Funding, Grants & Awards | March 2013 Digital Edition

Tips, Tricks, and Secrets to Winning Distinguished Educator Awards

Being recognized as an ed tech leader by a company like Apple or Google carries both prestige and perks. Find out what it takes to join the ranks.

Educators can win distinguished awards from companies like apple and google

This article, with an exclusive sidebar with winning Apple and Google educator videos, appears in T.H.E. Journal's March 2013 digital edition.

From Apple to Google to Discovery, these days it seems like every ed tech behemoth has an award to bestow on educators. But let’s be clear: When tech giants sponsor distinguished educator competitions, they aren’t giving away cash prizes or a raft of the latest and greatest devices. You might get a nice plaque; you might even get to go somewhere cool, like Prague or Dublin or Sydney; and you’ll certainly come away knowing you were chosen over scores of other applicants.

Most significant, you’ll also have gained entry into a select group of passionate educators who want to collaborate on projects, share ideas and resources, and may even prompt you to take on challenges you wouldn’t otherwise have thought of. Read on for a primer on applying to--and winning--some of the most popular distinguished educator awards.

Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum
Think of the Global Forum as the World Cup for technology in education. Educators start off submitting applications to regional forums and, depending how they do, move on to the finals, a yearly, international event where they compete for 18 Innovative Educator awards.

Andrew Ko, general manager of Microsoft Partners in Learning, would prefer that you not think of the Global Forum program as a competition, since the purpose is to highlight and share innovative approaches to teaching with technology. But the fact is, each year Microsoft receives hundreds of thousands of applications worldwide. Last year, 102 participants were selected for the US regional event. Of that group, 16 advanced to join around 100 competitors from the other regions at the Global level. In other words, the competition is pretty stiff.

Overall winners are selected for a handful of categories, including “collaboration,” “knowledge building,” “beyond the classroom,” and more.

What you get: To join a cohort of bright, talented, innovative teachers. All-expenses-paid participation in both the regional and global forums (last year’s global finalists went to Prague), which operate as education conferences as well as competitions. As Ko points out, Microsoft wants to highlight the best educators they can, not the best educators who can afford the travel and lodging costs.

In addition, all educators, winners and non-participants alike, are encouraged to join the Microsoft Partners in Learning Network, which offers tutorials, learning activities, and forums for collaboration and discussion.

How to apply: Applications are accepted in the spring. Keep an eye on the Partners in Learning site for specific dates. Applicants must fill out a short form and make a short video describing their project.

Who wins: “Those who demonstrate impact,” Ko says. Those who get beyond the cool thing they’re doing with technology and show the results. Plus, those who demonstrate the categories the best.

Related Links
2012 finalists from the US
Last year’s categories and winning educators
Resources on the forum, including the judging rubric (you have to create a login)
Application video by Global Forum winner Pauline Roberts

Google Teacher Academy
A two-day intensive education conference, Google Teacher Academy (GTA) is held two to three times a year at Google offices around the world. According to Andrea Freund, a communications associate with Google, the purpose is to bring together a range of educators (from teachers to administrators, technology specialists to librarians) to get hands-on experience with the latest Google technology and to form connections, share resources, and earn the title of Google Certified Teacher.

GTA is based on a train-the-trainer model, so newly Google-certified teachers are expected to return to their education communities with a host of new techniques and strategies. The first day of the academy is for touring Google offices, learning about new technology, and sitting in on breakout sessions. The second day is an “unconference” where participants lead talks and share their projects. By the time they leave, GTA participants develop a “personal action plan” to help put their new knowledge to use.

Out of thousands of applicants, Google selects 50 participants for each Teacher Academy.

What you get: Participation in the Teacher Academy is free to those who are selected, but participants must pay for their own travel and lodging.

According to Wendy Gorton, an independent technology specialist and Google Certified Teacher, the network of certified teachers is the biggest benefit of the Teacher Academy: “The listserv is very active,” she says. “You can learn how to integrate Google into the classroom, how to get students signed up for YouTube, how to create a permission form for blogs.” The network also provides meetups and webinars for participants to stay connected after they return home.

How to apply: Complete the online form and create a one-minute video on one of the required topics. Follow the directions on the application site. The deadline for the next Teacher Academy has passed (it was Feb. 28), but the site still provides a good idea of the criteria for next time.

Who wins: Freund says, “Participants are selected based on their professional experience, their passion for teaching and learning, and their successful use of technology in school settings.” In addition, the program looks for educators who mentor and train other teachers.

Related Links
Additional application videos
GTA site for resources available to all
Application video from Kelsey  Vroomunn, blended & online learning specialist, HS French teacher, and adviser, St. Mary’s Academy, Englewood, CO

Apple Distinguished Educators
Similar to the Google Teacher Academy, the Apple Distinguished Educators (ADE) program is a summer institute for educators from a gamut of education roles who are brought together after a rigorous selection process. The purpose of the program is to create a community of innovative educators to share strategies for enhancing learning with technology (specifically Apple technology, of course). The institutes take place every summer, sometimes in more than one location. Once educators have gone through the program, they earn the title Apple Distinguished Educator.

