Staff Development Days …

Today was another one of those often dreaded days … staff development day.

In the last 12 months Staff Development Day has had new meaning for me. With the introduction of the Digital Education Revolution, I was given my first taste of presenting to my peers. The first experience (I can’t even remember what I presented on) proved anxiety inducing: sweaty palms, heart palpitations … the lot! I found it much harder to present in front of my peers than in front of students.

So how do I overcome my anxiety?

I try to focus hard on the people speaking before me. I take a great deal of notes and I find this really keeps my mind from the task ahead. Of course this is not always possible – sometimes no one is on before me. So what do I do then? Hold the hand of a colleague – literally. I find that it makes me think about how they’re feeling and that diverts my attention. Finally, if I don’t have anyone around me to hold my hand, then I write a list of what I have to say or I chat to people near me.

Presenting to your peers is daunting – but what I’ve realised is that the nerves disappear the more and more you present. I still get a little jittery, but I overcome it eventually and the excitement of sharing something new with my colleagues and friends ultimately dominates.

What presentation style/teaching strategy did I use to ‘teach the teachers’?

For me, being humble and silly is the best approach. It’s the same style I use with my classes. I mix this up with (what I think is) sound knowledge about my topic and easy to understand instructions. I always show an inspiring or funny video that breaks up the ‘me-ness’ about the presentation. The video is always embedded into the DER edmodo group as this positively models the use of edmodo to the teachers – reminding many to check the site to see what new resources have been uploaded. I always use tech to support me – using tools that teachers are both familiar with and unfamiliar with. Finally, I ask my audience questions. Mostly these are closed-questions designed to give instant gratification to the group (they all know the answer) but I’ll also include a couple of open-ended questions (but often it’s hard to create a genuine discussion with a limited presentation time – sad, but true).

Presenting to your colleagues, I believe, encourages you to consider best teaching practice. I am constantly questioning the effectiveness of my presentation style and the design of my material. The problem I constantly face with staff ‘PD’ is the limited time I am given. As much as I would love to use a more playful and active mode of delivery, it simply is impossible in a 15-30 minute block. Ideally a half-day of PD is necessary to allow for delivery of simple instruction on tool, time to play, discussion/thought about application in the classroom and then sharing of these ideas via group discussion with colleagues. A quick and effective alternative to 1/2 day PD was designed by Ben Jones, what he refers to as 15 minutes play (more on this in a moment).

I was asked to present on DER at our SDD today. I was given 1/2 an hour. With little chance of getting any hands-on PD happening in that time, I was feeling a little unsure of what good I would be standing at the from of the room. One of the benefits of being part of a twitter PLN is that I am contantly re-evaluating my teaching practice -and this goes for my presentations to staff. The 21st education model sees a dramatic (and necessary) shift away from the teacher as filler of empty pails, to teacher as fire-lighter on the side (some of my more academic colleagues refer to this as ‘facilitating’). As a consequence I feel uncomfortable standing at the front of a room in front of 60 adults ‘telling’ them how technology should be integrated in their classrooms. That’s not really my ‘role’ as the DER person at school (yep, I’m pretty sure that is what my title is ‘DER person’ … not too Romantic, but oh well!) … I’m just there to show some cool stuff and help those who might be stuck or feeling scared.

After thinking long (and probably not very hard) about what I should present, I decided that I would use the time to let the staff know what the plans were for the DAGs (Davo DER Action Group) this term. The idea of a regular DER newsletter was something I was very keen on and I was hoping to create one similar to that used by Prue Greene from Curriculum Support. Unfortunately though, after many emails to and from Prue (she is a gem!) and hours of ‘playing’ with MS Word and trying to insert images into a DET email, I asked my twitter PLN and wammoo help arrived in the form of Mr Ben Jones. After an online conference chat Ben had convinced me that email newsletters were passe and that I should explore the power of Adobe PDF portfolios. In using this program I would be creating an interactive newsletter full of different file types, as well as modeling a new tool for the teachers. (Aside: I think Ben just might be some kind of freaky genius, feel free to direct all future questions to him. I have it on good counsel that he never sleeps!)

Sooo … (yes, I will end this post at SOME point) today’s session saw me presenting a range of things to my colleagues. I had initially been given 30 min, this was cut to 15 mins as the principal spoke for longer than expected BUT a second guest speaker failed to show and I was handed the ‘fill the time with something please, Bianca’ card. I was very grateful for the no-show. I had an hour – woo hoo!

This is what I did:

1. The first thing I showed was the awesome clip Stuck on an Escalator (thanks Dean Groom, another PLN genius, for his suggestion to use this clip) and this generator a great deal of laughter. Having watched the video I asked them to reflect briefly on possible analogies between the learned-helplessness of the people on the elevator and their own personal experience with technology and teaching in general.(Note: This YouTube clip was embedded into the DER edmodo group to positively model use of edmodo and remind people to check the group regularly for new posts, links, files etc)

2. I then showed the eNewsletter that I assemble using Adobe Acrobate 9 Extened Pro (hope I got that massive name right!). Included in this PDF were a variety of different file types: videos, images, word docs, folders and PDFs.  I explained the benefits of using an eNewsletter in this format: very portable (the portfolio saves as a PDF and can be read on any computer as long as it has Adobe Reader 9), multiple file types can be included, it looks pretty, very user-friendly like most Adobe products etc.

