This summer I had an opportunity to present at two conferences. I’ve presented in school and in district before but this would be the first time I presented to a wider ranging, less familiar, audience. I should have been doing this years ago and so should many other teachers I know.
I delivered a presentation on Google Expeditions with Primary Grade Students at both the New Hampshire and Southern Maine Google Summits. I’ve done training sessions for my staff on many tech topics and I really love showing teachers how a tool, app, or approach can enhance what they are teaching. I have also loved teaching my upper elementary students the ins and outs of their G Suite accounts. I quickly realized that this was going to be something very different. I was sharing my experiences and teaching practices in the hopes that I could inspire others to try something new in their classrooms. I didn’t realize the distinction before hand but it soon became apparent that this type of connection takes a different approach and focus than providing training on a tool. I know how to break a tool down into steps – I do that all the time. I know how to gather information to determine the best tool for the job – as a librarian it’s a core activity. But now I had to find a way to package all of that up, add in just the right balance of anecdote and information, and offer it up in a way that others could consider it, iterate it, enhance it and make the idea grow.
My presentation went through many stages and I tried many paths before choosing my direction. Sometimes I was lost for hours down rabbit holes that I would later fill with cement – spending enormous energy on just the right color scheme, designing graphics, and contemplating the best order of ideas for continuity and flow. When I try this again, with a new topic, I hope that I will take away some learning that allows me to skip a few of those steps next time. But, I also was forced to acknowledge my own learning process and sometimes that involves a lot of extra exploration before I get to my destination. The end result was a lot of learning on both personal and professional levels.
Really, in a way, all teachers are presenters. We do it every day with our students so why then don’t more of us apply the same thing for our colleagues near and far. I imagine most of us go through what I did – Impostor Syndrome. It’s that internal voice that says, “Wow, what I’m doing couldn’t be nearly as interesting as this person or that person. Surely I’m not as good as they are.” What would you say to the student in your class who offered that argument? You’d tell them they need to try it, work at it, build the skills. We won’t all be the best at everything we try but most of us can be pretty terrific. So, it’s time to practice what we preach. We all have amazing things to share and there are always new educators to share with.
I think in the end I was most excited by how this process is affecting my approach to daily teaching. The time I spent really looking at how I could present my topic actually led me far deeper into contemplating my teaching practice than I would have guessed. I was forced to really think about documentation of my practice – if I spend hours learning how to do something, I can save myself or someone else some time with a detailed write up of my process and end result. I also found myself looking at activities through a stronger lens, questioning if I was really meeting all of the goals I had set out at the start of a lesson or activity. Was I trying to do too much at once? Was I giving time for reflection and questions? I found myself thinking of so many elements I could add the next time I covered the topics with my students. All of this gave me a different experience at the Summits as well. I didn’t focus on collecting as many ideas as possible, perhaps because so much of my brain was already occupied. Instead I was able to enjoy the experience, focus on conversations with other presenters and attendees, and look at it as more of a chance to build my professional learning network than a chance to file my idea box. In the end, it was one of the most valuable professional development experiences I’ve had in a while.