“Act like you own the place!” Tips for presenters :)

A few weeks ago someone came up to me and told me how he just accepted his first speaking gig. He was a bit overwhelmed by it all, and knowing I do a lot of presenting, asked me for a few tips. I gave him a few and have since been thinking about things I’ve learned in my first couple years of presenting at conferences.

1. Invest in a remote and a quality dongle. The only thing more frustrating than being in a conference session with someone who doesn’t have proper equipment, is being the presenter without the proper equipment. Most rooms come set up with a VGA cable, but most non-Windows computers will need a dongle adapter. Don’t pinch pennies here and buy the cheapest one. I speak from experience when I say it’s embarrassing when they stop working in the middle of a session. I also recommend a presenter remote so that you’re not bound to your computer. They’re relatively inexpensive and add a lot of fluidity to your presentation.

2. Act like you own the place! One of the many lessons my dad has taught me is to “act like you own the place, and no one will say anything.” When I present I have to believe in my ability and my authority. When I believe in it, everyone else does too. Because, as Taylor Mali reminds us, “it’s not enough to question authority; you must speak with it too.”

3. Use less words and more pictures. Resources like Haiku Deck make it easy for people to create beautiful presentations. Although it’s important to speak compelling things, it’s ineffective to put these long, beautiful sentences on a slide deck. Stick to photos that illustrate the power of what you’re speaking.

4. Manage your time wisely. Plan out how much time you’ll spend on each point. When you’re just starting out, practice your presentation. It’s always frustrating for conference attendees (who have paid for the conference) to attend sessions that are way over or under the allotted time or are filled with unnecessary information.

5. Don’t rely on the internet. I have yet to be to a tech conference where the internet works perfectly all the time. Be prepared to give your presentation without internet. Download your presentation and any necessary videos. Present like it’s 1995.

The evolution of EdCamps

Have you ever attended an EdCamp? If the answer is no, you are missing out. On what you might ask? An innovative, sharing-based day of learning that will forever change your view on professional development. Typically held on Saturdays, educators meet up at a particular location and either present or attend sessions that focus on best practices in education. My first experience with this new type of professional development was in the summer of 2012 at EdCamp Leadership. It forever changed my view on how educators, including myself, should learn and share.

The first EdCamp ever held was in Philadelphia about five years ago. Fast forward to 2014 and there are hundreds taking place around the globe. The great thing about EdCamps is that they are free. Most EdCamps require participants to sign up in advance on their website just so they can get an accurate head count. After that, you simply show up, sign in, fill out your name badge, and make your way to the session board. What is the session board you might ask? It is a “living document” of sorts where attendees can take a peek at what sessions they could possibly attend. It’s important to remember that participants do not pre register for sessions at an EdCamp. You can attend any session you want. Also, if you have a sudden urge to hold a discussion on something you are passionate about, simply put your name and topic on a sticky note and place it on the session board.

Attending an EdCamp is a phenomenal experience. After the opening remarks and a bite to eat for breakfast, attendees can participate in sessions that spark their interest. What happens when you are sitting in a session that is not applicable to you as an educator? Simply stand up, walk out, and attend a session that is more suitable to your needs. I know, it seems awkward, it is actually something that makes the EdCamp experience special. For years educators, including myself, have attended educational conference sessions that are boring or irrelevant. And what do we do? We sit there for hours and leave the conference unfulfilled. As a response to this issue, EdCamps encourage participants to vote with their feet.

Typically, after attending 4 or 5 sessions and networking with many wonderful educators, participants get to experience a smack-down session. For about 30 minutes participants get up in front of the audience and share a best practice web tool that can be integrated in the school setting. Each person has about 90 seconds to present their resource and quickly explain it’s usefulness. As this is going on, one of the EdCamp organizers archives the resources shared on a spreadsheet that will ultimately be shared for all to enjoy. Door prizes and other educational goodies are also given out to bring the experience to a close.

The EdCamp experience is changing the educational landscape for the better — enabling teachers to collaborate by quickly sharing ideas across schools and districts.  EdCamps are happening everywhere and provide educators with an experience that will last a lifetime. The people you meet, the resources shared, and the collaboration that takes place is memorable. I encourage other educators to find an EdCamp located near them and get involved!

Communicating with parents from day 1!

