Things You Can't Google

by Noah Geisel

One thing I know is that there is a lot that I don’t know.

When I was in school, we relied on encyclopedias to help us find information we did not know. Later, ABC’s hit show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire encouraged us to admit uncertainty and gave society permission to phone a friend.  Today, when something we don’t know pops up at work, home or even social conversations, someone inevitably suggests, “Why don’t you just Google it?”  And we do.

In preparing students for college and career readiness, it’s time we let students in on a secret that they probably already figured out for themselves: there is no longer a premium on knowing things.  

From the blogosphere to the Op-Ed pages to the public comment sessions at school board meetings, there is a growing chorus calling for us to measure student growth in areas like creativity, analysis and empathy.  It is no longer preposterous to suggest that we get away from looking at teacher effectiveness and student success primarily through the lens of high stakes assessments that limit themselves to testing knowledge, to testing things that students could have just Googled.  What is preposterous is that leaders can still respond to these concerns with a shrug.  “Of course those skills are important, but we can’t measure them.”  

There are a lot of things I do not know but one thing I do know is that this is a defeatist attitude. Our students deserve better and they deserve it yesterday.  

There is consensus around the importance of these soft skills.  These important skills exist and if they exist they produce data.  Passionate educators are finding ways to capture this data, to track it over time and share it with students and parents.  These educators are involved in their communities of practice and are sharing with colleagues just how possible it is to hug the Big Data Monster by gathering the tasty crumbs of student data that measure things you can’t Google.  

The big shift will come as educators begin to find ways to share this data up.  We need to arrive to post-evaluation conferences and End of Year Conversations ready to share this data with supervisors.  We need to insist that they use our data in measuring us and our students.  We need to show leaders that we have the tools to know our students based on more than what a test says they do or do not know.

One thing I do know without Google’s help is that this work is possible and requires us to feel an urgency to get on with it.  Tomorrow is already too late for our deserving students.


Noah Geisel will be leading An Estuary's Summer Institute in Denver this June. Seats are limited, so be sure to register early.

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