I’m Not Google Certified. Does That Make Me a Bad Teacher?

Last weekend, I had the chance to connect with Melanie Farrell, Chris Tuttell and Kyle Hamstra three people who challenge my thinking more than just about anyone.

Our conversation centered around the increasing trend by #edtech companies to offer both certifications and ambassadorships to core users — and the increasing trend by teachers in social spaces to “badge up” their profiles.

People are just as likely to identify themselves as Apple Distinguished Educators or Google Certified Teachers or Flipgrid Student Voice Ambassadors as they are to identify themselves as classroom teachers.  You can become a Dremel Certified Teacher or a NearPod Certified Educator or a SeeSaw Ambassador.  I know Star Discovery Educators, Alpha Squirrels and EverFi Certified Teachers.

On the surface, all of these programs have value to individual teachers, don’t they?  

Most have some level of professional development tied into them — providing teachers with the chance to hone skills with tools that can help them to reimagine learning spaces in some meaningful way.  That in and of itself is useful, given that most districts struggle to find cash for teacher professional development in strapped budgets.

Most also provide teachers with opportunities to network with other educators who are using the same tools and services in their own classrooms.  Members of those networks challenge one another by sharing ideas and applications that rest comfortably at the edges of box for each other.  People who are passionate about similar things are the most likely to introduce you to new paths that you may never have discovered on your own.

Finally, most give teachers a measure of recognition that is sorely missing in education.  That recognition starts simply:  With badges and titles that most teachers “wear” with pride in their social profiles and auto-signatures and with free swag — computer stickers, pens, and tote bags given out at meet-ups and conferences.

Opportunities to present at local, state and national conferences follow — complete with invitations to private after parties stocked with apps of the edible variety.  Power users may eventually be invited to travel to private professional development sessions held in big cities and asked to help develop curriculum or inform future corporate plans.

But I’m starting to question these kinds of certifications and ambassadorships.

Here’s why:

(1). They promote a “tool first” approach to teaching and learning:

You guys know my “Tech is a Tool” graphic, right?  Most people have seen it by now.  The gist is simple:  We need to stop thinking about tools and start thinking about what good teaching and learning looks like in action.  It ties into my argument that teaching geeks > tech geeks.

But that kind of “learning first” approach to new digital tools feels like it can get pushed aside in our rush to become certified or to be recognized as an ambassador.

And once we publicly tie ourselves to a tool or a product — adding badges to our blogs, listing our Ambassadorships in our auto-signatures, accepting free t-shirts and computer stickers and tote bags — we are far less likely to continue to question the value that the tool plays in creating meaningful learning experiences for kids or to look for better alternatives.  To do so would mean turning our backs on the companies that we said we believed in — and the people giving us tangible and intangible perks in return for our loyalty.

Heck, we often become “branded” by our commitment to a company.  We ALL probably know a Google Junkie, a Flipgrid Guy, a SeeSaw Fanatic or an Apple Fanboy — people who are so product focused in their professional work that you can’t separate them in your mind from the brand that they support anymore.

That troubles me because it takes our focus off of what matters most:  Kids and curriculum and solid pedagogical practices.  Wouldn’t our schools and classrooms be better off if we set out to become the Formative Assessment Junkie, the Problem-Based Learning Guy, the Equity Fanatic, or the Feedback Fanboy?

And wouldn’t that be easier if we weren’t swearing our allegiance to individual companies and products?

(2). They promote an easily quantifiable but not terribly reliable definition of innovation: I was presenting in a district at the end of last summer that touted the number of Google Certified teachers and SeeSaw Ambassadors that they had in their schools in a dozen different places.  I saw it in the marketing materials on their district website, I saw it in district newsletters that were sent out to faculty and staff members, and I saw it in social media streams for both the district and for several individual schools.

It was clear that for district level leadership, those numbers were evidence that their employees were standing on the cutting edge of education — progressive thinkers that were committed to using technology to drive change.

Here’s the hitch:  Despite having dozens of teachers who had earned certifications and ambassadorships, there was little evidence that classrooms were changing in a meaningful way within the district.  Sure, teachers were using Google Classroom to deliver digital content to kids and yes, students were taking pictures of the work they were completing and sharing it with their parents in SeeSaw — but those are low-level substitution practices, y’all.

I’d rather see the district celebrate teachers who had mastered individual practices that really DO matter.

