Pfffffft! The Pitfalls of Presenting at Pro-D
Like many, I learn best visually and when engaged with others. Even having a conversation with my own staff helps me think my way out of the box. The instant feedback of others is often necessary for me to be challenged and experience growth. It works wonders for problem solving, creating choices, engendering support and inspiring change. One would think that Professional Days would have the same kinds of effects.
The fact that many sessions at Pro-D are inspirational is without debate. It is exciting to hear about the amazing things that other educators are doing with their practice – and I feel honoured that they give up their time to come and share with us at Pro-D. They give us license and encouragement to try something new, take some risks, and hopefully effect vast amounts of improvement in our own practice.
However, I have often left a conference, workshop, or keynote speech feeling a bit demoralized and debilitated – probably pretty much the opposite of what the presenter would have expected. For a time, I just kept my mouth shut about it and said nothing. But as my years of teaching experience grew, so did my willingness to be frank about what I saw as my own “shortcomings.” I was both happy and dismayed to discover that many others had similar experiences at Pro-D – indeed, some of whom are professionals that I highly respect.
Don’t get me wrong, these sessions are inspirational. But the other half of the equation is the reality that seems to set in during the session or after it is over. Some thought processes might reflect something similar to this:
Guilt/Shame – “I haven’t been doing that” / “I’ve been doing it wrong”
Often the presenter will identify some antiquated ways of doing things, or even go so far as to say they are wrong. Wanting the best for our kids, it tends to feel like we aren’t doing the best we can for them, and in some cases are even being a detriment.
Fear/Uncertainty – “I don’t know how to do that”
Sometimes the presenter introduces something that is foreign or complicated and it instills fear about the unknown.
Overwhelmed – “How do I even begin?” / “It’s too much”
Of course it makes sense to show us all the end product – we want to be wowed, and the process to get there might be lengthy and mundane. But without a map to get there we can feel lost and the task too great to undertake.
Shut Down/Defeat – “I can’t” / “I’m not good enough”
All of this can result in not very much change: It’s easier to stick with what we know—we’ll do it later—there isn’t enough time to “figure it out”—obviously we don’t have the skills that the person presenting does—etc.
Any time I have been asked to present at a Pro-D, I have done it. As a nervous public speaker, I am not the most confident about my abilities to deliver a useful, riveting workshop. But I do it because I have no hesitation sharing what I have with anyone – and I want to give back to my professional community. What do I try to keep in mind when presenting so that people don’t leave with any of the aforementioned feelings? Here are some suggestions (and I’d love to hear more):
**Relate to your audience by telling them the kinds of things you were doing before you changed your practice with your new method/strategy.
“I also used to teach PowerPoint every day before I discovered the impact of this Media Literacy program”
**Validate some common practices, and then talk about how your new method/strategy could improve them.
“Teaching this lesson out of the Math textbook works ok, but using Lego-Dacta manipulatives totally improved how my kids could visualize the problem solving questions”
**Identify the parts of your method/strategy that may seem foreign or complicated to others.
“When I first started using the online program with my class, I thought it was strange that the menus were located on the side – but I got used to it pretty quickly”
**Give the audience your email or your Twitter ID and encourage them to contact you if they have questions or hit roadblocks. Give a sample activity to try with their class, and tell them to email you with feedback afterwards.
**Near the end of the presentation, review some starting points for teachers. Give a handout or send an email with step-by-step instructions on how to get started. Or give a “Top 5” list of the most important points you covered.
**Emphasize that these major changes will take some time, and that teachers shouldn’t expect themselves to accomplish all of it at once. Suggest biting off small chunks and making goals, like trying something new each week or each month and developing change slowly. Teachers are more likely to shut down if there is too much to change all at once.
A Twitter colleague (@bengrey) asked a question the other day:
“A very high percentage of what many presenters demonstrate at conferences, isn’t happening in their own district. Why?”
I think it’s because of many of the reasons I’ve stated here. There is amazing & inspiring work going on around the world, in your own country and in your own district. It is important to not only make it accessible, but also realistic and digestible for teachers. When we support growth amongst ourselves as professionals, we are better prepared to nurture growth for our students – because after all, we are all students in this journey together!
Elaan Bauder has been teaching for 8 years in the Coquitlam school district. Originally trained as a primary teacher, she moved into middle school and had spent most of her time teaching core classes at the grade 8 level. This is her first year teaching Computer Explorations to grades 6, 7 & 8. Some of her passions are Shakespeare, travelling, floor hockey, sushi, and ice cream.
Email: e_bauder (at) hotmail (dot) com