Practicing What We Preach


So if I believe that teachers teach how they are taught, why am I talking so much at them?

As an audience member, I’m tired of people using the exact same principles of teaching that they’re telling us not to use. I recognize this is nothing new; it’s been that way for years. This is why I’m a terrible workshop participant, especially when I feel the attempts to involve us in the learning by using an artificial kinesthetic activity are superficial. 

These are not the activities I want to provide for my students at all. I balk. I fret. I whine. I Facebook. 

If I know I *have* to pay attention, I force myself to live-blog the session, knowing that there may be, lurking deeply, some good information, surrounded by professional learning that doesn’t engage my learning style or pace.  

Note: Don’t get me wrong–I live blog AWESOME presentations as well. In fact, I live-blogged a 3 hour workshop with Ian Jukes a few years ago, and there is no way I was bored or disengaged! 

However, as bad as I am as a workshop participant, as a rookie professional presenter, I find myself using strategies and techniques I’d rarely use in the classroom. Indeed, I may be as bad as those presenters I rail against. Yes, I admit it.

Sure, there’s ample time provided for wrestling through the philosophy, the “why,” the rationale. I actually enjoy dealing with sniper questions of disgruntled High School teachers. I enjoy drawing out and directly addressing, gently and with humor, the rough comments of a  coach who sees himself as a coach well before he sees the importance of teaching citizenship in his American History classes. And God bless the elementary audiences who don’t crave that “rationale” section so deeply as the secondary teachers. I think I handle those situations well, gently and with humor, directly addressing those who need a little more time to open their ears and minds. 

However, with both elementary and high school, I still find myself coming in, showing slides. Sure, they’re visually appealing to make a point for a story and are not bullet pointed.  Yes, we do a lot of hands-on exploration of tools that help create an engaging classroom. There are no artificial, cutesy activities. Stacks of papers that participants might bring to their inservice sessions go ungraded. If the participants are on Facebook, I assume they’re sharing good things with their networks; but if they’re not, I put the onus of engaging my audience upon myself. I know I have to shift, do something to bring that individual back on board. 

So I think that on the scale of professional presenters, I’m not the worst. I’m not the greatest, but have been getting solidly positive reviews from participants and administrators alike. And I’m working hard to get better. 

But my passion is Project Based Learning. Learning by doing. The learners taking charge of the learning. The teacher being the guide, asking questions that are delicious and that compel the learner to want to know more about the topic. 

So if I believe that teachers teach how they are taught, why am I talking so much at them? Why am I the center of attention on a literal stage, many times?

I’m going to address all the reasons (excuses) why I can’t do that first, to get the sadness out of the way. Then we’ll delve into how to remove those to get to the real solution. 


Why I run my professional learning workshops with a sage-on-the-stage, teacher-centered approach: 

1. That’s what they expect. Often, my approach of no handouts and only visual slides is a HUGE shift forward for the staff already, forcing them to use technology and stories to learn. They’d never be able to handle the pure, PBL, learner-driven environment. They’d feel cheated.  really?

2. They’re paying me to be an expert. What would happen if they found out that they could do nearly as well as I could provide, with guidance? They might not need to hire me back! And they’d feel cheated.  are you sure?

3. I’m usually hired in for a one-shot indoctrination. I agree whole-heartedly with the importance of followup and I truly believe the person who is contacting me believes in that as well, but it’s just so expensive in this world of slashed-PD budgets. It’s hard to get to know the staff’s needs in such a short time (sometimes only a half-day), regardless of what the admin or contact person’s perception of need is and how they conveyed that need to me during our preparatory interviews. In order to be able to plan a quality experience, we have to be able to tailor it to the learners’ needs. In a one-shot deal, we just don’t have that advantage to develop those relationships.    not at all?

4. I’m often hired to come in to create a meaningful presentation to the full PK-12 staff, including unlicensed support staff who may not even have a solid education training foundation, at all areas of interest and readiness. Isn’t it just easier to give them all one presentation, then answer individual questions as they arise? You know…teach to the middle?

–Ok, I don’t really believe that, but sometimes still end up practicing it, allowing the previous 3 excuses to stymy my growth.

5. I have the rest of my organization to consider when I’m in the field. I represent our full professional learning cadre: the specialists, the support personnel, the media team, the print shop, the business office. If I fail, taking too many risky experiments in the field, all of us feel the ramifications.  

You have that much power? 

Sure, the professional learning sessions I conduct aren’t the normal “sit and get” that are often inflicted on audiences. We have a lot of discussion. We have a lot of hands-on-keyboards exploring, investigating. There are indeed times when, while I know the answer to a question that I’ve been asked, I might send the workshop participants out to find the answer for themselves. Some might even be put-out that I don’t provide paper copies of my handouts as I try to save money and move them out of their comfort zones a bit. I do provide electronic copies, but only when I’m directly requested to. 

Initially, participants might think I’m being lazy, or call my expertise into question when I send them on a quest to find an answer to their own question. They might not notice the guiding that I’m doing then. 

But I pause and remind them of the full content of what I’m saying; that unless they plan to hire me full-time as a 24/7, on-site consultant, telling them what to do, when to do it, and how to do it, they need the guided practice to develop those skills and mindsets of their own. To be learners. And that I’m providing a direct demonstration of how they can support their own learners. To not forget that initial frustration; that we must provide gentle support of students as they break the teacher-reliance addiction and move toward self-reliance and confidence in the ability to be a true life-long learner.

I’m slowly moving beyond the teacher-centered professional learning, but I know there’s more to do. I’d love to have all the workshops run in a Project-Based Learning format from the beginning.

How do I (we all) move beyond the 5 Excuses above? 

I guess I could bang out a quick set of retorts to myself; kind of a preaching about what I could do. But I need a well-thought out, well-implemented plan. So I’m going to take it slow. I’m going to give myself time to ruminate on the issues to
come up with a real solution. 

Stay tuned to see what I come up with. I’ll be solving the problem of how to run professional learning workshops without the stand-and-deliver flavor of the day. 

And if you’re a teacher, not a consultant, maybe we have more to offer each other, as we learn how to transform our own teaching environments, together. 

By the way, if you already have that solution, please do post it here! 

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Written by GingerLewman

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