Thoughts of a Conference Presenter

Presenting at state conferences is always so rewarding. When I accept an opportunity to present, I feel a sense of excitement and a bit of a thrill. “I can’t believe they want me!” Then as the weeks go by and work/home/family rolls along, I begin to think that maybe I shouldn’t have accepted. Maybe it just costs too much since there really isn’t any money in our budget for this trip. Maybe no one will come to my sessions. Maybe I’ll wander around aimlessly feeling lost because I only know one or two people that are in attendance.

Fast forward to the week before the conference. Oh no! I’ve hardly worked on those presentations that I started when I was first accepted. What was the description again? What have I learned about this topic since I first submitted my proposals? What has Google changed that I need to alter from where I was back then?

Even though I may have presented this very topic multiple times, I still have to customize the presentation for the audience and the venue. Some people might think the presentation part of it isn’t that important. Some of the sessions I’ve attended in my career certainly focus on content and not esthetics! But I feel that the visual part of the presentation is just as important as the content.

I recently spent several days learning about The Art and Science of Presenting from Phil Echols @PhilEchols and Chrys Brown from the Office of Professional Learning in Wake County Public Schools in Raleigh, NC. These two excellent presenters provided multiple strategies that I have since continuously employed in my presentations.

Having a consistent template for slides makes the presentation look so much more professional. Providing links to the materials either at the session or before is really important for those that use the app or website for the conference. I’m guilty of forgetting to post the links prior to the sessions!

So why am I ruminating about all of this? Because sometimes attendees think that presenters breeze in and don’t have to do much. Because sometimes presenters try their best and the WIFI doesn’t work or the slides are out of order or they have too much content for the time allotted.

Presentation is a craft and an artform. Am I great at it? No. Am I good at it? I think so, but those of you who have seen me present should tell me what I need to improve on. Your feedback – both good and bad – help me to grow my style and improve my craft. If you have ever attended a conference, please be sure to provide feedback. If you’re a conference organizer, please provide that feedback to your presenters. Assessment is a key component of the process.

So now that I’m headed home from this conference, I am so appreciative of the opportunities I had. I filled my schedule with Music Technology sessions. I heard some great music by High School and Collegiate groups. I connected with people that are actively using technology in their band rooms, classrooms and choirs. And I have met some true pioneers in the field. Thank you, TN Music Educators Association for one of the best conferences I’ve been to in an amazing city full of music. #TnMEAConference

The Power of Feedback

My new role has been challenging, exciting and full of professional learning. The more I learn the less I know. My mother always told me that I would soon find out that the older I got the more I’d need to learn something new. Wise woman.

I’ve learned to work with a colleague in a give and take situation. Our strengths are different and therefore we are very complimentary (both task wise and verbally!) to each other. We both know when to step up and when to step back. So far I have not managed to break any of her toes!

The challenge of providing professional learning to teachers in schools at multiple grade levels – Elementary, Middle and High – has begun to teach us the skill of differentiating on the fly. Educators are so very busy. When we arrive for training during their planning period or lunch, they don’t let us know that what we are offering isn’t suited to them. They haven’t learned to speak up when we’re there. But some of them definitely speak up in the follow-up survey.

I’ve previously posted about some negative feedback we received, but that was the catalyst for really analyzing what we do and how we do it. The option to get down deeper into what an educator or principal really needs can also be informative for the person leaving the comments. While some might lash out in displeasure, others leave some of the following:

” I understand that when in a training, you have people at all different learning levels but I felt that our training started in the middle and there was so much that could have been introduced, shown to us, etc, to then get us to the middle. I left feeling like I know nothing more that I did before. I did love the convenience of you coming to us instead of us having to take time off to go to a training elsewhere.” However, this same person said the most important takeaway from this session was “I still have a lot to learn”.

So how do we address this in the span of 35 minutes? It has opened our eyes to thinking outside of what typical professional learning looks like. This has started us thinking about choice and voice for our teachers. How do they choose? How do we make that work if they choose 10 different things on the same day? Where do we draw the line? How can we group our tools and offerings so that everyone gets something?

Working with professional educators at all levels makes every day different. We try not to take shortcuts, but give all of our energy every day to provide our best.

Am I still learning? You bet. Sometimes falling short of the mark? You bet. Feeling like I have the best job on the planet for me? You bet. Grateful for those I work with and for? You bet.

I’m so grateful for the feedback that helps me grow, learn and strive to make what I do better each time. I’m not there yet, but maybe I never will be. If I stop learning, then I stop growing.

Bring on the feedback!

Professional Learning: “Is this Mandatory?”

