It is my privilege to share a blog post written by colleague and friend, Elaan Bauder.
We thank you in advance for sharing your thoughts and comments with us,
and for contributing to our learning.

Pfffffft! The Pitfalls of Presenting at Pro-D

I don’t know about you, but I really look forward to Professional Days. They are worth way more than simply “a day without kids” (which really IS valuable). Often in the school year, we are so busy trying to get through the day, week, month, that time for generating new ideas and collaborating with colleagues is limited.

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!

About Elaan:

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.

Contact Elaan:

Email: e_bauder (at) hotmail (dot) com

Twitter: @elaan

17 comments on “Pfffffft! The Pitfalls of Presenting at Pro-D

  1. I enjoyed reading your article. Wow it is amazing how so many of us teachers think the same things and yet don’t speak up. I’ve delivered pd sessions before and I like your advice. Spot on.

  2. I think your assessment of the mindset of pro-d attendees is spot on. And when it comes to tech pro-d the divide is even greater. I like how you ground the solution in a dialogue about before and after–about the possibilities. When we design pro-d I think we have to consider the “after-care” piece that will address questions like, “Who can I go to for help?”, “How can I share what I’m trying?”, and “What are my next steps?” This takes people and time–and our districts’ leaders needs need to have a vision and the will (and the $) to make it happen.

    Thanks for pulling these threads together.

  3. While I’ve walked away from many pro-d sessions feeling re-inspired, it’s refreshing to see that I’m not alone when others leave me feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. You have good ideas for bridging the gap between great initiatives and ideas, and overcoming our own professional and personal obstacles in order to implement them. More conversation during pro-d could be helpful with this too – eg. “I’m doing xyz with my class…how would you apply your skills and techniques to adapt this?” This would change the sessions from a dispensing of information and techniques, to a discussion of ideas and suggestions for all participants. Participants then, would have to share the responsibility of helping to maximize the usefulness of a workshop.

  4. PD days are like school for teachers without kids. Is that part of the problem the problem — that PD is about learning rather than teaching, so a switching of hats?

    I recently started taking a course at Simon Fraser University. Things have changed. I didn’t know that a literature review now takes place online, though I had imagined that it might. What I didn’t imagine is that, unlike the average Joe who searches for articles in Google, when you search through the school library, suddenly you get not only the abstracts but also the complete articles and books! Nobody — not the instructor, not the librarians — realised that this piece of missing info presented a significant hurdle to me. It almost doubled my workload.

    I think, Elaan, people learn things, and do things, a certain way. Teachers, too. When a teacher goes to a conference, the presenters may be overlooking or unaware of the hurdles that others will face.

    Also, in my conference-going experience, I know that to come away from a conference with ONE idea that you can use is success.

    Stop being depressed, and just PICK ONE THING. Eat the elephant one bite at a time.

  5. Thanks Elaan for sharing your thinking. I think that the ability to share in pro-d sessions is invaluable and is one opportunity to start important discussions around our practice and our learning. My concern around our pro-d days is that they tend to be disjointed in focus, and don’t facilitate follow up. Maybe it is because we don’t take responsibility. What would Pro-d look like if people followed up with establishing learning networks online or if learning teams were formed as a result of an interest in an inspiring presentation. My thoughts lately are not critical of presenters, but that our learning doesn’t always model what we hope for in the classroom.

  6. Elaan,

    Great post. It’s tough to identify and so concisely detail the main issues with professional development days, and I think you did it precisely spot on.

    I really appreciate the practical advice you have listed, and I think anyone who ever leads any professional development session would do well to read this through and consider each item. I know for myself, I’ve been to far too many technology-focused pro-d days where it seems the speaker is intent on bludgeoning us with as many obscure web sites and tools as possible, leaving us all disoriented and dazed with new tool fatigue.

    Being as candid as you were, I do think that sometimes presenters feel as though they have to prove their value by over-saturating the audience with ideas so as to validate their personal status as “expert.”

    I really do hope that your message spreads and more people take into account the points you made so very well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  7. Thanks for the comments and feedback everyone!

    @Thomas – Thanks for the read and the comment. I hope that others that find it familiar also think it worth reading!

    @Jan – I agree, I have spent many a Pro-D in the last few years focusing on tech themes, but I experienced the same “symptoms” even before that. The after-care questions you identify are perfect – that’s exactly the kind of thing that I was getting at.

    @Irene – I like the idea of having more interaction within Pro-D sessions so that people can get their questions answered right away. Of course that probably won’t change the amount of questions that come up after the workshop is over, but I think you are right that we should share some of the responsibility as participants. Good point!

    @Jerome – I don’t think any teacher would disagree that people learn things and do things a certain way (it’s at the foundation of what we do). I think that sometimes, as you point out, when we change our role from teacher to learner, it’s a shift in our processing. We should take more responsibility for what we get out of Pro-D, but having said that, I think that the presenters (of which many/most are teachers) could better maximize their effectiveness. One way to do that is to remind their audience of your last point – to start small, to start with one thing, but to at least START!

    @ssroos – I love the idea of having an online learning network as a follow-up. Imagine being part of a Twitter group, or wiki or blog of people that attended a Pro-D session and were constantly trading ideas about what was working, roadblocks, new challenges, new ideas. THAT sounds exciting! I know it would be a motivator for me.

    @Ben – Thanks for the read! I know the pressure of presenting as well, and I agree that needing to “prove your value” is one of the driving forces at hand (I kinda felt like that with this post, yikes!). I think if a presenter has many ideas, then they should be disseminated a little more slowly, or at least reinforced with some follow-up. But as I said in earlier comments, perhaps this will take some committment on the part of the audience. If we are trying to see our students as the “creators” of information rather than the “recipients” of information (as per Alan November), then why do we see less than that for ourselves?

