on why there’s no time to present like the present…

I hope this post finds you festively preparing your winter break reading lists! I am currently forcing myself to finish My Brilliant [Zzzzz…] Friend by Elena Ferante for our Faculty Book Club meet-up in January (Sorry, I dozed just thinking about it for a moment there. Not really my cup ‘o tea as you might’ve guessed. Hahaha!). Offered here only for purposes of entertainment and not intended to be recommendations of these titles in any way, shape, or form, my winter break reading list includes:

If I did not love my job as much as I so thoroughly love mine, I would know that as of today two days of instruction and three days of exams stand between me and the start of winter break. Since I love my job so much, however, all that I know is that I have just 5 days to joyously continue adding contents notes to the catalog records for books in our Hawaiiana collection with a song in my heart before my administration forces us to shut down the library for two weeks and two days… #Alas I won’t be able to joyously work on enriching our catalog records for two whole weeks! #Sigh

Hahaha!

Anyway…

On Presenting

This month I have conference presentations on my mind. I’m just going to say it. If you are a school librarian you need to present about what you know, and what you do. For a librarian, what we know and do everyday is simply… What we know and what we do everyday in the course of doing our jobs. For most of our colleagues and administrators, however,  what we know and do everyday is a mystery. When it comes to being a school librarian, being a mystery is NOT a good thing.

I actually presented quite sparingly for most of my life as a librarian, but participating in the professional community beyond the bounds of our institution is a significant part of the DNA of the school culture here at Mid-Pacific. When I moved here it became quite evident that my colleagues, including our administrators, made time to write for publication, shared “the Mid-Pacific story” on social media, and presented at conferences.

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Good advice from Twitter!

If you’re anything like me as you are reading this, you’re thinking, “I’m a practicing school librarian. I don’t make a living giving speeches. Seriously, I’m just trying to figure out how to help my students understand that The Economist, Reason Magazine, and The National Review cover topics from different perspectives…” If that is you, then I’m here to tell you that YOU DO have important knowledge to share!

As a “non-expert,” taking the dive into presenting at a conference can feel incredibly uncomfortable and weird. Over the last few years, however, I’ve learned that the benefits gained are well worth the effort that it takes to dive in and learn swim in that particular pool of awkwardness.

Some Thoughts on Presenting in no Particular Order…

You Know Stuff that Other People will Find Amazing –  When I first started submitting conference proposals, it typically felt weirdly uncomfortable because I didn’t feel like I was an expert on anything. My reality is that I am a practicing school librarian that tries to figure out how to teach what I need to teach. What I’ve come to realize is that some of the best presentations I’ve ever attended at conferences were presented by practicing educators who were “just figuring stuff out” for themselves, but who were willing to share their work with a broader audience. Putting quotation marks around a phrase in a Google search is “everyday stuff” to us as librarians, but it is magic to someone who doesn’t know how to phrase search. Imagine where education could be if teachers and librarians could learn from the collective wisdom of others rather than figuring most of it out on our own!

Promote School Librarianship – School librarianship has a marketing problem. We do a lot of good work, but when English or biology teachers retire, rarely to never is there a question that the position should be filled with a qualified English teacher or biology teacher. Librarians do not enjoy the same privilege. We need to be better at explicitly sharing the value add that our programs bring to our respective institutions. Presenting at conferences is a good way to educate non-librarians about the value of school libraries.

Stamp a Due Date on Reflection – One of my biggest challenges as a librarian is the never-ending, open-ended nature of so much of our work. Weeding a collection is never really done. Catalog records are never completely cleaned up. There are always additional notes to add to records that will give students better keyword searching access points to books in the Hawaiiana collection. When the task has no end and I don’t have clear markers of progress, I tend to get discouraged and unmotivated. I’ve learned to use conference presentations as a way to impose deadlines for reflection on myself. Two or three times a year when I have to have something cogent to say about some aspect of my programming I am forced to think deeply about what’s working and what isn’t. In the end, the value to my own programming and emotional well-being is greater than the value given to anyone in an audience I might address.

Forced Analysis – I typically propose presentations either on something that I’m doing or that I want to do in the near future. When forced to synthesize my thoughts into a coherent 45-60 minute form for an audience, I’m forced to look closely at why what I do works or why what I tried to do didn’t work. In the throes of day-to-day survival in the library, when I make time to reflect, I’m often surprised at how much instruction I deliver out of habit rather than because it makes sound pedagogical sense. Putting a presentation together about what I’m teaching drives me to do analysis that goes below the surface.

Telling Your School’s Story is Good Business – I don’t know about you, but I like having a good medical plan, making a decent wage, and having a well funded 403b retirement plan. We don’t always think of it so, but an independent school is a business and telling your school’s story–making the good work you do known to people beyond your school community, is good for business. A school with full enrollment has a far better chance of having a well funded library than one that doesn’t have full enrollment.

