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Business Leaders, Politicians, and Teachers Oh My! Presenting to a Varied Audience

Written by Writing for Change
February 12, 2013

I was meeting with my San Diego Area Writing Project fellows Saturday morning and I was asked to discuss a little bit about my experience in D.C. presenting for Digital Learning Day. Someone brought up a critical point at lunch after that discussion, commenting on how difficult it must have been to be presenting to a varied audience.

So often teachers meet and discuss in our own setting. Rarely do I as a classroom teacher get the opportunity to share my work and my views with  such a rich and diverse audience. That has caused me to reflect on what message did I send, and more importantly at this stage in my journey, how can I better put our message out to those who don’t live and breathe in our classrooms each and every day?

I have to be honest and share that presenting in that particular venue was challenging. Having three  20 minute segments to highlight our classroom work and the influence of the National Writing Project felt nearly impossible. But one advantage of planning to present in such a timeframe, is that it forces to you to consider your most important ideas, and create a presentation that holds true to those core ideas. That is what I tried to do.

We live and teach in one of the most challenging times in education. Having been teaching for twenty-five years, I feel relatively certain that my current classroom is more politically charged, and my profession challenged more than any other year since I began teaching. Yet, I am still excited, and ready to face that challenge head on with passion, and voice. I had the opportunity to bring to life the every day work of the digital teacher. I opted rather than sharing a perfected and sanitized presentation, I brought in current classroom work, with students no less. We weren’t talking about the potential of a particular program, or debating the value of  the work. We simply came and did the work, in front of hundreds of on-site participants.  My students came to school two hours early, and blogged with participants right there at digital learning day.  Was I concerned? Yes. But I knew this was the message I was meant to share.

I remember walking into the venue and seeing all the T.V. cameras, lights, and a huge presentation area. I remember thinking, “Am I doing the right thing? Should I have edited this work differently? What if the students don’t show?  What if people don’t understand what it looks like to revise right on the page? What if my students put their work out there and someone responds to a grammar mistake rather than the content of thought? What happens when you put the reality of the work out to a mixed audience? What if this doesn’t work?” As you can tell by that list of questions, my mind was racing.

Then I remember sitting down, taking a huge breath and closing my eyes. I could see my students, their hopes and dreams.  I thought about a quote from one of my students,”You don’t have to be the star. You can be the light that shines on them.” I had to provide that light, to a group of people that don’t get to experience the challenges and wonder I get to experience every day teaching kids to write.

There were big things I wanted to cover in my talk. I wanted to make sure that people walked away from my presentation with three major ideas.

  1. Students need to be producers of digital media, and not just consumers. To do that, we need to teach students to think critically not only what they want to say, but to be able to analyze those messages sent through digital media in their daily lives.
  2. Digital learning isn’t something that is done only as a unit or on one special day, it is something to be integrated daily. There are challenges to be met in order to make digital learning a reality for all students. Currently their is a state of inequity, my students may have access in my four walls, but not necessarily in their homes. Before we begin “flipped lessons” for example, we need to make sure that every student in that class has the opportunity to access that lesson on the same playing field as others. We need to be fighting for not only access to digital tools and instruction in our schools, but to internet access for all students outside of those classroom walls as well. It wasn’t long ago that not everyone had access to a landline, we need to ask ourselves as a community, is access to the internet the new “land line” for our students? It isn’t just a question of creating a digital classroom, it is imperative that we engage our communities to work toward these goals of equity and access for all our kids.
  3. The most important message I wanted to convey, especially to those business leaders and politicians was that skilled teachers, not stand alone technology produce high quality learning.  I believe my students need a digital space to write, to create, and to explore. I also know that writing for real purpose, and for a larger audience makes for better writers.  But more importantly students need a caring and skilled teacher to help them navigate that digital world, teach them how to critically think about media, and to help them when they lose their way. Without that, all the digital tools in the world won’t help them succeed.

This experience has taught me something else as well. Sometimes we make assumptions about those who do not work in education. We assume that they don’t know, or worse, don’t want to know what is happening in our classrooms. We assume that “everyone wants the easy answer”, or the public lacks faith in the classroom teacher. Looking at some recent media spins, it isn’t surprising.  My experience at Digital Learning Day taught me that isn’t always the case. In this case, at that table, I had the opportunity to share my world, what I believe makes a difference for students. And I feel like people listened. So the take away is this. We as educators need to start being the voice of reform. Just like we inspire our students to create our their own digital footprint in this world, we need to create  and share ours as well.