  8. What struck me the most about Elaan’s Blog was that so many of us feel this but often don’t express it. I think it strikes at self doubt that we all may feel as we go about our daily teaching. We know that our ‘day in day out’ lesson are not always the sparkly ones. The workshops that we attend with hopeful enthusiasm more often then not have an unintended by-product…reinforcing a feeling of inadequacy in our teaching. I have expressed this feeling about workshops in the past to other teachers but always felt that I was in the minority, so I applaud Elaan for putting it out there in Dave’s very cool Edu Blog.

  9. Thank you for this. I’m in the middle of breaking down using webquests in the classroom via Moodle and am trying my darndest not to scare anyone off, or orverwhelm. The best of intentions often go awry… Glad to get validation that chunking the learning may be the best way – gives time to digest/process information.

  10. THANK YOU for your straighforward honesty and GREAT ideas. This should be published in presentation application files for every conference.

  11. @Bill – Thanks for your support, Bill! It’s also nice to reassure ourselves that not every lesson has to be a “sparkly” one. I think sometimes we can put undue pressure on ourselves to perform amazingly all the time. Perhaps getting more “sparkly” and more amazing is just a process that takes time, and the key is to not give up!

    @Heather – I appreciate your comments! It’s true that the best of intentions sometimes go awry (I know mine have at times!). Good thing we are in a profession that allows us growth and reflection. 🙂 Good luck on your webquest/presentation!

    @Bruce – Thanks, Bruce! I am grateful for your support. I know this isn’t a definitive list of answers (there never is one), but it’s perhaps a good starting point for discussion. I hope it helps!

  12. This was the first time that I’ve invited someone to write a post for my blog, and now it won’t be the last! Elaan, thank you very much for sharing this insightful post!

    Three things come to mind as I read this:

    1. I’ve felt similar as a Pro-D attendee – ‘Wow, that’s all well and good, but I couldn’t ever do that!’ This is why in my ‘The Rant, I can’t, the Elephant and the Ant’ presentation I spend so much time on the idea that “I can’t” holds us back too much.

    2. I’ve felt similar as a presenter – I’ve created opportunities for participants at my presentations to take the next step after they leave and then seen very few educators follow up. I’m starting to see how this could be my fault. I’m now learning to embed these opportunities into my presentations and that seems to help.

    Both of these perspectives speak of an implementation gap between what we learn and what we do. This post pinpoints many of the things that create that gap and the responses so far seem to suggest that Elaan’s points are shared by many.

    3. Digital sharing compounds the issue – It adds pressure to be ‘right’ or to ‘have something important to say’ or to ‘feel like an authority’… essentially to “prove your value”!

    damac32: @elaan great post on Dave’s blog. Are you now ready to take on your own blog? Or do you already have one? Here is mine:

    elaan: @damac32 @datruss The thing about starting my own blog – I don’t feel like I’ve enough to SAY. I don’t want 2 write rubbish just 4 the sake

    As you say at the end of the post: “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!” Thank you for taking the time to share this part of your journey with us!

  13. @Dave – Ha! Just not going to let me off the hook now, are you. Writing for someone else’s blog certainly made me work on my writing and formulate my thoughts more clearly. I wonder if I’d be as compelling on my own blog or if it would just turn into a big mish-mash. I guess we’ll see, won’t we?! Thanks again Dave for your comments and all your support.

  14. Elaan,

    Glad to see that you have entered into the world of blogging. You chose a great place to start. Dave has worked so hard to build his personal learning network. He continually scans the websphere for knowledge and has done such a good job of reframing it through his schema and then sharing it with his ever growing readership.

    In response to Dave’s comment post I’d like to add the tweet that I then sent to you after you shared that you did not want to share rubbish.

    @elaan one woman’s rubbish is another man’s treasure…I find it more of an opportunity self reflect and if other people like it…so be it.

    With respect to the implementation gap that Dave talks about, I think that as presenters we all preach an approach to teaching that utilizes formative assessment and differentiated teaching strategies and then most often we lecture to our adult learners. We make the assumption that because they are there that they will be able to learn via the lecture method.

    I can’t think of the exact percentages. But if we look at how well people learn, I think that something like 5% of what we listen to sticks, 25% of what we write down sticks, and so on until we get to a large percentage of what we interact with and use sticks. My point is that many of our pro d models involve sitting and listening.

    The best model of pro d that I have been a participant in and facilitator of involves a mentor/mentee model. Or a facilitated action research group. You need to repeatedly hit on your ideas over a sustained period of time.

    The best you can realistically hope for from a one time presenter type pro d is that you spark an interest in what you are presenting about so that your participants seek out more info on your topic. Or hit with a paradigm statement that will resonate with your audience.

    For example, David Bolton (of Children of The Code), recently shared an analogy about a baby taking his/her first steps. The parent extends their index fingers so that the baby may use them to regain balance if they feel they need the support. He called this being on the edge of the baby’s learning.

    That paradigm concept stuck with me. I now encourage my staff to find the edge of their students’ learning in all their subject areas and extend their metaphorical index fingers.

    I guess my question is why should it be different for adult learning. Where is the edge of our teaching practice?

    I am working on a post around this idea…hope to have it posted soon.

  15. @Dave M – Thanks for your insightful response, and I think you are right on the mark. I enjoyed the article that you sent and have recommended it to others. Can’t wait to read your post!

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