The Best Personalized PD I've Ever Experienced

Over the past 4 months I've had two incredible opportunities and each of them could easily qualify as the best personalized professional learning I've ever experienced. In fact, they were so powerful that I am planning to propose that a similar experience and format become a part of the professional learning we offer at my school. Here is my proposal:

Open or close faculty meetings, PD days, PTO gatherings, and even student class meetings with a TEDx-style or Ignite-style talk from a member of your community.
Why was it powerful? Well, there are a few reasons:

From the Speaker's Perspective

On April 30 I had the opportunity to give a TEDx Talk as part of TEDxYouth@BHS in Burlington, Massachusetts and on June 26 I was able to give an Ignite Talk (twice!) at ISTE's 2016 national conference in Denver, Colorado. The format and preparation requirements for each event forced me to examine my pedagogy, classroom activities, students' projects, and many pictures of my classroom and students in action. Throughout this process, I developed a clear understanding of who I am as an educator and what I believe an educational experience should look and feel like for my students. Now that I'm on the other side of these events, I feel like a more confident and sure-footed teacher who knows my strengths and is eager to learn more on the topics where I need to grow.

From the Audience Perspective

Lucky for me, I was able to sit in the audience and watch my fellow speakers do their thing. Every talk I heard got me thinking in a different way about what my students could do and how they could be learning. Even though every member of that audience heard the same talks, they touched each of us differently. I've started to consider in detail how I can teach my colleagues and students to tell the story of our school through just about any social media platform, and Bill Selak's Ignite Talk about Snapchat is helping me bring another tool into the fold. My husband, who is not an educator, took Eric Johnson's TEDx Talk to heart, has mentioned his Erase Meanness ideas to others since, and still wears the green bracelet often. The colleagues from my school who witnessed Starr Sackstein's TEDx Talk about grades and grading in education have started to rethink the way they design projects and rubrics for their students. Adding these short but inspiring talks to the typical gatherings in any school community can bring people together and get them thinking and talking differently about what they do.

My Ignite talk about how I got rid of some parts
of my students' typical classroom experience and
helped them feel more empowered and engaged.

Get to Know the TEDx and Ignite Formats

Both TEDx and Ignite have strict formats. For instance, a TEDx talk cannot be longer than 18 minutes and is based on an idea that is new, is surprising, or challenges commonly held beliefs. An Ignite talk is propelled forward by 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. The speaker has 5 minutes to communicate their message in a fast but entertaining way that ends with a call to action.

How to Get Started

If you are thinking of trying out talks, it will take a little planning. Identify people in your school community who are taking risks and have something to share that everyone else can learn from. The speakers will need a couple of weeks to prepare. Here is the process I went through to prepare for both events:

1. Find your purpose. Examine your own creations (in the form of lessons, offerings for your teachers, or anything else), students' products, and photos from your school or classrooms. What is a common thread or big idea that you can share when you look at all of it as a body of work? What is the message or meaning you want to share about that work? How can your work inspire the people in your community to think differently about their work?

2. Write the transcript and create slides. I suppose this one step could be divided into two, but I did both simultaneously. I intended for the slides to emphasize the points I was making in the transcript through photos of my students and their work and VERY brief questions/quotes. When it comes to the words in your transcript and on your slides, less is more. Use simple clear language.

3. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Whether you are planning to do your talk from memory or with the help of some notes rehearsal is important for emphasis, timing, and clarity. I rehearsed in front of a mirror, my husband, and even my 7 year old daughter. I recommend rehearsing 2-3 times a day for the 4-5 days before the actual event. By the time your talk date arrives, you'll be confident and perform it well.

Organizers and colleagues can support speakers by reading transcripts and looking through slides (like Jenn Scheffer for my TEDx and Ross Cooper for my Ignite). Offering classroom space for rehearsals is helpful too.

It might make sense to start by modeling as a speaker yourself. Then go with speakers who are teachers, but don't limit yourself. If it goes well, invite parents to do talks for teacher groups or invite students to do talks for administrator groups. Anyone who has something to share should be teaching everyone who has something to learn.

Adding talks to regularly scheduled monthly meetings and gatherings can serve as a way to honor people who are taking risks, inspire others, and share the good that is happening in your school community. It can also be the best personalized PD every speaker and audience member has ever experienced.


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