I recently read and reviewed Luke, a wonderful addition to the wonderful Stuff Happens series which is “a contemporary reflected-reality fiction series for young boys aged 7 to 11 years old”. In this episode written by James Valentine, Luke suffers from glossophobia – the fear of public speaking.
At the same time I was reading it, I was preparing a full-day presentation for newbie teacher librarians and I realised that while sharing my thoughts with others, either in person or in writing, is not difficult for me, there are many in the profession who are like Luke. Thus, when the profession’s leaders call for advocacy and tell us it is our job to speak up to ensure that our learning communities know what it is we do, this can be an anathema for many or at least, something with which they are very uncomfortable.
As well, as the new Australian school term starts and northern hemisphere colleagues are thinking about the new school year, the listservs are again filling with requests for advice for undertaking tasks that ill-informed principals and administrators think we should undertake but which do not make the most of our specialist teaching expertise and experience.
So perhaps it is timely to share a few tips and tricks that might encourage the less bold to start being pro-active and educate those around them about what it is we do in this new age when even the need for the existence of libraries is being questioned.
Know your audience
This is the most critical element because it shapes not only what you will speak about but also how you will say it.
As discussed in the reporter’s hat the teacher librarian has a number of prospective audiences who need to know what we do and why we do it. including
- pre-service teachers
Each has different interests and needs and each brings different prior knowledge and preconceptions to the table so our language and presentation methods must reflect this. If we are to engage effectively then we must adjust our perspective to meet their needs.
Each also presents a different dynamic to the relationship – the ‘power-balance’ between teacher librarian and pupil is very different to that between teacher librarian and principal, for example – and this can also affect our level of confidence if not competence.
By carefully considering the purpose of the presentation and what we want the audience to take away from it, either as knowledge or a commitment to action, we are more likely to pitch our delivery at a level that will strike a chord with our listeners.
Know your topic
Be cognisant of what it is that interests your target audience.
Identify what it is you want them to take away from having attended your presentation. Are you trying to persuade them, inform them, reassure them, entertain them, challenge them, broaden their understanding or consolidate what they already know? What do you want them to know, do, understand, appreciate and value as a result of your presentation?
A good speech is like a pencil: it has to have a point.
Choose your topic carefully and address it from a perspective that shows them how you can be a partner in the process not an add-on. Each audience group probably feels they have enough to do without having more layers added to their workload so present from a perspective which demonstrates how you can lighten their load while value-adding to it rather than making it even heavier. Wherever possible, use in-context, practical examples that can be applied immediately while basing that practice on sound pedagogy and evidence that can be delivered if necessary. Make your point, demonstrate it, provide the evidence (or link to it) and wrap it up.
While it can be tempting to think that this might be your only chance to talk to these people, try to avoid a scattergun approach that becomes an “all-I-know-about…” treatise which leaves them confused and bamboozled. Much better to speak briefly on a focus topic and be invited (or invite yourself) back again than leave them feeling overwhelmed, ignorant and insignificant.
Remember, it is about informing them rather than promoting you.
For pupils, it may be the curriculum and thus your regular teaching program, drawing on your knowledge of their needs and abilities, sound pedagogy and real-world context should cover that. But they may also want to know about the latest releases, exhibitions, game and movie tie-ins and so forth. Ask them or have a suggestion box and schedule a regular session that has a student-directed focus. If they ask for something about which you have no knowledge, seek out an expert – it may even be a student – and even if all you do is introduce and thank the speaker, your public speaking skills will improve, your confidence will grow and you set a model for students to follow.
Parents are most interested in what their child is learning and how they can support that. There are a number of opportunities to talk to them about the role library can play in this – at parent orientation nights, P & C meetings, or even holding special parent participation programs where you can explore topics in greater depth. But rather than giving them an in-depth course on the elements of information literacy or inquiry learning, think about the aspects that are most likely to crop up in the home. We MUST acknowledge that regardless of what we might preach and practise at school, Google and Wikipedia are going to be major players in both adult and student information searches so starting with a how-to about determining the most effective keywords or looking at the authority of a website to determine its objectivity and currency will most likely be effective starting points.
If the children of your parent audience are much younger than that, then consider a workshop in how to read aloud well or how to select appropriate bedtime stories that will foster the child’s interest in becoming an independent reader.
Information literacy development and skills are now being embedded into the general curriculum, as they should be, so our peers are now expected to be able to help students master those elements of the process that used to be seen as the sole domain of the teacher librarian. The Australian national curriculum is built on an inquiry model, and Guided Inquiry is becoming the common pedagogy.
So this is when your teach-the-teachers hat is most critical. Investigate what it is that your teachers want support with so that their professional learning is relevant and meaningful to them and they are ready to engage with it. Depending on the structure of your school, work with groups or faculties or the entire staff use an actual investigation they are about to set to explore the element of Guided Inquiry or the Information Literacy Process that they have identified so they are able to put their learning into practice straight away.
