When Should Presenters Stop the Slides?

When Should Presenters Stop the Slides?

A few weeks ago at the Edscape Conference I co-facilitated a one-hour session titled, Non-Negotiables of Professional Development. 

The Problem 

My partner, Erin Murphy (@MurphysMusings5), and I only made it through 6 of our 23 planned slides. All it took were the first few slides and a thinking routine to generate an intense, on-topic discussion that lasted the entire hour and could have easily gone on for much longer.

My decision to stop the slides took place with about 15 minutes remaining in the session. I determined that it would have been nonsensical for me to abruptly halt an engaging conversation because I found the need to carry out what had been planned (even if the content took several hours to put together). So, I stepped away from the computer, pulled up a chair, and fully committed myself to the dialogue.

The Solution

As the session concluded and participants started to file out, Gerald Aungst (@geraldaungst) asked if I was upset that our presentation did not follow its intended path.

My initial thoughts…

At a conference, prioritizing your slides over a stimulating conversation is equivalent to telling students that it is time to move on because there is a lot to cover.

In other words, harness the teachable moments and emphasize depth over breadth. Be grateful if your conference presentation is “hijacked” by those in attendance because they have taken a genuine interest in your topic. After all, the more common problem is attendees being indifferent, nonparticipants, who succumb to being talked at while turning their attention to what’s next on their program.

Another Point of View

Interestingly enough, yesterday I was having lunch with Dr. Tony Sinanis (@TonySinanis) at Roberta’s, Brooklyn. He was in the room during the presentation, and here is his take on the situation:

“Honestly, I left wanting to hear more of what you had to say. When I go to a session because of who’s presenting, I want to hear what that person has to offer…But, in that situation [Edscape], you did the right thing.”

In the End

Right now, I feel the “answer” varies based on the context of the presentation.

For example, if I am working for a school district (such as my own), and my job is to deliver a certain message and for participants to leave with specified takeaways, my plan should be my top priority. On the other hand, if I am at a local conference and everyone starts to jump in because of their strong, on-topic opinions, I should allow for them to do so (especially if many of the attendees are colleagues/friends, as was the case at Edscape).

In short, my takeaways:

  1. Be flexible. Sometimes it is necessary to shift from presenting content/ideas to facilitating discussion, much like a teacher in the classroom when engaging students in inquiry-based learning.
  2. At the same time, others might want to experience what you have to offer. So, don’t be afraid to own it and do your thing. In the words of Joe DiMaggio, “There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time, I owe him my best.”

Has anything similar ever happened to you, either as a presenter or as an attendee? What are your overall thoughts on stopping the slides?

Connect with Ross on Twitter. 


Rigor vs. Relevance…Who Wins?

Rigor vs. Relevance...Who Wins?Daggett’s Presentation

A week ago I had the privilege of attending a full-day presentation by Bill Daggett. If you ever have the opportunity to work with him, do it! Highly recommended! Prior to the presentation I had heard so much about his ability to engage an audience. So, I was as interested in watching a world-class presenter do his thing as I was in the content that he would bring to the table. In both regards, he did not disappoint.

The Turnkey

A few days after Daggett’s presentation, I had about 20 minutes during a district leadership meeting to turnkey some of what I had learned to other administrators. The Rigor Relevance Framework served as the focal point for this time. However, rather than simply showing and explaining, I took an approach that resembled how I instructed when I was a fourth grade teacher.

I simply displayed a version of the framework (pictured) for all to see, and had participants pair up to answer and discuss the following questions:

  1. What is rigor?
  2. What is relevance?
  3. What’s more important?

When we came back together as a group to share out, the dialogue that ensued amongst administrators was impressive. After a few minutes I was able to sit back, keep quiet, and watch almost everyone willingly engage in a debate that pitted the importance of rigor against the importance of relevance.

