Tips For The Novice Professional Development Presenter

I remember when I was in middle school, I knew that I was going to be a teacher when I grew up, and I just kind of assumed that by the time that happened, I would be confident enough to stand in front of a classroom and speak. When I got to high school, and I was still terrified of presentations that required me to speak to my peers, I figured I needed to get a little more proactive about the problem. So I joined the speech team. I wasn’t very good and never won any medals or awards, but it was my first step toward becoming a speaker.

The first time I stood at the front of a library full of my coworkers with their attention on me was both exhilarating and absolutely terrifying. At the time, I was a middle school English teacher, not even yet department chair. Despite how nervous I was to stand up in front of my coworkers, the entire experience was amazing, and I proved to myself that I could do it.

These days, a big part of my day-to-day work is designing and leading professional development. I’ve learned much about the design and delivery of professional development and adult learning, and I think it’s time to put what I know to paper. Well, screen. You know what I mean.

Let’s set the stage. Your principal popped into your classroom for a regular walkthrough and saw something incredible happening. Now, they want you to share this wonderful strategy with everyone at the next faculty meeting or in-service day. 

Now what?

The Message

The first thing to decide when planning any professional development is your message. Coming from an instructional design perspective, we would use objectives, but let’s keep it simple and call it the message.

What is your key takeaway? If your colleagues walk away from your session with only one idea, what idea should that be? What do they need to be able to do at the end of your session?

This could be something like, “Students need you to care about them before you teach them” or “Incorporate ten minutes of reflective writing every day to improve skill and confidence in your content area.”

Once you know what your message is, don’t forget to tell your audience. Maybe you’ve heard this saying: Tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you just told them. Start with your message, end with your message, and make sure that everything in between supports your message.

The Interaction

Everyone knows that sit-and-get sessions are the worst. Look around the room the next time you have a speaker that’s only speaking. I guarantee you’ll find someone doodling on a handout, someone scrolling Instagram on their phone, and someone sleeping. Interaction is how you keep the audience engaged and give them something memorable from your session.

Depending on the length of your presentation, you have tons of options for interacting with the audience: table discussions (or breakout discussions if you’re virtual), polling, creating, and so much more. 

Give the audience a taste of what you’re sharing. If your message was “Incorporate ten minutes of reflective writing every day to improve skill and confidence in your content area,” then have the participants take out a paper and pencil and do ten minutes of reflective writing (or shorter if you don’t have much time). Giving them a chance to experience what you’re sharing can be a priceless addition to your presentation.

That first presentation with the library of faculty staring back at me was all about Pear Deck. My task was to show everyone this great new tool that I’d found, and if there was enough interest after my presentation, my principal would purchase the premium plan for our campus. Instead of just telling them about Pear Deck with a PowerPoint full of screenshots, I handed out iPads and had my colleagues join the presentation using Pear Deck. 

The most memorable part of that presentation was when I demonstrated my favorite way to use Pear Deck for a quick brain-break that built collaborative skills. I put up a blank draggable slide, so every participant had one dot that they could move anywhere on that slide. I asked them to work together from their seats to create a circle with all of their dots. It was chaotic and beautiful, and by the end of the activity, even my principal didn’t want to move on until they had made their circle. 

These are the moments where you capture your audience and leave an impact. Don’t just trust that they’ll happen on their own. Plan those activities first.

Side note: If you’ve never heard of or used Pear Deck before, I wrote about it back when I first discovered it in 2018. Check it out!

The Content

By this point, you probably have a title slide, a slide at the beginning and end for your message, and an activity that fits somewhere in between. Now it’s time to flesh out the rest of the presentation. 

You know your message and interaction. What information does the audience need before, after, and even during the interaction? What do they need to be told to remember your message? 

I won’t sit here and waste my word count telling you how to design what is essentially at this point a lesson. But I do have one recommendation for how to frame the content of your presentation: Tell a story.

I presented once at a Seidlitz conference about the impact that a couple of educational technology tools had on my English Language Learners. I framed that presentation around a story about one of the sweetest students I ever taught who started the year consistently scoring zeros on weekly checks-for-understanding. I told the story of how those tools helped him improve throughout the year, in both skill and confidence. Of course, I hid any identifying information and used a pseudonym, but his story was what pulled in the audience.