Introduce them to Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process focusing on the Affective Domain so they understand how their students feel as they move through an investigation or assignment and how they, themselves, are probably feeling. As well as teaching them the mechanics of the processes, also indicate how you are able to support their actual teaching through suggesting appropriate research-based outcomes, offering spotlight lessons or resource provision or input into assessment tasks and their rubrics. Seek to value-add rather than add on.
If it’s possible structure a series of presentations that can be logged as part of their formal requirements for professional learning.
In my opinion, the teaching-the-teachers hat is the most critical role we have because it is easier to influence 30 teachers than 500+ students and have the entire learning community starting to speak the same language.
Because principals are the primary decision makers when it comes to staffing and funding, presenting to principals, either individually or en masse, is one of the most important things we can do to ensure the preservation and appreciation of the profession. Wearing my university marker’s hat I’ve assessed hundreds of assignments which specifically focused on the obstacles that stood in the way of having a top-shelf library-based program in place. When every obstacle identified by each candidate was unpacked, it invariably came back to what the principal knew, understood, appreciated and valued about the role of the teacher librarian.
Although we might think it is the principal’s job to know the ins and outs of the roles of all the staff, this is a big ask as more and more responsibility is devolved on them from above. So make it your business to teach your principal and others about how you add to teaching and learning in a way that offers them the data and evidence they need to be able to cite in reports and their own presentations.
The preservice teacher’s experience with a qualified teacher librarian is often limited to the person who was in charge of the library at their secondary school and that is the role model they are likely to have in mind. Regardless of that person’s effectiveness, in the intervening time the TL’s role will have changed as technology and other developments and expectations march on so we must be prepared to let them know about what it is we can offer, both while they are on their prac and in their early years of teaching.
In terms of the longevity of the profession, they might be our most important audience because those who come into the profession with the experience and expectation of a top-shelf TL as a partner will demand the same support as their career progresses.
If you can talk to those at your local university about how to best use our expertise on their next prac or internship, then make yourself available to do so. If your only audience is those who come to your school, make sure your schedule a time with them to spread the word and the wares. They will be having conversations with their peers and the word will spread and the demand will grow.
Have you noticed that whenever there is a political announcement about education to be made, politicians always choose schools and almost inevitably the school library? They come to us! So use the opportunities to present what you do and can offer, particularly in relation to the topic the politician is going to be speaking about, so they can see there is an immediate application and implication for what they are trying to sell.
If there is an upcoming election at local, state or national level, offer a presentation to all candidates, sitting and wannabes, so they can understand what it is a TL adds to the education of their constituents’ children, particularly as education is such a hot-topic election issue.
Be the TL the politician thinks of when the opinion and voice of an educator is needed.
Know how to present
Public speaking that engages the audience is almost an art form so be aware of all those things that we teach students when they have to give a speech, present an argument or participate in a debate.
- Know about enunciation, pronunciation and articulation.
- Understand volume, speed and tone.
- Use language -vocabulary and sentence structure – appropriate to both audience and topic.
- Consider body language and eye contact.
- Research public speaking tips and watch videos that offer suggestions.
- Be prepared to put more time into preparing the presentation than it takes to deliver it.
- Know and practice pre-presentation calming techniques that clear your mind so you have just your presentation on your mind.
- Know how to deliver your message with passion and professionalism
- Avoid jokes at the beginning which often fall flat and leave the audience turned off and tuned out already.
- Introduce yourself, but keep within the context of your presentation so your audience know you have authority on the topic and the credentials to present it.
- Provide contact details so participants know that you’re not just there for the duration of the presentation.
- Be responsive to your reception. Yawning and fidgeting, looking at mobiles and so forth are not good signs
- Be empathetic – acknowledge the difficulties that your audience faces, particularity with time, and suggest ways these might be overcome.
- Demonstrate that you have trodden their path, that you are on their side and you are there to help them collectively or individually.
- Be flexible – adjust your presentation if needed to explore an avenue your audience is particularly interested in or consolidate an aspect they are experiencing difficulty with.
- Be focused – try not to let a particular participant divert the discussion to their agenda, Let them speak but know how to draw the attention back to the focus of the rest of the audience.
- Appeal to different learning styles with both vocal and visual presentations and embed activity, interaction, participation, and reflection within them.
- Use podcasts and videos within your presentation to demonstrate or consolidate but keep them short and ensure there is excellent sound and visual quality. Diverting the focus to a “third-party” can make bringing it back to you difficult.
- Conclude by setting a task or posing a question that will ensure your audience continue to think about what you’ve offered after they walk out the door.
- Follow up by establishing an email group, a Facebook group, a blog post, a wiki – whatever suits them and the topic so ideas can be explored, questions answered and new networks built.
- Above all, be yourself. It’s the easiest way to relax and deliver your message effectively.
Make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening.
In Valentine’s story Luke doesn’t overcome his fear entirely, but he does find a solution that works for him. That is the aim – find out what works for you. Mark Twain has been quoted as saying, “There are only two types of speakers in the world: the nervous and the liars.” Hopefully these tips will help you pull on your presenter’s hat with a little less anxiety.