Ideas and Opinions about
Teaching, Learning, and
the Educational System
Ideas and Opinions about
Teaching, Learning, and
the Educational System
As an educator, you’ve probably attended one or two (or several) educational conferences. If you haven’t, you should!
At a conference you can learn new ideas, techniques, and strategies to improve your teaching repertoire. You will also hear inspiring keynote speeches from leaders in the education field. You can network with colleagues, make new friends, and shop for the latest educational equipment and supplies. Or at least you can make a wish list, right?
The heartbeat of any educational conference is the menu of concurrent sessions and workshops. Typically, each concurrent session lasts an hour. Workshops can be half-day or whole-day, and often require an additional fee and pre-registration. Conference attendees select the sessions and workshops that interest them from a printed list or online app. The presenters – educators just like you – share their best practices and experiences.
Have you considered presenting at an educational conference? In this TeacherScope article, I’ll offer some tips for your successful conference presentations. Because my readership is varied in subject area and grade level, I won’t try to give you specific advice on the content of your session. Instead, we’ll look at ways to make your conference presentation successful and enjoyable.
Writer’s note: I have presented keynote speeches, workshops, and concurrent sessions at around 100 conferences during my educational career. In addition to my local and state conferences, I have been an invited speaker at educational conferences in 14 states. In other words, I had my picture in the front of the program. Not bragging – just letting you know that I’m writing from experience, not conjecture. I’ve made lots of mistakes, and I’m sharing what I’ve learned with you.
Adjusting Your Scope and Style to the Time Frame
Your most important decision comes early in the process. You need to determine how much material you can reasonably cover in the time you have been given, and what format your presentation will take. A good one-hour presentation is a show-and-tell; you can reasonably expect to present a few concepts and share student examples in a lecture/presentation format.
Experienced presenters can tell you that a one-hour session really doesn’t last an hour. Even if your session begins on-time, you will probably spend 5 minutes introducing yourself and your topic. Plan to spend 10 minutes answering questions at the end of your presentation. If your session runs over time, your attendees won’t have time to make it to their next session. Plan ahead, and make sure you know what you can cover in the time allotted.
Don’t attempt a hands-on workshop or make-and-take in a one-hour session. There just isn’t enough time, and your audience will become frustrated. If you want to teach a hands-on workshop, request a presentation time of at least two hours. If your audience needs to learn new software and/or produce a product, add another hour. And realize that your attendees’ technology skills will vary greatly.
Bring a Helper
The “buddy system” – never go anywhere by yourself – is a good policy when presenting. Ask a like-minded colleague to present with you. Even if you’re a solo presenter, ask a friend to assist you with your presentation. It’s always good to have an ally in the room who can greet attendees at the door, distribute materials, and troubleshoot technology issues.
Anticipate All Possible Problems
As you plan your presentation, try to anticipate every possible problem you may encounter, and decide on a back-up plan. This is especially important for technology-based presentations. What will you do if your laptop dies right before the session? Are your batteries fully-charged? Will your presentation room have the equipment that you need (projector, sound system, etc?) What will you do if the facility’s internet speed is painfully slow? Don’t let your presentation become derailed by a problem that you could have foreseen.
Dress for Success
People who attend your sessions expect to hear from an expert. Make sure to dress the part! A good rule of thumb is to dress one step more “formal” than your audience. I f you’re speaking at a summer drive-in conference where your audience members will be wearing shorts and t-shirts, wear a collared shirt and khaki pants. Attendees at a state conference will probably wear “smart casual” attire. As a presenter, you should probably wear your “Sunday best.” Obviously, there’s room for interpretation. Just make sure your clothing reflects your status and your role. (When presenting at state conferences, I always wore a sports jacket and neck-tie.)
Use a Title Slide and Introductory Music
When your attendees walk into your presentation room, they will all have the same question: Am I in the right place? You can answer that question quickly and professionally by projecting a PowerPoint slide before the session begins. The slide should include your session title in big, bold letters. You can also include your name and an image that illustrates the session topic. Some presenters also include a link or code (Google Docs, EdModo, etc.) on the title slide. Your audience instantly knows that they’ve found the right place.
I typically play music as my attendees enter the room. Appropriate music can help you establish a professional mood, and can make your attendees more comfortable. Peppy music can invigorate afternoon audiences. I like to download karaoke versions of familiar tunes. You may even be able to tie your music choices to your session title. If you’re concerned about copyright violations, access your school’s collection of production music. An inexpensive speaker system (Bluetooth or wired) will usually provide the volume needed for your pre-presentation music.
