books, tech, lessons from a librarian

Who will take these notes with me? Combating Little Red Hen Syndrome

Little Red Hen

The Little Red Hen’s “Who will help me make this bread?” familiar refrain can teach us a lot about collaboration with our peers. Let me set the stage…

The dreaded moment has arrived. You’re in a staff meeting. You’re sitting with a few colleagues at Table 2. You’ve been assigned to read and report on a portion of a chapter from a book you’ve never heard of until about 2 minutes ago. “Have someone in your group take notes so you can share out with the whole group when we reconvene.” And now no one in your group wants to make eye contact with each other. Suddenly a stray piece of fuzz on your pants is the most interesting thing in the world, as you think to yourself, “…Please don’t make me write. Please don’t pick me. Please don’t make me write…” After a few awkward moments, some sacrificial lamb of a teacher offers (or more likely, is offered up) to step into the role of “recorder”. The sad reality is that often “recorder” can be translated as “poor soul who got stuck with the unenviable job of listening to a conversation while simultaneously translating/condensing/transcribing”. The cherry on top? “Who’s sharing out from Table 2?” “…[awkward pause]…[pant fuzz has made a repeat appearance]…[slow realization that the “recorder” is the only one who can truly translate the list of ideas and now they need to share out]…I’ll do it,” you say reluctantly while trying to sound enthusiastic even though you’re still a little annoyed that you didn’t even truly take part in the conversation that you’re about to summarize.

The truth is, you likely aren’t mad at your peers for being put on the spot. Your frustration stems from the feeling of disconnect and missed opportunities for conversation and learning. Our students most likely feel the same way when stuck with learning opportunities that limit collaboration with their peers. As we educators continue to enforce these limitations, we’re also limiting opportunities for our students to develop the invaluable 3-Cs of 21st Century learning and information skills: Creativity and Innovation, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, and Communication and Collaboration. So now what?…

G Suite application iconsG Suite to the rescue! Formerly known as Google Apps For Education (GAFE), G Suite (renamed in Oct. 2016) is the family of Google productivity tools, including Google Docs, Google Drive, Google Classroom, and more. The suite of tools is intact, so why the change in name? When it comes to Google, at times it feels the only constant is change. In 2014 Mark Howe, managing director for agency sales at Google, spoke to the value Google places on change: “We don’t go out to be a disruptive business, but we’re changing the rules all the time because the world is constantly changing… We’re all constantly thinking into the future, rather than thinking incrementally. If you’re only incremental then you’re falling behind immediately.” Howe said that last year Google made 1,100 changes to its search business. “You’ve got to be working fast – if not [the next big thing] will come from someone’s garage and take over. You have to keep running, you can’t slow down and be complacent. Complacency about change will be the death of companies.” (Barnes, 2014)  What can be a frustration for educators is actually a business strategy and way of life for the world of Google.

G Suite app store screen captureOne area where teachers can really struggle with G Suite products is keeping up with the constant churn these changes (frequently made with little or no warning). I recently overheard in a staff lounge: “Just when I get close to figuring out how to use Google Docs, then they go and change it again!” (I didn’t even broach the subject of the GAFE name change for fear of minds being blown!) So how to respond? Professional development is always an important step, though the constant change makes creating tutorials that are meaningful and lasting in their applicability a Herculean task. Luckily for us, earlier this year Google acquired Synergyse (https://portal.synergyse.com/), a company founded by a pair of ex-Google employees. Synergyse’s product consisted of interactive training modules and walkthroughs that were integrated into GAFE applications. Even more luckily for G Suite customers, the same training tools are now available through G Suite Training, a free Chrome add-on available on the Chrome Web Store: G Suite Training  

Watch for this rainbow question mark:  G Suite Training iconBy adding the tool to the Chrome browser, the G Suite Training icon then appears in the Chrome toolbar in all G Suite applications. At any point in any project, you can click on the icon and instantly explore training modules and information — the type of on-demand training and assistance that is necessary in the face of constant change.

The G Suite Training Center is also a great resource for novice users and power users alike: https://gsuite.google.com/learning-center/

G Suite Training Center

These are certainly not the only resources available to help teachers navigate through G Suite tools, but perhaps their greatest value lies in knowing that the training modules and information will adapt and change alongside the tools. There’s no sense in creating step-by-step tutorials that are out-of-date nearly as soon as you share them.