Think for a second how the chosen “instructional approach” can familiarize adults (and students) with this content (or comparable content) through collaboration, debate, and inquiry. Meanwhile, the other extreme, as previously mentioned, would be to show, explain, and then probably just jump to the next topic without any meaningful dialogue or assessment of understanding.

My Thoughts

Like any good teacher, eventually I tried to move on without offering up my own opinion, even after I was prompted to do so by our High School Assistant Principal. However, after being provoked a second time by our Coordinator of Technology, I announced something to the following effect:

As a classroom teacher the rigor drove the relevance. I knew that if my students were consistently exposed to activities that were challenging and unique, they would be engaged and therefore the content would be relevant to them. In general, I led with inquiry and tried to let the rest take care of itself.

I should also mention that I followed up with the disclaimer that this approach is what I thought worked for my students and me, and that mileage may vary based on different contexts.

In the End

Regarding this post, what is worth noting is not so much the Rigor Relevance Framework (although, definitely look into it) but rather the idea that every instance of educator professional development is another opportunity to model best practice. Even a short, 20-minute turnkey during a district leadership meeting is not the exception. Never hesitate to blur the lines between the way you facilitate educator learning and how you believe learning should be promoted in the classroom.

What unique approaches have you taken when planning/facilitating professional development? Also, what experience do you have with the Rigor Relevance Framework?

Connect with Ross on Twitter.

Four “Look Fors” in an Education Conference

Four %22Look Fors%22 in an Education ConferenceWithin the past month or so I have attended three local conferences: NJPAECET2, Edcamp Long Island, and Edscape. As I reflect upon these experiences (and the other events of which I have been a part), I find a handful of common denominators in regards to what I personally look for in a conference. With these ideas in mind…

Here are my four “looks fors” in an education conference:

  1. Balance of “old” and “new” friends/colleagues: There is something comfortable about showing up at a conference, knowing that your “local PLN” is going to be there. At the same time, I am always looking to expand upon my friendships/PLN by establishing new face-to-face connections with those (1) I have previously only interacted with via social media, or (2) I have not interacted with altogether. It is funny to think that when I first started going to conferences a handful of years ago, the only people I knew were those who came along with me for the ride.
  2. Powerful keynote: I am always in awe of anyone who can stand up in front of a large crowd for a lengthy period of time and deliver a powerful story, straight from the heart. (It is easy to forget that speaking is an entirely different art than writing, blogging, or presenting. And, just because you can do one does not necessarily mean you can do another.) I was particularly blown away by the closing keynote of Gemar Mills (@PrincipalMills) at NJPAECET2 and the opening keynote of Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp) at Edscape. In the words of Jerry Garcia, “Inspiration, move me brightly…”
  3. Pedagogy first, technology second: I love technology, I really do; but, I love pedagogy more. After all, “Pedagogy is the driver, technology is the accelerator.” While I see the value in conferences/sessions that focus mostly on “cool tools,” I prefer to learn about “best practice” when interacting face to face with other educators. (For the most part, I can learn about all of the apps and Web 2.0 I need via social media or Google.) That being said, I think there is a fundamental problem when the biggest “pedagogy” conferences (such as ASCD) are run entirely separate from the biggest educational technology conferences (such as ISTE). Think about that for a second.
  4. Food: If you are going to serve bagels for breakfast, make sure they are fresh and local, not from a chain. When serving lunch, please let everyone know ASAP how many lines there are. (“Oh, there’s a shorter line on the other side?”) Coffee throughout the day is a non-negotiable. Finally, and most importantly…if a friend is driving in from out of town, and that town is located near a famous pizza place, pizza delivery is a must. At Edscape 2014, my friend Sharon Plante (@iplante) and I started this tradition when she was kind enough to bring Pepe’s Pizza all the way from Connecticut to New Jersey!

If you had to add a fifth “look for” to the list, what would it be? What do you look for in a conference? What are some of the best conferences you have attended?

Connect with Ross on Twitter.

#ade2015 Reflection

#ade2015As I start to type this, I am on a plane from Miami to Atlanta (and then from Atlanta to Allentown, Pennsylvania), flying home from the Apple Distinguished Educator Summer Institute 2015.