Changing the slide and fading-out the music will cue your audience that the presentation is about to begin.
Signposting is an important part of any presentation. Your signpost tells your audience the topics that you plan to cover in the session. Reveal your signpost very early in your presentation. As part of my signpost, I challenge each attendee to apply the topic to their specific teaching situation. Your audience will now be thinking of ways to integrate your presentation in their classrooms.
Always Provide a Handout
Although you will likely provide digital access to your presentation materials, you should always, ALWAYS provide a paper handout during your presentation. Your handout can include the basic information from your presentation, web-sites and materials you mention, and instructions for accessing electronic resources. Providing a printed handout is a professional courtesy, and allows your audience to focus more on your presentation and less on writing down everything you say. Each audience member will likely attend several sessions at the conference. A printed handout will ensure that your presentation stands out from the crowd.
Make it a Show!
Your conference presentation should be entertaining as well as informative. Make it a show! Plan the first words and phrases. “Good morning! During the next few minutes, I’m going to share with you 5 sure-fire ways to get your students excited about reading!” Have you attended a presentation that began like this: “Um…okay. I guess we need to get started.” That certainly doesn’t inspire confidence!
Your audience has invested time and money in your presentation. And if they’ve chosen to attend your session, they’ve chosen not to attend several others. Give them the energy and professionalism that they deserve.
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!
We’ve all heard that ancient joke, but the punch line certainly applies to speaking at a conference. Your conference presentation should not be a “run-through.” Conduct at least one dress rehearsal, and make sure to start the clock. If you’ve over-planned, you’ll be rushed at the conclusion. Recruit some colleagues to serve as your practice audience, and request a sincere critique of the session. Better to realize needed adjustments before the presentation than afterward.
And speaking of afterward, make sure to debrief your helper after the real presentation. Ask what worked, and what didn’t. They’ll be in a better position to observe and analyze the reactions of the attendees.
After the Session
The most successful presentations often continue in the hallway after time has expired. Don’t plan to pack up and run after your presentation. Your audience members will probably want to ask more questions and professionally network. Have a stack of business cards ready to distribute.
And don’t be surprised if you’re invited to present at another conference or school district by one of your audience members. In fact, some administrators and curriculum specialists attend state and national conferences for this purpose. Expect to be paid for conducting workshops outside your school district and speaking at conferences in other states. The host should also cover your travel expenses.
Book and magazine editors may also approach you after your presentation at a state or national conference, asking you to develop your topic into a magazine article or book proposal. That’s how I got my first book contract.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself, as I often do. Presentations by educators just like you are the life-blood of local, state, and even national educational conferences. Your best classroom practices can probably be developed into a presentation that would provide valuable information to your peers.
Why not give it a try?
How many schools do you drive past on your daily commute? One? Two? More? Even if you don’t have school-aged children, you probably wonder what’s going on in there. The marquee announces the upcoming carnival, book fair, or band concert. Occasionally you see an article in the local newspaper featuring the honor roll members or the winners at the science fair. This is your neighborhood school; all of the children in your community attend this school. You’re naturally interested in the success of this school, but your job and family commitments make it nearly impossible to support the school – or so you think!
In this TeacherScope post, I’ll explain five ways that you can contribute to the success of your local schools.
Most schools are continuously recruiting responsible adult volunteers. There are dozens of opportunities to give as little as an hour or two a week to your local school. Most elementary teachers would love to have someone grade spelling tests and worksheets. You can also help arrange the classroom materials, distribute papers, and type the weekly newsletter. And I can tell you from experience that every classroom has at least one boy or girl who has no one at home to help them with their math facts, call out their spelling words, or listen to them read. An adult volunteer who tutors that child can make a significant impact on their educational success.
Volunteer opportunities are varied and plentiful. Some volunteers perform regular duties on a set schedule. Others volunteer for annual events, such as the school walk-a-thon or the chorus uniform distribution. Many schools have a School Advisory Council, and “community member” – a person who is not a teacher or parent – is often a difficult seat to fill on that council. Even if you work full-time or have other obligations, there are likely opportunities to help your local school.
Becoming a school volunteer is a process, and it varies from school to school. You may be asked to fill-out a form, agree to a background check, or even be fingerprinted at the district office. Don’t take it personally – it’s just the world we live in. The principal will probably also meet with you and introduce you to the school volunteer coordinator, who will make volunteer opportunities available.