Build Your PLN – Every time I present, I meet people interested in the in kind of pedagogy I want to practice or I meet people wrestling with the same kinds of issues I’m wrestling with in my work. Presenting has proven to be one of the very best ways of developing a robust PLN around!

The Presenters’ mindset… (Things I do to Take the Pressure Off!)

Remember that You’re Not Selling Yourself as an “Expert” – When you present, share your context as a practicing librarian and let people know that you don’t see yourself as an “expert.” Educational audiences will be extremely supportive.

Put the “Rule of Two Feet” in Play – The second or third slide in any presentation that I do typically puts the “rule of two feet” in play. Adopted from EdCamp-style unconference gatherings, the rule of two feet is that if what I am presenting isn’t useful or relevant or helpful to you, please feel completely free to get up on your two feet and venture forth to make the best use of your time by finding another session that will provide what you need. In return, I PROMISE to not be offended or hurt by the action. Professional development opportunities for teachers and librarians are rare. Why should any of us sit through  sessions that don’t help us move us forward as educators. A presentation that is perfect for participant A might be totally irrelevant to participant B and we should all be okay with that. When the rule of two feet is in play, I figure that people who stay are getting something useful and I can stop worrying and get on with things.

Start with Strangers – This one is probably a little counter-intuitive, but I find it far easier to present to anonymous strangers than to people that I know. In terms of feeling pressure as a presenter, the toughest audience I ever face is my own faculty. I always make an effort to present at my best, but if I bomb in front of an audience of people from other schools, I’m highly unlikely to ever see them again. If I bomb in front of my own faculty, I lose a lot of hard-earned credibility so I tend to feel the pressure a lot more even though objectively the audience is completely supportive and completely friendly.

Consider Presenting at General Education Conferences – Some of my first conference presentations took place at California Association of Independent Schools conferences where I was presenting to educators who were not librarians. Audiences at events like these are always friendly and seeking the kinds of knowledge and skills that librarians have to offer, yet they’re very unlikely to know more about any library related topic than an AISL librarian. An audience like that might be a great place to start if you have reservations. If you’re looking for a great presentation opportunity, the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools co-sponsors the wonderful Schools of the Future Conference here in Honolulu every fall. I would SO LOVE to see AISL presenters at next year’s conference!

Edited, 12/13/17, 7:45AM, HST.

Get a Little Help from Your Friends! – Almost forgot to include one of the most important things about presenting. Get a little help from your friends! Back in October, I was struggling horribly with a presentation for the Schools of the Future Conference so I turned to fellow AISL librarians Tasha Bergson-Michelson and Christina Pommer who very graciously looked at my dumpster fire of a presentation (we’re talking almost 80 slides for an hour-long preso…) and helped me get my head around that which was really pertinent and that which had to be sent to the cutting room floor. Sometimes you just need someone who will tell you, “Uh, you have a full day’s worth of stuff here and that’s all well and good, but since you have 60 minutes, YOU REALLY NEED TO EDIT…” in the kindest way possible. Ask for help! We’re librarians, we LIVE to help, right?!?!? Hahaha!

Finally…

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Always take a selfie with your audience and post it to social media because, you know, otherwise it doesn’t really count as having actually occurred. LOL!

Happy holidays, all!

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6 Responses to on why there’s no time to present like the present…

  1. Chris Young says:

    Thanks for this, Dave. I’ve been thinking a lot about presenting lately, both at school and at outside local conferences. The idea scares me so much that I almost feel like I have to do it. Framing it as sharing my learning process rather than pretending to be an expert makes it feel more palatable. Lots of good advice here, just when I needed it.

  2. Shannon Acedo says:

    Thanks for the enthusiasm boost, and the wise words, and the picture of my peeps (Hi, y’all!!) I especially like the idea of presenting outside our ‘known world’, where we aren’t preaching to the librarians.
    Happy break, my friend!
    Shannon

  3. Jennifer says:

    Did you notice that your list of recommendations is all nonfiction? No wonder Elena Ferrante didn’t stand a chance! 😀
    Thanks for these great thoughts about presenting. You listed all of my normal excuses, and dealt with them quite handily; I think Honolulu would be a great first step!

    • David Wee says:

      Yes, I’m a non-fiction reader. Many (maybe most?) men I know tend to read more non-fiction than fiction. I started my career as an elementary teacher and I remember many even very young boys having a preference for non-fiction. That’s probably a topic for a whole other post! “Why is our reading curriculum so fiction biased?” #FightingWords Hahaha! 🙂

  4. Christina Pommer says:

    Jumping back to the specific title, I have two friends learning Italian. Because of that book (and my boredom with it), I learned about the history of the Italian language, and why they loved reading the untranslated version. All the times she wrote, “in dialect” were frustrating to me as a reader because I didn’t quite have the right reference point. There’s a right book for every reader, right?

    • David Wee says:

      My brilliant friend is my Italian-American sister-in-law’s “favorite book” so it clearly speaks wonderfully to some! Just not me… 🙂

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