Sunday, July 31, 2011

Presentations - Begin with the end in Mind

Since Steven Covey began writing about leadership and personal success back in the 80's, that phrase "Begin with the end in mind" has seeped into our culture. It is critically important when teaching or leading both adults and children. Here's what he says about your ultimate purpose.

If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.

Purpose must be explicit, clear, and meaningful to your audience. Here are some reflective questions that I consider when beginning my plans for presentations.

  1. What does my audience need to know or be able to do by the end of our meeting?
  2. Is the goal for them to have a discussion and brainstorm possibilities, or come to a decision?
  3. Will the audience embrace the goal I've chosen or am I imposing an artificial goal that the audience will resist?
  4. What are the audience's current strengths and areas of weakness related to the topic?

So, clearly you must be an expert on two subjects: 1) your content and 2) your audience, though I would argue that it's more important to be an expert on the audience than the subject. After all, you may have members of the audience with greater knowledge and expertise than yourself and, knowing that, you can tap into their experiences to craft the presentation.

Once I've reflected on the needs and perspective of my audience, I decide what I want to be accomplished. For example, in some recent staff development meetings we completed the following activities for the purposes indicated in parentheses.

1. Brainstormed a list of strengths and needs of our English Learners and our staff's expertise related to instruction of English Learners. (Building an asset based approach to English Learners and discovering the wealth of human resources available to enhance our instruction)
2. Decided on our instructional focus for the year, which is writing. (Develop consensus around the primary PD that we will pursue as a staff)
3. Made a collaborative timeline of the school from it's inception to present day. (Validate all the people and programs that have contributed to our current success and build momentum for our future work) - btw This idea came from my awesome and inspirational Assistant Principal, Ms. Sylvia Echeverria!

The success of these activities is due to the careful thought about connecting the needs of the audience and the course of action we are seeking to pursue. When these two themes align, there is energy, engagement, and productive creativity. When these two paths are disconnected, there is impassable resistance, passive acceptance and superficial implementation.

Let me close by saying a little about the tools I use at this stage. Often, I start with a blank piece of paper and pencil or pen. Despite many digital tools for mind mapping and brainstorming, I've found that the best way for me to dump out my ideas is to write them out and begin the process of re-reading, revising, questioning, and discussing with my leadership team until we reach a clear consensus on our goals and purpose.

In the next post, I'll discuss the best ways to deliver content and the processes for grappling with that content as a group.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Learning Presentations

As a Principal, I have many opportunities to present to teachers and on some occasions to my Principal peers. This important form of communication and teaching is one of the primary attributes of a leader. Below are the questions that I ponder to develop and execute the most effective presentations possible.

1. Consider what I want my audience to know and be able to do both at the end of the meeting and at some future date (e.g. end of quarter, semester, year)
2. What is the best way to deliver the content?
3. How can I grab their attention at the outset?
4. Where can I include opportunities for dialogue, discussion, and collaboration?
5. How much time should I provide for my audience to plan and develop next steps with the content?
6. How can I leave them with a bent toward action and an emotional connection with the work?

I will flesh out these questions in the next few posts to explain how I attempt to deliver quality professional development and increase the learning of my staff and colleagues.