During my first year of teaching, I made the mistake of making a phone call home to discuss the negative behavior of a student in my classroom. This was within the first few weeks of school, and I received a jarring response, yet one that I learned a lot from. This student was refusing to do work, constantly disrupting the class, and often using disrespectful language to other students and to me. It came to a head one day, and I made a phone call after school to his mom. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “Hi, this is Ms. Christine, your child’s teacher.”

Mom: “Oh hi, is everything ok?”

Me: “Well, actually I was calling to talk about your child.”

…I went to on to summarize recent behaviors.

Mom: “Well honestly, this is the first time I am even talking to you this year. I don’t know you, and my son is also probably trying to get to know you. I don’t like that our first contact is about something negative. I would have loved to first learn about how you teach, how you run your classroom, and what your expectations are, that way I could use the same language with my son and he would know that you and I are on the same team.”

The conversation went on, and I completely understood and respected what she was saying. I didn’t reach out to families at the start of the year. I had planned to hold off until Back-to-School night, which was after the first month. That first month is so crucial to building on the rest of the year, and in hindsight, I should have made a positive contact with each family earlier.

After my conversation with that parent, I made sure to check in with each family, and have an initial get-to-know-you conversation. Throughout the year, I referred to students’ families as being on a team with me, where their child is our quarterback. We all need to work together to support the student. Making that initial initial phone call, talking in person, or chatting over ClassDojo Messenger, has made a huge difference in my classroom support system.

Time to get up-to-speed with technology!

When I started teaching at my high school twelve years ago, we had to fill in bubbles on forms to take attendance, complete progress reports, and complete report cards. Today, we have one integrated web-based system for such student records. Implementing technology previously meant incorporating a laser disk player or displaying a presentation on a small TV. Now, most classrooms are equipped with interactive whiteboards, or are even 1:1. Certainly technology has made teaching easier in some aspects.

Here are my favorite apps and sites that can enhance teaching:

1. ClassDojo: ClassDojo is available on the web and as an app for iOS and Android. ClassDojo allows me to record student behaviors (which are customizable) in real time. Students and parents can either log in to the website or download the app to track student behavior. I can generate individual or class reports to share, and even more exciting, I can instantly message with parents!

2. Easybib: Easybib is my go-to site for students working on a research paper or project to aggregate and properly cite their sources – essential to avoiding plagiarism. It also features an Educator’s Portal, which has free lesson plans, flyers, citation guides, and more.

3. Google Products: Where to begin…Google seems to have a product or app for everything! Many Google products can enhance teaching and learning:

  • Chrome is the browser my students and I use. I find it the most powerful and it is extremely user-friendly.
  • Google is the most popular search engine in the US. There are so many useful features that my students love exploring.
  • Google Books allows users to search for books. If the book is out of copyright or if Google has obtained permission, users may see a preview or the entire text. If the book is in the public domain, users can download a PDF copy.
  • Google Calendar allows you to create a schedule that can be shared with colleagues and students! This is also a great tool for teaching organization and time-management.
  • Google Drive has changed the way students and I share information and work. We are collaborating more than ever. With a suite of products that rival Microsoft Office, students can create documents and projects and then share them with others. I often create documents for class notes and save them on Drive so they are easily accessible for all my classes and easy to print out for students with IEPs.
  • Gmail: My school uses a customized form of Gmail as our official email. I require all of my 12th graders to create an address suitable for contact with teachers and colleagues, and I encourage my 9th graders to do the same. Gmail is widely used and highly customizable, with filters, tabs, and a powerful advanced search feature.  

4. YouTube: Students, from preschoolers to high schoolers, love activities involving YouTube. Common Core Standards require close reading of texts and analysis of video; I’ve been using YouTube clips to introduce topics. I create a list of questions based on the clip and students are responsible for answering the questions as we watch. They are interested and engaged, actively seeking answers. Active watching with YouTube is a lot more interesting than a presentation, for both the students and me.

5. Wikispaces: I maintain two class websites on Wikispaces – one for my AP English Language and Composition students, and another for my 9th and 12th grade Regents classes. It’s free for educators and students and is very user-friendly! Keeping up this website is great for teaching responsibility for students who need to find a handout or any other assignment they might be missing.

What do you use to enhance teaching?

Overwhelmed by the Common Core? Don’t be!

Schools throughout the nation are embracing the Common Core State Standards as a guide for developing curriculum across the content areas and designing assessments to measure student performance. It’s important that teachers have an understanding of what students need to be able to do at the level they are teaching. For educators who reach a wide range of students in their everyday workload this can be an especially daunting task.

