ASCD Bound

Later on this week, I will be leaving for the ASCD Conference in Orlando, and thanks to Scott McLeod and the generous group over at ASCD, I will be covering the conference through this medium.  With that responsibility comes some pretty cool benefits, one being that I can pop into ticketed sessions that I otherwise would not have been able to get into.

In that light, I thought I might throw it out there to the readership here (whatever that number might be) and ask if there were any topics that might be of specific interest to you.  I am sitting down to plan my conference over the next two days, so here are the main headings that ASCD gives out:

  • Creativity and 21st Century Skills
  • From Research to Practice
  • Networking Opportunities
  • Urban Education

Navigating the ASCD website is proving to be a little tricky, but the sessions are all available for browsing if you are so inclined.  On a personal level, my focus is going to be on visual literacy, critical thinking, assessment, and reading strategies.  Yes, I know, rather narrow. If there is a session you see that might fit that bill, or something you would like some firsthand knowledge of, drop a comment and I’ll do my best to gather some firsthand info for you.


ASCD Reflection

Being the first giant conference I have ever been to, and being the first non-tech-centered one as well, ASCD was fascinating on a few levels. The oddest thing about it was the fact that I chose not be connected via internet (god bless the iPhone and Twitter) for most of the conference. It might be a silent protest, but paying for wireless internet in hotels doesn’t sit well with me, especially when I am fronting the money. We listen often to people talk about the ubiquity of free Internet we will see in the future, but I feel it’s a long way off. More and more businesses are choosing to put proprietary restraints on the use of their wireless networks. Let’s use the Google model here: give it away and we will stay and use your product. Or at least we will give the perception to passersby that we are enjoying your business. I’ll end that rant there.

Bigger issues seem to dominate my thinking lately, issues such as school change and culture change within our society. My reading and writing tends to focus on the areas of motivating people to want something better, and giving them the means to create it for themselves. I am not going to be dishonest, I have goals and ideas that I would like to see put in place not only in schools, but in the larger picture as well (stay tuned for the world domination post to come shortly); however, I am wise enough, I think, to know that what I want matters little if the people I work with don’t see the value in it.

On the way down here, I sat next to a gentleman named Simon Sinek, of Sinek Partners. A while back, in my days as an expatriate in Greece, I worked for man who taught me that airline flights were the best places to go to school. “Interesting people fly and travel,” he said. Talk to the people around you on the plane.” So I took Fouad’s advice and struck up a conversation with this gentleman to my left. It turns out that Simon had an idea that he was trying to spread that involved asking corporations, individuals, government, or whoever would listen to articulate to themselves and others why they do the things they do. Without knowledge of and presentation of the “why” no one will be able to understand you, or better still, buy into what you are doing.

Often, he said, we confuse the “what” with the “why.” In business, people rarely buy the “what,” but more likely buy the “why.” I use Apple computers, and if you asked me why, I would probably rattle off that their design is intuitive, they are less buggy, I like the interface, etc. But what I would leave out would be the essential part of why I use them: I subconsciously buy into Steve Jobs ideal of irreverence and individuality. We might say the “what’s,” but only because we can’t articulate the “why.” I’ll admit it, I bought into “Think Different,” and why wouldn’t I? It’s a fantastic ideal.

Translating all of that into my practice, we ask our schools to change, and we say we need to change so that we “promote lifelong learning,” “create students capable of excelling in the 21st Century,” or any one of the mission statement buzzwords we might put there. But do we articulate why we do the things we do? What if I told my teachers that I wanted to inspire them to be innovative? Leave the kids out of it for a moment, and focus on the teachers. Inspire and innovate. I don’t have to tell them what that looks like, I have to model it in my own practice. Innovation comes from the fringes. Ric Murry and I had a banter back and forth about this via twitter the other day, but I think we can understand that teaching is not a “fringe,” but the model still works; it’s just semantics. Our teachers should be the ones leading the change and innovating. My role in all of this is to help provide the “why”. Steve Jobs didn’t make the iPod, he made the idea of an iPod possible. Teachers should be sharing their “innovations” with one another regularly, and I should be connecting them to one another to help spread that innovation.