Last night, as the conference was wrapping up, I was at the hotel pool and I started to reflect upon the experience with two of my fellow Apple Distinguished Educators (ADEs), Stace Carter and Ben Mountz. This conversation helped to jumpstart my thought process in regards to my conference takeaways.

Here are five points that encompass what I learned, in no particular order (and I think you will be surprised):

  1. Learning happens along a continuum: Returning home from an Apple conference, you would suspect that I would now be armed with countless tips and tricks in iMovie, GarageBand, Keynote, and other Apple programs and apps. While this type of learning did take place (and I have an iTunes U course full of material), what matters most is surrounding myself with those “who are better than me” and allowing myself to become inspired.

On the final day of the Institute, Ben delivered a jaw dropping three-minute presentation. In talking to Ben about what he accomplished, he could not pinpoint precisely when and how he learned the skills that were necessary to create his work, but without hesitation he admitted that his presentation would have been far from comparable if he delivered it in 2011 (when he joined the Apple program). While being a part of the Apple community is not the only reason his work has improved, it is a vital cause amongst the many. In short, Ben has allowed himself to become inspired and what he produces continues to develop over time. I would like to think that I fall into the same category as Ben in regards to my continuous improvement as a result of being inspired.

  1. Connect now, contact later: At these conferences I always make a point to balance my time between (1) strengthening the bonds that I have with those I already know, and (2) going out of my way to forge new connections. This year, meeting new educators was rather easy due to a new class of ADEs joining the program, which happens every other year.

All of these connections are people whom I can call upon later on when help with a project is needed (and return the favor, if possible). Most educators tend to specialize in a very specific area or program, which truly helps in pinpointing who to contact in certain situations. Of the utmost importance, I must add that many of these educators are friends first, connections second. On a daily basis I interact with other ADEs and educators whom I have met at conferences. Yes, we are there for each other when work-related issues arise, but often times our interactions have nothing to do with our jobs or careers.

  1. Practicing social skills: Although we do not often view ourselves the way that others do, if I had to guess, I would say that the majority of my colleagues and friends view me as an ambivert (someone who falls in the middle of introvert and extrovert). Mileage definitely varies depending on the situation.

While I do not think that it is entirely necessarily for an effective leader to be an extrovert, I do believe that it is important to possess a certain level of comfort when around others, particularly when it comes to socializing. In this regard, this conference provided me with many opportunities to: introduce myself to people who I did not know; conduct small talk; hold conversations, one-on-one, in small groups, and in large groups; and collaborate with others over where to eat, what to do at night, etc. Trust me when I say that all of these forms of interaction have never come naturally for me, but at the same time I am proud of the progress that I have made in this area.

  1. The art of seeking to understand: While engaged with coworkers, colleagues, and friends, leaders (and everyone else) should consciously work at having and showing interest in the thoughts, ideas, and experiences of others. This is easier said than done. According to Stephen Covey, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak. They’re filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people’s lives” (p. 251).

All of the conversations that I had at the conference provided me with opportunities to practice Habit 5 (of 7), Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. At any type of conference (or meeting) it can be easy to fall into the trap of constantly waiting to talk to show what you know in an attempt to “prove yourself.” When I think of some of the most inspiring leaders with whom I have worked, they always talk less and listen more. When engaged in conversation with them, it is as if my ideas and I are the sole focus of their attention and all that matters. I should also add that both of the elementary schools at which I am working are Leader in Me schools, a program that is based off of Covey’s work.

  1. A connection with Apple: About a month ago I officially became the Supervisor of Instructional Practice in the Salisbury Township School District in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The District is 1:1 MacBook, grades 2-12, and 1:1 iPad mini, grades K-1. While I undoubtedly need to spend a tremendous amount of time familiarizing myself with what is taking place in Salisbury, there is also no doubt in my mind that our relationship with Apple and my work as an ADE will benefit our teachers and students.