“Less ‘fun ideas and silly stories’ and more practical resources. Please use our professional time professionally” and “Is this mandatory?” were a response on a follow-up survey from a training that my colleague and I gave. The training topic was an insight into the new teaching licensure requirement in technology for our state. We focused on multiple ways and places that teachers could explore to acquire the required credits. The majority of what we presented, while readily available if someone went looking for it, wasn’t entirely easily accessed. Our thinking was that we would provide easy links and videos to save teachers time in finding the various ways to get CEUs (Continuing Education Unit). And we provided part of a credit by giving this training.teachers at training

Providing instruction where we don’t know the small group of teachers coming in to work with us means that sometimes we are going to not provide enough, provide something the teacher doesn’t feel they need or go too quickly for someone. We attempt to differentiate during every training, but sometimes we miss the mark.

We take our feedback surveys personally. We really do want to modify our training to continue to improve the content we deliver. And I know we can’t make everyone happy (as was evidenced by the teacher and another colleague at this training!) But how do you discern whether the dissatisfaction is because of the content, the trainers, job unhappiness, or personal life affecting attitude? I feel it’s our job to at least attempt to meet as many people as possible right where they are.

question marksDid I take this teacher’s comment personally? You bet. Does it mean that I’ll never give that same training in the same way again? Probably. And a few years ago, I would lose sleep over what I “did wrong”. But I am a different person today. I have an amazingly supportive colleague who collaborates to make things better each time. We will digest the feedback and will find a way to respectfully and professionally follow up with this teacher to find out how or if we can provide digital learning support in the future.

This journey of educating isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s for the brave. It’s for those that, despite the criticism, despite the challenges keep coming back into the ring every day. Whether you work with children or adults, the motivation is the same: To open the door to learning and to make that learning relative and timely.

“Is this mandatory?” Yes, yes it is. While you might not hear the message yet, we will continue to share the message. While you might think it’s a waste of your time because you know more than we do, there are valuable things that we are learning from you at the same time. Teach us and help us help you. #neverstoplearning

The Nature of Summer

Every day of summer vacation includes some professional time. I’m not one to take the summer off. Even if I could truly take the summer off, I’m sure I’d fill my time with professional development or a project of some kind. I’m not good at vacating!

While summer gives me time to regroup and change up my routine, it also allows me time to reflect on what’s truly important in my career as well as my home life. What parts of your work life spill over into your home life? If you’re an educator, then probably a lot.

beach during sunset
Photo by b. on Pexels.com

Educational professionals lead a different kind of life. There is a constant need to reinvent oneself as technology changes, curriculum changes, schools change and demands change. It can cross into your personal life in such a way that you never truly feel like you are away from your job.

So how do you balance it? Every person does it differently, but I find that I have to still teach all summer. Maybe you teach at a summer camp. Maybe you give professional development sessions to other teachers. Maybe you teach your own kids. Or maybe you teach yourself new things. I try to combine as much of that as I can but on a less demanding schedule than the traditional school year.

I teach teachers online for the New England Institute for Teacher Education. Two of my established technology classes are running concurrently right now. The summer is the only time to run two at the same time while working full-time! This adventure is full of new things every time I do it. These teachers find new angles that I hadn’t even thought of! I get a “2-fer” – I get to teach and I get to learn at the same time. Now that’s a great summer!

The nature of my summer might look a lot different than yours. Yes, sometimes I long to go take a really long walk on a beach somewhere, but my family has other demands that just don’t allow for much of that. It’s all good, though. I’m able to help them out and still get to do something I love: educate and learn.

How about you? What’s your “Nature of Summer”?

 

Learning Never Stops

Those of you that know me well know how much I love what I do. I may be well-aged, but my learning doesn’t stop. I am challenged daily by my colleagues to be better. Twitter, Professional readings, workshops, collaborative interaction and the like make me realize just how little I really know.

woman sitting on chair using black ipad
Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

Last week Marlo Gaddis, Interim Chief Technology Officer and Senior Director for Instructional Technology and Library Media Services for the Wake County Public School System challenged her followers to read professional articles for an hour a day. At first, I thought, I can barely find an hour to sleep! But as the enormity of what she had said sunk in, I realized that not only should I read professional material an hour a day, but I must read this way.

Education and technology change constantly. Sometimes daily or hourly. It is the responsibility of every professional educator – and especially those in coaching roles – to remain invested in expanding our knowledge base. Summer break is the perfect time to begin this new habit.