Comparing what I do to what Steve Jobs does makes me feel way too self-important, but I think it’s an easy way to see the relationship between what we sometimes lack in schools and where we need to go.We don’t need mission statements, but rather leaders that inspire through action and empathy. Ginsberg’s session on Friday gave me a great insight into how to create a community of teachers that cares not only about one another, but about the level of teaching in the building: observations should be done with a group of teachers, as well as an administrator. Group observations and group debriefings, all with a common language and goals will become commonplace.

My thinking is shifting once again, and this time it’s shifting toward inclusion. Get on board, and grab an oar.

The Key to Moving People is Moving People

Part of what we do as teachers and learners is report back on what we find out in our personal inquiries.  As teachers it was done on a daily basis with our students.  We helped them disseminate the information that they need to be successful.  As administrators, the number of presentations often lessens, but the audience usually increases; at any one time there could be up to 100 people in the room we are presenting in.

What strategies were successful for us when we stood in front of students and helped them make sense of information?  What can we take from our time in the classroom and make it work for us as presenters?

Saturday at ASCD, I changed my schedule around so that I could attend a workshop by Deborah Estes, a presenter, former teacher and administrator from Texas.  The title is what originally caught my eye: “Brain-Friendly Presentation Skills.”

I present frequently to my departments, and I’ve struggled recently with creating engaging content.  Not that what I am saying is earth-shattering stuff, but I know that there are moments in my presentations that I need to invite the audience to digest what I am saying and give me feedback.  Sitting in Estes’ presentation, I learned that I have not been nearly observant enough of my audience; your audience and being able to read them and redirect them through the use of movement, storytelling, and, of all things, touch, determines the success or failure of your message.  Information without reflection and discussion does nothing for learners.  Give them the chance to hash out what you are saying and clarify it for one another and you stand a much better chance of making a difference in their learning.

Right from the start, Estes subtly began to coerce me into her presentation.  I was early by about 20 minutes, but she was much earlier than me.  She greeted me with a handshake and used my name (name-tag) when she did.

Points #1 and #2: Be early and set up at least 30 minutes before your scheduled start to greet your audience by name and appropriate touch (handshake) as they enter.

As she began to speak to the room of 150+ people, like most presenters, she gave her background and brief bio.  Hers was not done as a description of credentials or current occupation, but rather the story of how she became a teacher, coach, administrator, and speaker.  It was done structurally, meaning she related herself to all levels of educators: high school teachers, middle school teachers, and elementary teachers.  Each part of her opening story, which took about 5 minutes, had relevance to someone in the room because in our lives we, too, held or currently hold one of the positions she did.  More than that, her stories were relative to experiences we have all had.

Point #3: Use the power of storytelling to share information.  We remember best when we give our information context.

One of the most powerful things she did was move us.  Not the kind where we were emotionally moved, but rather we physically moved around the room.  In the 90+ minutes we were there, we moved over 15 times.  We conversed, we shared information and discussed the topics in the handout on our own terms, but in ways that she dictated.

Point #4: Move people.  Look at your audience and find clues that they are disengaging.  When you see the nods or the glazed eyes, change their state.

Some examples of what we did:

  • Moved to another seat
  • Turned and talked
  • Four corners of the room (body voting)
  • Invented names
  • Hand voting (raise your hand and think of a number, use your fingers to represent the number, then find someone else in the room who has that number.  When you do, discuss the topic with them).
  • People bingo
  • Touch blue (simply walk around the room and touch something blue)
  • Take your neighbor for a walk around the room while discussing the topic at hand.

Another thing I often struggled with is the format of how I present.  Should I do straight lecture and give a handout with all of the cute slides on the handout?  What other options are out there?  Estes presented us with at least 10 examples of how to change up the format of your lecture.

Point #5: Transfer of information does not have to be in the format that we all learned it: the straight lecture.  What if your audience knows a great deal about the topic you are covering?  Why spend time on the details if they already have them?  Give them the opportunity to list everything they know about the topic.  Have them present it to the crowd.  Based on what they know, amend your presentation on the fly and allow your group to go deeper into the topic.

After leaving the room, I realized that not only had I met over 20 people during the course of her presentation due to the movement and socialization, but I reflected on the attitudes of the staff that I work with as they receive information during faculty or department meetings.  Wow.  I see the source of their boredom and frustration.  They are disconnected from the information because they never have time to reflect on it.  The subtleties of presenting were on display for me today, and I thank Deborah Estes for sharing them with me.

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