The Design

I would be remiss to discuss presentations without touching on slide design. As a part of my master’s program, I took several presentation design courses and read about color theory and design principles. I could do a whole webinar on slide design alone, but for now, I’ll just hit a couple of the most important points here:

Keep it simple. When it comes to presentation slides, whether you use PowerPoint or Google Slides or Canva, whether you start from scratch or use a template, just remember to keep it simple. Choose a color palette of 3–4 colors (my trick here is to start with the school colors!). Don’t go crazy with pictures or visuals. Make sure that your slides have good contrast, meaning dark text on a light background or light text on a dark background, and don’t make anyone blind with crazy color choices.

Avoid walls of text or excessive bullet points. Most of my presentations don’t even use any bullet points anymore. My strategy is to put one important word or idea on a slide and then use my voice for the details. Remember, your slides are a visual aid to go with what you’re saying, not a document and not a handout. 

The Presentation

It’s the day of your presentation! You put on your fancy shoes, spend a little extra time straightening your hair, and pick out your favorite long-lasting lipstick (or maybe that was just me). You’re standing in front of your colleagues, slides on the screen, ready to share. 

The most important thing that I can say is: Don’t read the slides. I know that when we’re nervous, it’s easier to just read what’s on the slide, but trust me, the whole presentation will go more smoothly if you just talk to the audience. Don’t worry about every sentence being perfect or getting a little tongue-tied. You’re human. It will happen. These are your colleagues; talk to them.

The biggest piece of advice that I can give is for when the presentation is over. Take a few moments to reflect on it. What was successful? What could have gone better? What did you learn about yourself as a presenter? As a teacher? 

And, if you’re anything like me, the next question will be: What’s next?


Originally published on the Infobase Learning Center.

Mrs. Hebert’s English Class: ONLINE EDITION

On this blog, I’ve reflected on the successes and failures surrounding my teaching career. I’ve written about the activities and assignments I’ve designed and redesigned. I’ve written about my own views and feelings relating to education and technology. This blog started as an assignment in my first masters class three years ago. I’ve been striving to continue posting here because I believe it’s important to reflect in this profession, on the big things and the little things.

It struck me pretty hard when I opened up this blog and saw that my last post was one from the first week of school, when I had the privilege of seeing Nic Stone speak. How far we’ve come since the start of the school year.

Just a few years ago, I wrote about the heartbreak of starting the school year late due to Hurricane Harvey. Now, I sit here thinking about the heartbreak of closing our school early, and the struggles and successes of moving to fully remote instruction.

Once again, a natural disaster of sorts has drastically affected our school year. The Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has shut the doors on schools across the country, but that certainly does not mean that the school year is over.

Just this morning, I posted the handout and assignment for our seventh week of online instruction.

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Dear Nic Stone

While standing on the stage in the Cullen Performance Hall, wearing a stunning technicolor outfit, Nic Stone asked the rapt audience to turn to page 152 in her debut novel, Dear Martin. Sitting four rows back from the front, I eagerly turned to the page to see which brilliant line from the novel she wanted us to read. It was this one:

“You can’t change how other people think and act, but you’re in full control of you.”

Dear Martin, Nic Stone

This quote that I already had underlined in my own copy of the novel. This quote that sums up exactly what I try to instill in my 8th grade students every day. This quote that I myself often fail to remember.

This was only a small part of the brilliance that made up the University of Houston College of Education‘s 2019 First Lecture. I am immensely glad that I attended this year.

Nic Stone speaking at the University of Houston College of Education 2019 First Lecture
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Technology: It’s Not Just for the Students

In case you were not aware, today was #DigitalLearningDay. As far as I’m concerned, just about every day in my classroom is a digital learning day, but I am not one to pass up an opportunity to show off my EdTech prowess and design something extra special for the occasion.

For the past week, I worked with one of my favorite teacher besties who is also my across the hall classroom neighbor to build out an Escape Room activity. It was pretty rockin’ if I do say so myself. Even our admin team thought that it was a great learning experience for our kiddos.

Me and my across the hall teacher bestie with our Digital All-Star stickers and rocking our AVID shirts! <3
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#ThisIsTeaching

My feet hurt, the underwire in my bra has come free and is stabbing me, I have a papercut on my finger from making copies, half of my lipstick is gone, there are no less than three different hair clips holding together this hairstyle that one of my students described as looking like broccoli (uncooked, not covered in cheese).

