and diagrams of things that I could do and shared with students to get their ideas. Next thing I knew, my class was one-to-one with a device for every student. I was hooked. Technology fundamentally changed everything about how I taught and more importantly how students learn — it created student choice and empowerment. It opened doors that I had never even seen before.

Now as the Chief Innovation Officer at Glenbrook I am trying to help the whole district improve learning for students by supporting learners, teachers and students alike, with technology and innovation. In my role I focus constantly on creating two things in our district: more ownership and agility. We want teachers and students to have more ownership to bring their own creativity and passion to their work. And we want them all to have more agility — to be able to move quickly with new ideas.

One thing we did to create more ownership and agility for our teachers was to audit of all our common practices. We asked ourselves, ‘do these practices create more ownership and agility or less?’ We then scaled practices that did and adjusted those that did not. This was one of the reasons we switched to Google Apps for Education. We saw that our old email and writing system didn’t provide enough ownership to students and teachers, but Google Apps did.

After a few years, I am happy to report that we’re seeing teachers take ownership of the IT tools. For example, when Classroom was introduced to Google Apps for Education, I simply sent an email announcing this to 500 faculty members. I included a few links to get started — that was it. A few weeks later, we had more than 200 people already using it. Five years ago, if I had sent that email people would have asked for training first, or been more apprehensive of a new tool.

We’ve also put curriculum in place to support autonomy and agility for students. One of the things that we’ve borrowed from Google is the notion of 20% time. It fascinated me that employees could spend 20% of their time learning whatever they wanted. We now do this across our schools. We run a program called Spartans Connect. It’s a one-day conference during which students run workshops about their passions. For example 250 kids attended one student’s workshop on Harry Potter — they dressed up and played Quidditch while also exploring the thematic components from mythology and religion. The student leader had hundreds of kids in the room, and she had them sitting on the edge of their seats.
At Spartans Connect, students got hands-on experience with the human body
My advice to other educators trying to create more ownership among teachers and students is to question what you are doing, the “why”, and encourage people to experiment with new ways to solve problems. When your teachers are empowered, they empower their students too. I think successful schools “embrace the crazy.” Be OK with some ideas being a little bit out there and be comfortable with some failure along the way.