3.Within the portfolio I had included a list of the DER PD workshops that would run during the term. There will be one each week during a lunch time and these will run along the Communicate Collaborate Create framework (inspired by Pip Cleaves and Roger Pryor).

4. I also looked closely at a PDF that I created explaining the 15 minutes of play method of Professional Development devised by Ben Jones.

His formula is: 2x 15min play + 15min learning design + 15min sharing = 1hr Profession Development

5.We then briefly discussed as a group the potential education applications of this tool. (formative assessment vs summative, student-created text-books for younger years etc)

6. I then demonstrated how easy portfolios are to assemble (it’s just ‘drag and drop’) and let those people with netbooks have a play with using the tool.

7. Finally I made a presentation to four members of staff who are what I’ve labeled ‘first-followers’ thanks to a video on leadership called ‘Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy’ shown to me by Troy Martin (a fantastic writer and teacher who I am excited to call a colleague and a friend). These four teachers have actively contributed to our DER edmodo group and have taken to experimenting with a variety of web 2.0 apps despite not being what you would call ‘tech savvy’. Each teacher was given a bottle of wine. The success of this initiative has already paid off as three of the four had posted more resources for staff to use within three hours of the presentation!

Well, that’s about enough for me for now. I hope that some of what I have posted comes in handy for a teacher or leader advocating the use of technology in the classroom to enhance learning somewhere in the world.

PS: I just remembered that my principal asked me to write a one page summary of DER at our school for the school website. Hmmm … maybe I could just add a link to the DER edmodo group, wiki, my class blogs and to this blog?


8 thoughts on “Staff Development Days …

  1. Bianca
    Welcome to the Evolution (sorry Kev we have transcended your Revolution).

    Thanks for the kudos but what means more to me is seeing teachers like yourself & Troy step up and deliver. What separates teachers like you and Troy from previous technology leaders who where just good at technology is you are good at leadership and technology is just your vehicle.

    Anyone can make a PDF portfolio but a leader inspires others to make one and be so caught by the experience that they intuitively share and teach others.

    Ben 🙂

    • I’m an advocate of the Evolution over Revolution as well – it attributes more natural and inevitable characteristics to the shift towards 21st century education.

      I find leading both exhausting and exhilarating. Finding a balance between being an effective teacher and an effective leader is quite a challenge but one that is essential if we are to avoid burn-out.


  2. Thanks Bianca. It takes tremendous courage to stand in front of peers, many of whom are just overwhelmed by technology and fundamentally struggle with the enormous cultural and social changes that impact their role – as teachers.

    You are quite clearly not just presenting a SDD session, but actively researching educational development itself – which entails dealing with psychological and attitudinal issues that under-pin much of current teaching strategy. Taking on a professional development role, presenting and delivering workable developmental strategies is a hard road; rewards are savored moments.

    In lieu of public education being afforded time and resources for people to develop whole school initiatives or offer direct staff support – anyone brave enough to stand up; take the stage and think hard and long about improving the student experience – in my view stand on very special ground – meta-leaders.

    Not every session will see a win; not every teacher who starts something will keep it up; but by modeling to others, being prepared to put yourself into places that others won’t – builds reputation; confidence and ultimately – your classroom becomes a fortress of ideas.

    Students are often wary at first, but understand that you are making promises and delivering them. Everytime you keep your promise – they grow as learners.

    What you have written and done today matters; leading in your own style and from the heart. That breaks a cycle, changes a norm – exactly what I hope someday, someone will be doing when my kids hit high school.

    Glad you liked the video.


    • Thanks for the comment Dean. I love the notion of a ‘meta-leader’ – it works really well with the role that I have been given within our school. Schools today are still very traditional in regards to organisation structure – a hierarchy is in place in all schools and this isn’t set to change anytime soon.
      The idea that I am a meta-leader means that I can work across these traditional structures and engage with the needs and strengths of a variety of educational stakeholders.

      Thanks to our PLN, Troy and I can work together to help each other, our schools and communities and also other people, schools and communities. That’s a pretty cool opportunity and one that I know I’m excited by.

      I’m flattered by your comments about what I’m doing at school and beyond – it means a lot to me and I hope to keep growing and learning so I can be an even more effective teacher.

  3. Great stuff Bianca! You have embodied the power of your PLN in what you did yesterday for your school and related in this article. I’m sure you inspired your peers into trying something different – because, unlike most teachers’ perceptions, it’s not that hard!

    Oh, and never question yourself. You said:

    “Adobe Acrobate 9 Extened Pro (hope I got that massive name right!)”

    As soon as you questioned yourself, you got it wrong! 🙂

    • You’re right Stu – it isn’t that hard and I’m trying to show others that looking silly and trying something new might be scary, but it can be easy and damn fun too!

      You’re right too about second guessing myself – an old habit that is taking its sweet time to curl up and die, lol!

    • Haha … that’s funny. I can’t believe I wrote a post without referencing Darcy Moore – or did I?

      I love that we can share cool stuff and then pay it forward to others.

      At least you’re feeling warm and fuzzy now – no more cure-alls needed for my anxiety induced vomiting … ;0)

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