Final thoughts:

The above points can easily apply to all conferences and not just #ade2015. As we attend all types of conferences, we should keep in mind: learning does not happen overnight; those with whom we come into contact are friends, colleagues, and connections for later on; do not be afraid to deliberately practice your social skills; make a conscious effort to understand others; and working with companies (such as Apple) can ultimately benefit those in your District.

Connect with Ross on Twitter.

Two Presentations from Hershey

Last week I traveled a few hours to Hershey, Pennsylvania for three days of educational fun at the Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo and Conference (PETE & C) 2015. Embedded below are the two slide decks that were used for the presentations that I conducted with Erin Murphy (@MurphysMusings5). Below each slide deck is a link to the session’s resources. Enjoy!



EdcampUNY, not so Puny

EdcampUNYThis past weekend I traveled to Queensbury, New York for a day of learning at EdcampUNY (upstate New York). The decision to make the trip was an easy one, after being “bullied” into it by Vicki Day (@VictoriaL_Day), Lisa Meade (@LisaMeade23), and Christina Luce (@ChristinaMLuce).

The Sessions

For the first time slot I split my time between makerspaces and Twitter 101. Makerspaces was valuable because I am working on getting one going in one of my schools. The session focused on the high school level, so it offered me a glimpse of where my students could be in a handful of years. Then, even though Twitter is something with which I am already familiar, it is always a pleasure to listen to other educators talk about the importance of getting connected (especially when the talk involves persuading others to get on board).

The second time slot involved a conference-wide Twitter chat, as all attendees joined #satchatwc (West Coast). I thought that this idea was rather brilliant, as it provided many Edcampers with an opportunity to join their first Twitter chat in a supportive setting. Peter DeWitt (@PeterMDeWitt) did an impressive job of walking everyone through the chat, step by step. Also, during this time I managed to earn myself a free copy of Peter’s book, Flipping Leadership Doesn’t Mean Reinventing the Wheel. Later on in the day I also got my hands on Brad Currie’s (@bradmcurrie) All Hands on Deck and Eric Sheninger’s (@E_Sheninger) Digital Leadership.

For the third time slot I joined a conversation on various Web tools and apps. A lot of the talk centered around Voxer, which is an app that essentially turns your phone into a Walkie Talkie. One of my fourth graders showed me this app about three years ago, but over the past year it has started to really gain traction in the educational technology market. That being said, I already have enough bells, whistles, dings, dongs, beeps, and meows going off on a daily basis, and the last thing I need is another form of communication. (In other words, with a little peer pressure I will probably be downloading the app sometime next week.)

For the final time slot I helped in leading a conversation on leadership along with Vicki Day and Peter DeWitt. I did my best to urge Peter to do most of the talking, so I could learn as much from him as possible. While Peter mostly spoke about flipped leadership, Vicki – an elementary school principal – focused on how she makes use of her blog in order to then maximize the time that she spends with her staff. Finally, I made sure to chip in my two cents by preaching about what I have learned in my first few months as an administrator (a whole lot, I think).


At the conclusion of the Edcamp we had an App Smackdown, in which participants took turns talking about some of their favorite “secret” tech tools. Since I use Safari as my default browser, all of the great Chrome extensions that were shown made me feel a bit left out. However, I did sneak in the chance to talk about Tweetbot, which is my go to Twitter app. (Download it now!)

Overall, this conference was intimate, well organized, and inspirational. It was undoubtedly worth the trip, and I cannot thank the organizers enough for putting it together. Now I just need to decide which one of my three new books to read first!

Edscape From Reality (Oh There Goes Gravity)

Edscape 2015Here is a reflection of what I experienced this past Saturday at Edscape 2014, an educational technology conference in New Milford, New Jersey. I have attempted to briefly recap what took place, while also supplying the reader (you) with the most beneficial resources and ideas on which I could get my hands.

With the hustle and bustle of the daily school schedule, this conference was a nice opportunity to escape from reality (even for just one day).