There are great resources for helping teachers access the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core State Standards has a fantastic website for teachers full of useful information. They have a clear outline of all of the standards in addition to resources for parents and frequently asked questions.

If you are operating most often with the screen of your mobile device you’ll definitely want to download the free mobile app from Mastery Connect (iOS / Android). By having this app on your tablet or smartphone, you can easily access the Common Core State Standards in a meeting, planning session, or just to answer a quick question.

One helpful feature is the ability to type in a keyword and search through the Common Core State Standards. If you’re in a school that is new to these national standards this option will definitely come in handy.  You can type in a phrase like “comparing fractions” and figure out which grade and standard applies to this particular skill. As you prepare for the upcoming school year definitely add this app to your homescreen for easy access to the Common Core!

Professional Learning Communities

When I heard Clay Shirky say that the only proven way to improve teacher performance is for teachers to learn from each other, my conscience stirred within me. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are a growing trend in excellent schools and we didn’t have one yet at my school.

Shirky went on to say, “Letting teachers choose to opt out of new tools is okay because it keeps the naysayers from blocking forward movement. Let those who are interested implement change.”

The next week I began asking my fellow teachers if they’d like to create a PLC. Within three weeks, eight out of thirty-seven teachers signed up. At our first meeting, eighteen showed up!

Our First Meeting

At our first meeting we discussed Harry Wong’s book, The First Days of School. This meeting was unlike any other I’d been to at our school. Several teachers had already read the book and shared how it had helped them. Teachers who were planning to read it asked incredible questions. I came away with at least 10 ideas for things I could do on day one of the next school year. I got more out of those 30 minutes than I’d gotten from 30 hours of certain professional classes. It was unbelievable!

What’s Next

Our next plan of attack is to have a “lunch and learn” at our school. Everyone is working to finish the book and we’re going to discuss and share ideas. No one is required to do this — we are attending by choice, making it that much more powerful.

Reach Out and Start Your Own PLC

It can be intimidating to reach out to colleagues, but we know that the way to improve schools is to improve teaching. We must do this for ourselves. Although it is frustrating to have an insufficient amount of money to spend on professional development, we can get so much from a PLC — for free! We are so excited to be part of a teacher-led group that encourages sharing and collaboration.

I encourage you to talk with other teachers at your school. See if there are a few who would be willing to start a PLC. Some may refuse to join you, and that’s okay! Don’t be discouraged, there will be other teachers who are just as excited about starting a PLC as you!

If you’re having trouble creating a PLC within your own school, there are plenty virtual PLC’s. In Summer 2014, thousands of educators joined the Summer Learning Series, open to any and all educators (#SummerLS on Twitter). You can also keep an eye out for Voxer groups and book studies that you can join.

When you work with teachers who are willing and excited, change happens. Are you ready to level-up your classroom?

Give teachers a student perspective on ClassDojo!

A middle school colleague and I recently were given the opportunity to present for our district’s summer tech class series. Of course we jumped at the chance to show the benefits of using ClassDojo. Generally when we present, we outline the basics and define new features. However, we realized that this presentation could move in a different direction. This class was held in a tech lab, allowing us to give our audience a more engaging, hands-on lesson. We planned on going over account setup, adding classes, and working with custom behaviors. We created a class list for teachers to use during the presentation. Needless to say, we were thrilled to be giving this presentation.

While planning, my colleague suggested we develop a class using our participants as the students. It was a brilliant way to model how we use ClassDojo in our classrooms, giving the attendees a student perspective on the product. This was a great opportunity for teachers to experience the excitement of seeing their avatar for the first time, or hearing the sing-song of receiving a positive point. We even purchased a couple of gift cards for the “student” who had the most points at the end of the class.

During the presentation, we secretly gave these “students” Dojo points as they asked questions or had insight on how ClassDojo could be used in their classrooms. When the time came to go live and show our attendees what we had been doing, their reaction was just what we had hoped. Just like our real students, they commented on each others avatars and how many points they had. This gave us an opportunity to discuss how their reactions were very similar to what they will find among their students. After our little experiment, we were able to show the teachers not only how useful ClassDojo can be in their classroom, but how exciting and positive it can be for their students.

We then gave them the freedom to explore ClassDojo. We walked among our participants to answer questions and give them one-on-one assistance. It was a wonderful to help them work with ClassDojo rather than just showing the app for a change.

In the end, this presentation was the best thing we could have done — we gave these teachers an authentic experience with ClassDojo. It reminded me that seeing is believing — but then again, doing is even better!