What you get: You pay the airfare, and Apple takes care of the rest. “Think of it as staff development,” says Bea Cantor, technology coach for Goochland High and Middle schools in Goochland, VA. Cantor has attended four ADE summer institutes --she reapplied each time--and says that the community that you enter as an ADE is the greatest benefit. It’s not uncommon for her to be on a Skype chat in the evenings with a handful of ADEs from around the world, collaborating on projects and sharing solutions.

How to apply: You can only apply in odd-numbered years. The deadline to apply for the 2013 ADE “class” has passed, but you can sign up for notifications about future institutes at the ADE application site. Applicants fill out a questionnaire and create a two-minute video.

Who wins: Apple says they are looking for educators who are innovative and use Apple technology in the classroom in “meaningful ways.” Cantor says that it’s important to be a contributor to the ADE community, whether you’re a kindergarten teacher, a school administrator, a technologist, or a physical education teacher.

Furthermore, application materials should “try to tell a story,” according to Sharyn Gabriel, principal at Ocoee Middle School in Ocoee, FL, who was named an ADE in 2011. “Truly, in a short amount of time I felt like Apple devices helped me change the culture and landscape of my campus, and I tried to show that in my video.”

Evening the Odds
Katie Morrow, a technology integration specialist at O’Neill Public Schools in O’Neill, NE, is an Apple Distinguished Educator and Google Certified Teacher who has been involved in reviewing applications for both programs. Here, she offers her do’s and don’ts to potential applicants.


  • Be authentic. Instead of making your application or your video a huge listing of achievements or awards, focus on what you do every day that is good for kids. Be real, and don’t brag.
  • Focus on education, not how “techie” you are.
  • Show yourself and your personality in your video. Evaluators want to get to know you.
  • Show the students or people you work with in your video. Use B-roll footage and video clips of you in action.
  • Consider involving others in your video to talk about you and the impact that you have made.
  • Demonstrate reach. Who is listening and watching what you do? Think beyond your district to things like conference presentations, online authoring, and social networks that you contribute to.
  • Do your research. What does the organization currently represent? What is their education vision? What uses are cutting-edge for today?
  • Be creative. Be different. Make your video stand out. Sing? Dance? Metaphor? Add a tagline? Don’t get too cheesy, but I’ve seen so many of these videos that the ones that all look the same are easy to forget.


  • Go over set time limits. 
  • Use copyrighted media. Create original media and give credit to sources when appropriate.
  • Make your video a virtual résumé. It’s not about your list of accolades. It’s about your power as an educator.
  • Talk about all the technology products that you own or your “first computer” or anything like that. Focus on what you are doing right now that is making a difference in education.
  • Misname technology products (for example, “iTouches” instead of “iPod touch devices,” or referencing a Google tool that no longer exists).

Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute
All educators are welcome to join the Discovery Educator Network (DEN), a forum for sharing educational techniques for learning with technology. But the more exciting benefits go to STAR Discovery Educators, who can apply to attend the weeklong Discovery Summer Institute.  

What you get: While STARs get some nice perks, the best of these, according to Joli Barker, second-grade teacher at Slaughter Elementary in McKinney, TX, is the chance to apply to the Summer Institute, where STARs of all stripes come together to exchange ideas, form collaborative groups, and generally bask in the glow of other passionate, creative educators. Barker credits the Discovery Summer Institute with completely revolutionizing her teaching.

“I feel much more effective as a teacher because of this collaboration,” Barker says. And she has seen the effects in her students, who are scoring high on standardized tests, no matter their needs. DEN was the start, says Barker, who has also gone on to participate in the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum.

Lance Rougeux, who leads the Discovery Educator Network, says that Discovery decided to set aside 50 percent of the Summer Institute openings for new STARs to foster mentoring between veterans and newbies. Along these lines, Discovery also offers a Rising Star Program--basically groups of new STARs that are led by longtime members.

While STARs must apply for the Summer Institute, they are also free to participate in regional institutes held throughout the year. Both of these events are sponsored by Discovery; participants must pay the costs for travel, but all costs during the events, including lodging, are covered by Discovery.

How to apply: Applicants create a short video on their commitment to their commitment to ed tech and sharing resources with fellow educators. An on-call panel of DEN judges reviews submissions and makes selections throughout the year. More information is available on the Summer Institute website

Who wins: The process to become a STAR educator is described on the Discovery site, and largely requires DEN members to set up events in their schools or districts for sharing some of the strategies they’ve learned through DEN. Posting to the DEN blog and participating in the DEN forums also contribute to becoming STAR educators.

A hundred and twenty-five applicants are selected to participate in the Summer Institute. Rougeux says that Discovery is looking for educators who can convey creativity and a passion for collaboration and sharing ideas, and notes that candidates who are big participants in the DEN community have a definite edge.

Related Links           
Videos from two applicants who have been accepted for 2013 Summer Institute:
Edith Erickson, St. Francis de Sales Catholic School, Manistique, MI
Alison Schleede, Mooresville High School, Mooresville, NC