Don’t tell me who has earned Google Certification or who is a DEN Star.  Instead, tell me who your “Voice and Choice Ambassadors” are — people who are regularly giving students some measure of control over what they are learning and how they are going to demonstrate mastery of important outcomes.

Or tell me who your “Distinguished Assessors” are — people who have figured out ways to gather meaningful information about just what students know and can do, and then use that information to change their instruction in a meaningful way.

Or tell me who your “Relationship Ambassadors” are — people who have made a commitment to making sure that every kid, regardless of background or ability, has the chance to feel appreciated by an adult during the course of a school day.

Those are the kinds of core practices that we should be celebrating in our marketing materials and on our district websites because they are the kind of core practices that result in a real change in the learning spaces that our students have access to.

Maybe I’m biased here.  I’m not Google Certified or an Apple Distinguished Educator or a SeeSaw Ambassador or an Alpha Squirrel.

But I don’t think I’m missing a thing.  I’ve been able to learn about tools without earning certifications or badges or gathering titles.  And that’s also given me a measure of professional flexibility.  I don’t hesitate to walk away from popular tools that don’t fit my professional needs because I’m not walking away from a badge that I’ve earned or a title that I want to keep.

Either way, my point is a simple one:  Pedagogy should always come first in our conversations about teaching and learning — and I’m not sure that pursuing or celebrating corporate certifications and ambassadorships are the best way to get that balance right.


Related Radical Reads:

Glorified Notebooks with Onboard Cameras

Blaming and Shaming Teachers for Low Level #edtech Practices

In Celebration of Teaching Geeks



11 thoughts on “I’m Not Google Certified. Does That Make Me a Bad Teacher?

  1. Elaine

    As both a NBCT and a Google Certified Educator, I’d like to offer…anything that makes me a better thinker and problem-solver makes me a better teacher, and students ultimately benefit from that. It’s critical that we educators remain learners….the paths we choose are myriad and personal….and perhaps, should not be judged by other educators. Maybe, as Kyle suggested, we should have a positive presupposition that most teachers keep learning because they want to get better at teaching. Or perhaps they’re in it for the money?

  2. Joe

    I disagree with your assertion that this puts the tool first. Now some may see it this way, but if you are a Highly Qualified educator you should always look for new learning opportunities and how you can amplify your instruction. With these certifications all you are saying is that you are an expert in using these tools with instruction, so come see me if you have questions. Highly qualified educators know that these are only tools and they look for instructional uses for them. This is also why we have ITRT’s in the state of Virginia who are here to support good instruction. I love teaching with PBL’s and I feel that these tools make it easier for these types of authentic units to be completed.

  3. Slade

    I think your key sentence here is “Maybe I’m biased here. I’m not Google Certified or an Apple Distinguished Educator or a SeeSaw Ambassador or an Alpha Squirrel.” I’m guessing that not all certifications are focused heavily on pedagogy, but I’m not sure how you would know without personally participating in that professional learning. An opinion of “I haven’t done it but I’m pretty sure it’s bad” isn’t a valid opinion. For example, Google certification focuses on good pedagogy first, with the practical skills of their products being the other half of the certification, yet still all focused on increasing student learning in and outside of the classroom. This article unfortunately takes the tone of here is this popular thing that I’m hearing about and here is my opposite opinion of that popular thing that I’ve never participated in.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Interesting take, Slade….

      I’ve been pretty thorough in my response, so I don’t feel a need to go much further with you.

      But here’s what you’ve missed: Just because I’m not Google Certified or an Apple Distinguished Educator or an Alpha Squirrel or a SeeSaw Ambassador doesn’t mean that I haven’t looked into those programs or that I don’t have any awareness of what becoming “certified” means.

      I’ve dug through the “qualifications” for most of those certifications and programs — and I’d disagree with you that earning those certifications requires much pedagogical mastery. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I could get through Google Certification in no time without having to do much reflection about my practice at all — and corporate ambassadorships don’t require much of anything other than a willingness to champion a product.

      Does that make people who are interested in pursuing those kinds of things “wrong” or “bad?”

      Nope. If that floats your boat, go for it.

      But don’t try to sell it as something that is going to change the pedagogical practices of large groups of teachers.

      And don’t try to suggest that championing products is somehow better than championing good pedagogy.

      That’s just not true.