Throughout modern history, top secret development labs (at 3M, Dow/Corning, Lockheed/Martin, Boeing, and the like) have become famous for incubating dynamic and new ideas. Google’s development lab is known as “Google X,” and the pace of change there is staggering. Not only is success not guaranteed, but the failure rate is far higher than many teachers would be comfortable with… “This is the essence of Google X. When the leadership can fail in full view, ‘then it gives everyone permission to be more like that.’ Failure is not precisely the goal at Google X. But in many respects it is the means.” (Gertner, 2014)

So how do we combat the Little Red Hen Syndrome? How do we enable and empower teachers to work together on project development? On collaborative grading and revision? Unlike the beloved folktale, it’s seldom pure laziness on the part of our colleagues that drives our disinterest. Instead, we’ve all been burned too many times by inefficient processes and poor collaborative frameworks. Think back to that initial doomed staff meeting. Why didn’t anyone want to take notes? No one wanted to be stuck in that note-taking role and be removed from the conversation and the learning process. Instead, if the staff had been able to work on a collaborative Google Doc, they each could have recorded their responses, in their own words, in real-time. Just think of the opportunities for going beyond surface level “collaboration” and actually diving into working together collaboratively using G Suite tools. The opportunity to experience learning from the perspective of our students is invaluable. And if things didn’t work perfectly, perfect! We’re following Google’s lead to successfully fail our way towards growth. Though, to be honest, the sentiment sounds a great deal like a poem from 1840…

‘Tis a lesson you should heed,
If at first you don’t succeed,
Try, try again;

Then your courage should appear,
For if you will persevere,
You will conquer, never fear
Try, try again;

Once or twice, though you should fail,
If you would at last prevail,
Try, try again;

If we strive, ’tis no disgrace
Though we do not win the race;
What should you do in the case?
Try, try again

If you find your task is hard,
Time will bring you your reward,
Try, try again

All that other folks can do,
Why, with patience, should not you?
Only keep this rule in view:
Try, try again.

Thomas H. Palmer (1782–1861)
printer, author, and educational reformer


Barnes, R. (2014, April 2). Google on disruption and looking over your shoulder to the guy in the garage. Retrieved from http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/1288538/google-disruption-looking-shoulder-guy-garage

Carey, J. (2014, July 18). 10 things teachers should know to do with Google Docs. Retrieved from http://www.edudemic.com/10-things-every-teacher-know-google-docs/

Foltos, L. (2013). Enhancing learning by integrating technology. In Peer coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.G Suite on YouTube. (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/user/GoogleApps

Gertner, J. (2014, April 15). The truth about Google X: An exclusive look behind the secretive lab’s closed doors | Fast Company. Retrieved from https://www.fastcompany.com/3028156/united-states-of-innovation/the-google-x-factor

Google. (n.d.). G Suite Learning Center – All the training you need, in one place. Retrieved from https://gsuite.google.com/learning-center/

International Society for Technology in Education. (n.d.). Standards for coaches. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Lardinois, F. (2016, May 2). Google acquires Synergyse, an interactive training service for Google Apps | TechCrunch. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2016/05/02/google-acquires-synergyse-an-interactive-training-service-for-google-apps/

Palmer, T. H. (1840). … The teacher’s manual: being an exposition of an efficient and economical system of education suited to the wants of a free people | Internet Archive. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/teachersmanualbe00palm

Rochelle, J. (2016, October 4). Introducing G Suite for Education [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://blog.google/topics/education/introducing-g-suite-education/

Teaching Channel. (n.d.). Fostering student collaboration with Google Docs [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/fostering-student-collaboration

The Little Red Hen
photo by: in pastel
https://www.flickr.com/photos/g-dzilla/5198225154 (CC BY 2.0)


ISTE Coaching Standards

ISTE-C Standard 1:   Visionary Leadership

  1. Implement strategies for initiating and sustaining technology innovations and manage the change process in schools and classrooms

ISTE-C Standard 2: Teaching, Learning, and Assessment

  1. Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experiences


  1. Like the use of the Little Red Hen metaphor. You suggested one way educators can use Google’s collaborative tools to encourage innovation in staff meetings, and it is powerful. What are some ways we as coaches can use Google’s collaborative tools to help teachers develop the capacity to improve teaching and learning.

  2. I love the metaphor at the start and that you offer a familiar scenario. This is a very versatile post–I appreciate that the insights and resources you share are relevant to me as a coach and to me as a classroom teacher. Somewhat ignorantly, I have heard “G Suite” several times but wasn’t sure what this meant, I didn’t realize that it was a name change, so thanks for clarifying!

  3. As someone who is sometimes the only one in the group who knows how to touch type, I get pegged for the “note taking” role a lot. I don’t love it, because it can take a person out of the conversation. I like your idea of equal parts sharing, and also wonder how teachers can set up expectations for shared work – like grading, etc. Kind of like a rubric for the teachers who are participating in collaborative work.

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