School volunteers typically aren’t responsible for planning lessons and designing curricular materials – that’s the teacher’s job. Your job as a volunteer will be to help the school achieve their stated educational goals. The main thing is to relax, be comfortable and enjoy the school and the school setting. If you’d like to read more about school volunteerism, check out my previous TeacherScope post.
#2 Buy School Supplies
How do we know summer’s almost over? Our favorite stores are filled with school supplies! And those pencils, notebooks, and packs of paper are usually offered at deeply-discounted prices. You can support your local school by purchasing some of those supplies and delivering them to the school. The typical teacher spends $100 or more of their personal money each year buying classroom supplies. You can help with that expense. If you don’t already have a teacher connection, just fill a shoebox with pencils, markers, staples, and paperclips and mark it “for the NEW teacher!” That will be a wonderful gift to a new professional who’s probably a few weeks away from their first post-college paycheck.
And realize that every classroom will have at least one child who comes to school the first day empty-handed. Schools publish their supply lists on the school web-site. Frequently stores like Wal-mart also provide printed copies of the lists. If you’re feeling especially charitable, you can provide supplies for a child in need. Just toss the list into the shopping bag, and drop it off at the school’s front office.
#3 Donate New Clothes for a Needy Student
Any teacher can also tell you about a boy or girl who doesn’t have the basic clothing they need for school. That’s sad to think about, but it’s true. When winter’s cool breezes blow, they’re still wearing their summer shorts and t-shirts. Or maybe they continue to wear their jeans long after they’ve outgrown them, or they’ve become embarrassingly tattered.
You can help by buying an outfit or two in a typical child’s size and delivering your purchase to your local school. Keep it simple and basic – you don’t need to buy clothes with fancy decorations or popular labels. Kids clothes typically go on sale right before school begins, and then again after Christmas. If you shop the sales and discount racks, you can stretch your donation dollars.
Perhaps you are doubting that the need for clothing or school supplies impacts the students at your local school. And you may be right. Neighborhood schools are once again becoming the norm, and your neighborhood may not have any needy children. If that’s the case, I challenge you to drive a few miles or do a little research online. A nearby school likely has children who can use this special assistance.
#4 Provide Rhetorical Support
Even if you don’t have extra funds to buy school supplies and clothing, and there’s no time in your schedule for volunteer efforts, here’s something everyone can do: support your local school and school system with your voice and your vote.
Schools often find themselves in the cross-hairs of our media-addicted society. Thousands of students and teachers can have great success in the classroom, only to be seemingly cancelled-out by one bad act. And the media – both broadcast and social – seems to pounce on the mistakes. Have you ever tried to get the local TV station to report from the district science fair? Good luck! But if a teacher gets arrested, it will be the lead story at 5, 6, and 11. Should bad acts or criminal behaviors be excused or minimized? Of course not! But your vocal support of all the good things happening in education can help your friends and neighbors achieve the correct perspective.
Schools – unlike most government institutions – are frequently forced to propose an additional sales tax to fund much-need renovations and construction. Those additional taxes are usually decided at the voting booth. Take the time to carefully investigate the funding request, and support those requests that seem reasonable. Even the sturdiest school buildings can deteriorate over time, and we certainly need safe schools.
I am a Christian, and prayer is an important part of my life. If you share similar beliefs, I encourage you to pray for our schools, our students, our teachers, and our school leaders. Pray for wisdom and strength. Pray that the children will be clothed and well-fed. Pray that the teachers will be encouraged and energized. Pray that the administrators will have vision and direction. I have seen the powerful effects of a community praying for a school. If you ask a few teachers, you’ll likely get a similar response.
Simply stated, our schools could use your support. The funds provided by the government allow a school to operate somewhere between “adequate” and “average.” And as the world becomes more competitive and demanding, our students deserve an excellent education. Like the firehouse and the police station, the neighborhood school belongs to everyone. Strong schools are essential for vibrant, safe, and productive communities.
Keith Kyker (M.Ed)
is a career educator with 35 years of teaching experience. He has worked with every age group from Pre-K to college. Keith's experience includes stints at suburban mega-high schools, neighborhood elementary and middle schools, and a tiny K-12 school in a Yupik village on the Bering Sea.
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Important note: the ideas and opinions expressed on this blog are the those of the author, Keith Kyker, and in no way reflect the opinions, policies, or practices of any of Keith's current or former employing school districts.
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