Friday, March 9, 2012

Conference Presentation Suggestions - What Can You Really Do In An Hour?

 I am sitting here in the beautiful Hilton in Pearl River NY after 6 long hours of flying - rough day in the air with all this crazy rain and thunderstorm action. I am just going over my thoughts and practicing my presentations for tomorrow - you'd think I wouldn't need to do that after all these years, but I am definitely a worry-wart and want to just make sure I have my stuff together!

I am doing two 1-hour presentations tomorrow at the Ten County Mathematics Association Conference in Orangeburg, NY. Both presentations are geared for elementary math teachers, focused on the Common Core Standards - one on TinkerPlots and one on The Geometer's Sketchpad.  I love doing these hour long sessions because they are quick and fun - it's so rewarding to work with teachers and show them exciting, hands-on, engaging software that really helps students 'get' math.  But - of course, the downside being it's only an hour.  The most you can realistically do in an hour is get them excited about the possibility and intrigued enough to want to try it themselves.  You are not going to change anyone's teaching in an hour - really, all you can do is plant the seed, give them some ready-to-use resources, some contact information so they can get some follow-up help, and provide them with some resources for continued support.

My problem is I actually work for the company that sells the software, Key Curriculum.  Which of course instills immediate distrust in my participants because I am seen as a 'for profit' vendor just there to sell my wares.  Which I am of course - I want them to buy the software naturally!  Part of this distrust comes from the fact that often representatives from vendors DO NOT actually have a background in the product they are demonstrating.  Not so in my case, and not so for my company as a whole, which is one of the reasons I actually work for this company. I am, at the heart of it all, a math teacher who works for Key Curriculum because of my love of math and this company's commitment to great math instruction.

It's a tricky path to walk, let me tell you. I have spent my entire professional career, as a teacher and administrator and now an employee of a for-profit math software company, trying to help math teachers become better in their instructional strategies and help them integrate great math tools to help students. So, the dilemma I struggle with every time I do a presentation at a conference, or talk to teachers at a conference or school, or do a workshop with teachers, is how do I get across that I am a math teacher first, trying to share amazing tools for teaching math rather than a vendor trying to sell my 'stuff'? I think it comes down to what every presenter needs to keep in mind - authenticity, relevancy, immediacy and follow-up support.

Authenticity for me means letting your participants know right up front what you expertise is, and how you are relate to what you are presenting. For me, I share my teaching experience and personal struggles with teaching and being an administrator. I bring up strategies I used with my students or related student stories as where appropriate. When your participants feel you can truly relate to them because you have been there, I think it makes what you have to say and share authentic.

Relevancy means know your audience. Make sure the materials and topics you are presenting truly relate to what your participants are teaching or experiencing in their classroom and that these materials/resources/products are going to help make what they do better or different. You would be surprised at how often presenters don't do this. For me, this means doing math with the teachers that they would be doing with their students - help them see how the tools I am demonstrating make their teaching more engaging and help their students learn. So tomorrow - we are doing several specific activities directly related to Common Core standards they have to teach....relevancy matters.

Immediacy is something so many presenters/vendors miss. Teachers want to go to a presentation and walk away with something they can use TOMORROW! If they don't, then they won't use whatever it is you were trying to show's that simple.  Even if you helped them see the relevancy to what they teach, if you don't provide them with some ready-to-use resources, they are most likely not going to go out on their own and try it. I always make sure my participants walk away with the actual lessons we did in the presentation, both the student worksheet and the teacher notes, as well as the ability to download the software for free so they can use it the next day.

Follow-up Support - a key factor in sustaining anything is support.  A teacher may leave a presentation completely pumped, ready to try it the next day, and then...after they try a lesson and it goes well and they want more, where do they go?  Or, if it went bad, where do they go?  Usually, no where, and they never try again.  I like to make sure my participants know I am an email away, for one thing.  But more importantly, I make sure they know that the software has built in resources (tutorials, videos, sample activities, etc.), there are free webinars, online courses - I WANT them to keep using this software because it's so amazing for student learning, so I want them to know I am going to help them as much as I can.

These four principles work whether you are a vendor, professional development provider, school leader - anyone who is trying to support change in teacher practice. Be authentic - let them know you believe in what you are promoting and have some experience; make the presentation relevant and connect to what they teach and what they NEED for their students; give them materials and resources they can use immediately, because they are going to leave excited (we hope!); and finally, follow-up with them - see what help they need and continue to support them as they change.  You will find this goes a long way in creating sustained change in teachers.

Okay - enough reflection.  Off to bed.  Long day tomorrow!

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