  4. kheywood34

    You have missed a significant “badge” in your discussion. What about National Board Certification? Isn’t it just a glorified badge educators can get? Albeit one they get paid for. Yet for every Board Certified teacher I’ve met who is amazing, innovative, and impacting students in a meaningful way, I’ve met (at least) one who is not and I have not met one at all who talks about doing it for more than the monetary incentive. I am more interested in talking to someone with a “tool badge” than someone who is Board Certified. To me, a tool badge implies that person is open to learning new things for the sake of learning which tells me far more about what kind of teacher they are than a badge from some subjective committee (which doesn’t even allow all educators to earn their “badge”).

    However, you are right in that we need to keep constant vigilance that the tools we are aligning ourselves with don’t become greater than the reason we (should have) aligned ourselves with them in the first place: to impact student outcomes. Kyle’s right, it doesn’t take more than 2 minutes of a conversation with someone about their “Why” for that badge/certification to see if they’ve lost sight of that.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Katie wrote:
      What about National Board Certification? Isn’t it just a glorified badge educators can get? Albeit one they get paid for.

      Holy smokes, Katie.

      These two things aren’t remotely comparable.

      Have you worked through National Board Certification?

      It is a multi-year process that forces deep reflection about pedagogy and the impact that the decisions we are making are having on our students. It is double-blind scored by two different assessors using a standardized rubric. It takes hundreds of pages of writing and documentation and it requires a teacher to submit more than one video of their practice with students. It requires teachers to identify strengths and weaknesses in their own practice and to set goals for their own improvement moving forward. When teachers work on renewal, they have to show that they have made progress towards the very goals that they have set.

      On top of ALL of that, teachers have to show that they have mastered the use of technology in instruction, they have to show that they have pursued professional development in their content area, and they have to show that they are working to push their own learning beyond their own classroom in some meaningful way — whether that is through influencing their learning team or their school community.

      That’s a bit more than becoming Google Certified — which I can do in about 90 minutes without ever demonstrating a meaningful application in my classroom, without ever showing that I understand content specific pedagogy, and without ever working to prove that I have tried to drive change in the people around me.

      National Board Certification requires a demonstration of pedagogical mastery — which is exactly what I am arguing for in this piece.

      Google Certification requires a demonstration of tool mastery — which is exactly what I am arguing against in this piece.

      Is it true that you earn additional salary for becoming an NBCT?

      Yes, here in North Carolina. And that may be the reason that people initially pursue it.

      But there’s simply no comparison between becoming an NBCT and earning a digital badge from or being named an Ambassador by a corporation.


      1. kheywood34

        Yes, the amount of work to get Board certified is FAR more than any tool certification. But If there’s anything that some of my grad classes have taught me, it’s that a lot of work does not necessarily mean meaningful work.

        As I said, I have met people who are National Board certified and you couldn’t pay me to put my children in their class. I have also met amazing National Board certified teachers that are everything that’s right with education right now. So all I’m saying is that the title “Board Certified” doesn’t tell me what kind of educator someone is any more than them being Google Certified.

  5. Dr. Damian Bariexca (@_drdamian)

    In addition to your points (with which I agree), there’s something else that’s never sat well with me about these types of ambassadorships – what amounts to the free advertising the teachers do for the corporations. I can’t quite articulate it, but there’s something icky to me about the imbalance between the corporation (that is more than capable of affording advertising) and the teachers – historically an underpaid group – who perform unpaid or cheaply reimbursed (think tote bags/water bottles) labor for them.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Yup. You got it, Damian.

      And that imbalance shows just how starved teachers are for recognition. Call us an Ambassador and we will accept the unfair terms of the deal because no one else bothers to recognize us as “experts” in any way.

      That’s actually a subthread that interests me most: What part of our quest for badges in a scream for some kind of recognition from a profession that refuses to acknowledge the expertise of teachers?

      When you are always at the bottom of the professional pile, a badge and a water bottle feels pretty darn incredible. When you are already recognized and respected professionally, maybe you’d be more likely to question these dynamics.


  6. Kyle Hamstra


    Conversations with you always make me think!

    I definitely agree with you that celebrating kids and their learning should always be our highest priority as educators. I also agree that sound pedagogy trumps any instrument used to amplify the journey. The authentic, learning-first approach is fastly fleeting our spaces on the coattails of financially-bonused test scores, misleading letter grades labeling entire schools, out-dated policies that don’t keep up with changing times, and–perhaps–entrepreneurial conflicts of interest luring aspiring educators who just want to feel validated in their extra efforts, recognized as important, compensated–even if indirectly thru swag and notoriety and not money–specialized in at least one area, and special in the eyes of peers, communities, and professional learning networks. Maybe educators are only experiencing these unique relationships or words of affirmation thru vendors who may or may not exploit their feelings for financial gain?