After waking up around 2:30 am and driving about 3.5 hours, I arrived at New Milford High School in time for a live Satchat, hosted by Brad Currie (@bradmcurrie) and Billy Krakower (@wkrakower). I was a live guest on the chat, and some of the others who joined in were Starr Sackstein (@mssackstein), Chris Casal (@mr_casal), Lyn Hilt (@lynhilt), Elissa Malespina (@elissamalespina), Sandra Paul (@spaul6414), and Sharon Plante (@iplante). These dedicated educators are all members of my PLN (personal learning community), and while I had previously spent time with some of them, others I met face-to-face for the first time at this conference. Along with Starr’s impressive tattoos, I also need to mention the fact that Sharon came through in a big way by bringing in five pizzas from Pepe Pizzeria in Fairfield, Connecticut! (Their clam pie is often rated the top pizza in the country!)


Josh Stumpenhorst (@stumpteacher), a 6th grade teacher from Illinois delivered the keynote. Some memorable quotes:

    • “Complain about the ‘boxes’ or build something within them.”
    • “There is always a skunk in the road when it comes to change.”
    • “The best data is observational and conversational.”
    • “Is that a red kid or a green kid?”
    • “Run for fun and personal bests.”
    • “We’ve done a poor job exploring students’ passions.”
    • “You have a chance everyday to do something new or what you have always done. Choose wisely.”

Session 1

For the first session I attended Lyn Hilt’s presentation on transforming professional development. This is the second time I have seen her speak on the topic, and her ideas are always unique, interesting, and clearly explained. Watching Lyn do her thing will easily serve as motivation the next time I am putting together professional development. During the session she shared a link to a Google document, Innovative PD Resources. Definitely take a look!

Session 2

Fellow Apple Distinguished Educator Courtney Pepe (@ipadqueen2012) ran a session on mobile devices and apps. Courtney is also someone who I have seen present before, and she has a lot of passion for using technology – especially Apple products – in transformative ways. Courtney did an impressive job of discussing the SAMR Model, and connecting its different stages to specific classroom activities.

Session 3

For the first half of this period I attended Sharon Plante’s and Billy Krakower’s presentation on incorporating LEGO toys with reading and writing skills. While I used these toys when I was a fourth grade teacher, and I will probably be purchasing more for a makerspace, Sharon and Billy offered a unique approach that calls for teachers to leverage the toys as a part of everyday literacy instruction. This is definitely an idea that I would like to share with my teachers. Their slides are here.

For the second half of the period, Laura Fleming (@NMHS_lms) presented on makerspaces, which is of interest to me because I am currently working with a few teachers on getting one up and running in one of my schools. Laura was kind enough to share her slides, and towards the end of her session she brought the attendees over to see her space. (She works at the same school in which the conference took place.) The photographs that I took of the makerspace are here.

Session 4

For the final session, Starr Sackstein and Brad Currie conducted more of an informal conversation on progressive grading techniques (or issuing no grades at all). It was interesting to watch the interaction between Starr, a teacher, and Brad, an administrator. “Progressive grading” is an area about which I would like to learn more. So, I took the time to talk to Starr about what books I should read, and I will definitely be keeping in touch with her in the future. Overall, I appreciated the intimacy of the presentation as it did not contain any props or fancy slides, but it was rather a candid conversation prompted by two knowledgeable people.


Both throughout the conference (and at the gathering afterwards), I also had the opportunity to interact with a few other educators, including: Rob Pennington (@robpennington9), Amy Traggienese (@atragg), Lisa Meade (@LisaMeade23), Monica Burns (@ClassTechTips), Eric Sheninger (@E_Sheninger), and Tom Murray (@thomacmurray). As much as I enjoy collaborating with other educators over social media, I always appreciate being able to put a face to an avatar.

I have attended Edscape for the past three years, and it has always been one of my favorite conferences. Here is to the conference staying alive and another great time in 2015!