While I am not yet devoting a full hour daily while on vacation, my goal is to use technology to help me develop this habit. Daily Wunderlist and Google Calendar reminders, using Feedly to curate relative content and posting via Buffer to spread that knowledge to the greater community is now in my daily routine.

So now it’s my turn. I am challenging you to invest some time in your professional development on a daily basis. Whether you are a teacher, business professional, homeschool parent, chef, stay-at-home parent, a student or whatever your job is, you can benefit from spending some time reading about your profession and the areas that affect your situation. Dig deeper. Expand your circle of influence. Join me on the journey!

Developing an Online Course Is Like A Box of Chocolates

Chocolates would be good right about now. Every time I sit down to work on the next piece of one of my online courses, I start searching for the one with the gooey caramel center. I mean, that’s what it’s like. I look for the nuggets of wisdom. The centers of rich and creamy perfection that I can share with my online students.

box of chocolates

Gee! Now I’m hungry – again!

Teaching online is a bit different than just taking your seated course and moving it to the cloud. Some universities and professors find that an acceptable way to educate adults online. Frankly, I haven’t seen it work yet. You have to find the richness that is found in your topic and make it relevant to the classroom.

The online platform requires a different set of skills for the learner. If I don’t find out what kind of learner they are, I can’t assist them in any way. Asynchronous courses – those that can be accessed and worked on at any time by teacher or student – are tough for those that aren’t used to self-directed learning and being in the proverbial closet when doing their work.

While I’ve tried to set up synchronous meetings in past online classes, the availability of busy teachers (including me) just hasn’t been helpful. My summer courses seem to have a bit more flexibility, but even then my students are often working other jobs to make ends meet.

So back to the development of these courses…

My courses are project based. They have to be. Writing papers for an online technology course is like asking a cat if he wants a bath. It just isn’t pretty. Besides, it doesn’t show me what my students know and are able to do.

I create tutorial videos and screencasts which help a lot. But, if my content changes every 10 weeks or so, it’s hard to keep up that recording schedule. My dog isn’t much help. He barks every time I need a quiet moment. Or the 3D printers start printing a remote job. Or someone comes to the door. Or, well, I could think of a million excuses.


Who did we ask before Google

The fact remains, that I keep searching. Searching for just the right chocolate. Searching for just the right center. And then Google changes the way they do something. Or links go stale. Or the LMS (Learning Management System) gets changed. Or I’m just not satisfied that I did my best work. Or I’m in a hurry because I also work a full-time job and have a family.

Do I love it? Yes! Do I need to keep reinventing my courses? Yes! Maybe you are a teacher reading this and you think you might like to learn more about learning online. Or you need CEUs and want to learn more. Come shake up one of my classes. Come try out your Growth Mindset because you just don’t have it all done YET. Oh, and bring chocolate. Because everything is better with chocolate!

Barbara Vinal is a full-time Instructional Technology Facilitator and Magnet School Coordinator. She teaches online for the New England Institute for Teacher Education. She also teaches piano and plays keyboard/sings in a contemporary Christian music band.

‘Twas the Night Before Conference…

It never fails. No matter how much I prepare for presenting at a conference, I’m still putting final touches on my final product fairly late the night before. It’s not that I’m not prepared. More like I’m not satisfied with the work I’ve done. Not. Ever.

Google Classroom for Littles 101 NCTIES18Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a perfectionist. Not by a long shot. But, the images aren’t just right. The text doesn’t look right. The content is just not as complete as I want. Oh, wait! I’ve only got 45 minutes! Cut out a few slides or just plan to skip them if it seems necessary. Improvisation is the name of this game.

I’ve been presenting at conferences and workshops for over 20 years. I’m not a professional by any means and it’s certainly not my regular job. I just love to share knowledge – almost as much as I like to learn something new. My students teach me something new every day. They are amazing at finding some tip or trick that I didn’t know. They constantly make me re-think my methods and my motives. Sometimes they make me laugh and sometimes they make me want to go back to school and start again.

As I develop my session, I use authentic student work. Some work from my adult students and some work from my second graders. This cross section is amazingly similar. They are very diverse in ages but very similar in learning styles. So when I bring forth examples, I hope to guide other educators down the path that has kept me teaching for all these years: constant amazement at what learning does for the human soul.

So, I’ll go back and add another image. Or take one away. Or I’ll move the text over and change the background. Or I’ll delete another slide and add fewer graphics. Maybe I’ll even finish before 4:15 tomorrow when that first slide pops up and it’s showtime. Come to my session and see if I’m done! Google Classroom for Littles 101 in Room 302B at the Raleigh Convention Center at NCTIES 2018. See you there! #ncties18 #Google4Littles