    Or, maybe the products and services–and the vendors behind them–are just plain cool! Maybe educators are thrilled to have more avenues to support their learners.

    And that last sentence there–That’s what I WANT to believe. I want to believe that a profession as noble and sacred as education would only reverberate with passion of the purest form, of the utmost sincerity for making learning experiences more dynamic for all kids, and by (nearly) any means necessary.

    To me, Bill, it all comes down to motive. Motive is everything. It’s simply a matter of the heart. WHY do we do anything we do in our learning spaces? Is it for kids and their learning, or is it to promote ourselves? I believe it usually takes only about ten minutes of conversation, scrolling, or research to discern one’s motives. Therefore, for those of us (like me, I suppose) who are thrilled to be an ambassador for many vendors, as well as certified in many others, and consequently or intermittently mix these into our latest social media bios and profiles to let others know that we are passionate about these tools, may be an expert in these areas, and that our expertise can be further consulted to improve learning experiences of others, I’m not totally sure they always accurately represent one’s motives. Or, at least, I’m starting to think about how educators are being perceived in all of this, regardless of one’s well-intended meaning.

    You’ve got me wrestling and wondering again, Bill:

    Can posting “resume boosters” be perceived negatively, or does this only happen with educators, because education is supposed to be a sacred and noble profession of excessively-humble, near-martyrdom, public service to others?

    Why can’t an educator be both passionate about kids, learning, AND represent in the profession as ambassadors, certified in cool tools with swag to literally wear on our sleeves, and all in that order? Why is it always one or the other? Why not both? Is both possible?

    Possibly, it’s too easy to earn ambassador titles these days. Maybe education districts should encourage educators to GO FOR IT with any appropriate vendor, with the strings attached that that educator also has to publicly post how the ambassador title is improving learning in the classroom. Example: “This app enhanced learning for kids today by…. ” The app gets free advertising for sure, but the kids (are supposed to) get more dynamic learning experiences. In other words, to earn the ambassador title, should one have to prove how the tool is being applied in learning spaces first–and possibly reflect this in a portfolio over a few months–before jumping into the thirty-five new apps that will flood the market next week?

    Maybe there are no “Relationship Ambassadors” or “Distinguished Assessors” because no one has created those… yet? Maybe we are the ones who need to be proactive and emphasize what matters most and what’s important to us? Otherwise, is there a real possibility that our motives, passions, and profession could be defined by others–and not by us–the ones actually in the profession?

    Is it dangerous for educators to let vendors define them, and, if so, do educators continue chasing the latest and greatest just to realize and assume their own self worth? Who’s doing the chasing? Of what are we in pursuit?

    If an educator pays money to a fellow educator on teachers-pay-teachers, or if they indirectly pay vendors with free marketing research, advertising, and promotion by using their product or service in classrooms, yet–in the end–kids’ learning is enhanced as a result–Does it really matter from where, how, and why resources are acquired, distributed, and implemented? I’m still thinking on this… And I’m wondering to what extent motive matters after all.

    Another provocative post that defines our times, Bill.

    Thanks for making me think–Again. Can’t wait to continue this coversation in person.


    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Kyle wrote:

      and–perhaps–entrepreneurial conflicts of interest luring aspiring educators who just want to feel validated in their extra efforts, recognized as important, compensated–even if indirectly thru swag and notoriety and not money–specialized in at least one area, and special in the eyes of peers, communities, and professional learning networks. Maybe educators are only experiencing these unique relationships or words of affirmation thru vendors who may or may not exploit their feelings for financial gain?


      This is where it has all gone wrong, Kyle.

      We don’t recognize teachers at all — and so the recognition offered by companies is filling a void in our professional lives.

      We should be ashamed of that. Districts should be ashamed of that. States should be ashamed of that.

      And I do think we need some kind of “levels” that teachers can work for that lead to more pay and more prestige. That’s another role the certifications and ambassadorships and badges are playing in our professional lives. I just wish it was districts building those levels out of something more meaningful than tool mastery.

      So the quest for badges IS a function of our dysfunctional system. That’s not the fault of the certifications or the teachers who pursue them. It’s the fault of a system that does nothing to recognize and acknowledge accomplishment in educators.



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