Today I had a really good lesson with a mixture of silent choice reading in the library and reviewing a big test they took last week to prepare for the upcoming STAAR. I used non-technology notecards for silent reading trackers. I used technology with Pear Deck for test review and in-depth, very animated discussions.

This is teaching.

Sometimes, well often, I struggle in this profession. I struggle with balancing what I know my students need and teaching to the test, with whether or not I’m doing a good enough job, with how much work I have to take home with me, with how much emotional baggage I take home with me, with how exhausted I always am.

And then sometimes I have a good lesson. Not even an awesome lesson or amazing lesson, and it wasn’t a perfect day. I still had deal with discipline and students who won’t listen or don’t get it. But it was a good lesson.

And when I left work today and thought about how my general appearance started out looking pretty snazzy with the makeup and styled hair and a dress and ended up with the description above, I realized how great this job can be.

If that even makes sense.

This is teaching.

Reflecting on Experiences

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”

John Dewey

Sitting in a session about the effect of teacher education on teacher attrition and retention, I heard this quote from John Dewey, and it struck me deeply. I have been sadly lacking in this reflection since I completed my masters this past August. Of course, I knew this would happen. Many of my reflections in this blog centered around my masters coursework; in fact, the original creation of this blog was an assignment. However, having earned my degree certainly does not mean I am done learning or done reflecting.

I am, of course, proud of having completed my degree and of my several subsequent accomplishments. I’ve started drafts of posts about those accomplishments, but without a deadline or a requirement, I haven’t completed them. Even this post is coming a solid month after I attended the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) annual convention and heard this quote. Continue reading

The Promise and Hope of Our Students

I haven’t had much of a chance yet this semester to sit down and talk about the two classes I’m taking in this last spring semester of my masters education (just one or two classes this summer and I’ll be done!). I think it’s time to remedy that.

This semester I’m taking another professional seminar class that is split into three mini-courses taught by three different professors, just like the one I took last semester. This time, the three topics are Best Practices, Leadership, and Social Justice, but I’m going to focus on Social Justice here. Continue reading

“Miss, I think you turned me into a reader.”

I am a teacher. I love my students fiercely. I do everything in my power to ensure that they are successful, not just on state assessments, but in life.

I am also human. And I get discouraged. And tired. And many days I question how long I can continue in such a mentally demanding and draining profession. This STAAR overloaded time of  year is always hard for me. I get hung up on the feeling that no matter how much I help my students, it’s never good enough. There’s never enough I can do. I let myself get overwhelmingly upset about students who I know are growing and learning and doing their best but still can’t pass.

During these times, it’s easy to get lost in the negativity and it can be hard to find the positive. I know that it is so important to focus on and celebrate the positives. My advisory class this morning watched Shawn Achor’s Ted Talk about the happy secret to better work. We discussed what he said about happiness coming before success, not the other way around. If you have a free 15 minutes, I suggest watching it. I watch it at least once a year to remind myself to calm down and look at the good.

I have had a lot of successes recently in my classroom that I need to celebrate (and maybe brag a little), starting with the Outside Reading Project. Continue reading

Enhance Learning with Pear Deck

As an educator and a student of educational technology, I’m always on the lookout for new tools that increase student learning and student engagement. I strive to authentically teach my curriculum in ways that students have fun at least some of the time and that students will remember after they leave my classroom. It’s not always an easy task to accomplish, but I like to think I work hard at it.

A couple of months ago, I stumbled on a tweet from Alice Keeler that linked to her blog, Teacher Tech with Alice Keeler, specifically a post about a new Google Slides add-on that purports to increase student engagement and give every single student a voice. A common theme in this blog, and in my teaching, is making lessons more student-centered and engaging all students in learning. So, I was understandably intrigued. I spent an afternoon exploring the add-on, which led me to the full resource, called Pear Deck.

I am now 100% a Pear Deck supporter for the following reasons:

  1. It’s simple.
  2. It projects onto the student’s devices.
  3. Every student answers every question.
  4. The dashboard shows me all responses and gives me control from anywhere.

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Fall2017 Part 3: Let the Kids be Creative!

After spending the two weeks of winter break mostly on the couch with a nasty cold (that still hasn’t let up!), I’ve realized that I never completed my Fall 2017 reflection series, and Spring 2018 is creeping up on me!

My third, and final, class of Fall 2017 was called Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling, in which I learned about what is (and is not) a digital story, and I created a couple of my own.  Continue reading