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Instant Ideas for Busy Teachers...

by Barbara Gruber, M.A. & Sue Gruber, M.A.

(Good news! We're Approved Professional Development Providers in many states and Canada---see information on our website!)

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This article was printed from Teachers.Net Gazette,
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Speak with Poise, Power and Pizzazz!!!

The lazy days of summer are drawing to a close. Have you started having school dreams at night yet? Let's face it, if you're the type of person who dreads speaking to a roomful of adults, then back-to-school night presentations can be the stuff of nightmares!

Have your worst case nightmares included any of these scenarios?

Okay...maybe we're being a bit extreme with our nightmares! The reality is that speaking to parents at back-to-school night and Open House can be a pressure-cooker experience for many teachers. We can help you improve your public speaking skills and reach the point where you actually enjoy doing presentations! Trust us---you can be a poised, powerful speaker with an attentive audience! Our secrets of success will make your presentations enjoyable for you and your audience.

Getting Ready

  1. Look on the bright side! All of the parents who attend back-to-school nights are there voluntarily! You have an audience who wants to be there and is interested in what you have to say. Remember the purpose of back-to-school parent meetings. They are not parent conferences! It's a time for you to introduce yourself, share your expectations, and let parents know what their children will learn in your class!
  2. Prepare handouts to cover all basic information items you don't plan to talk about. Have a packet at each desk for parents to look at while they wait for the presentation to begin. As part of your talk, mention that packets are to be taken home. They contain:
    • a school calendar for the year on green paper
    • information about how to contact you on yellow paper
    • the class homework policy on blue paper
    • an overview of what is taught in your grade level on white paper.
    • (It doesn't matter what color the paper is, you want to make sure each separate piece of information has its own color to make an impact. Don't spend time talking about this self-explanatory information.)
  3. Plan what you do want to talk about. Why not start with a brief bio? Tell parents what grades you've taught and how long you've been in the school or school district. Then, make a list of topics you need to cover. Under each topic you plan to discuss, list the key points you need to cover.
  4. Develop a warm, friendly upbeat sentence to begin your presentation.
    "Hello Everyone,
    I'm Ms. Sunshine and teaching second grade is a big job and I love it.
    This is my fourth year of teaching second grade at Happy Valley School."

    For many speakers, the first sentence is the most difficult.
    Memorize your first sentence to help you get off to a strong start!
  5. Develop a strong closing statement to help you wrap up the talk smoothly. You want to make it clear that you're finished with the presentation. This is another sentence to memorize! Your closing sentence could be:
    "I'm looking forward to working with you and your child. When home and school work together, everyone benefits! Thank you for coming."

Crafting Your Presentation

There's nothing worse than sitting through a presentation where the speaker reads from a script and doesn't engage the audience. Here's where you put in a bit of preparation time that pays off in a big way. You'll sound relaxed and natural when you speak.

On scratch paper, list topics you will cover in the sequence you will talk about them. Under each topic list a few key words so you remember to share all the key points you want to cover. When you are happy with this speech outline, make a cue card to use during the actual presentation. On the cue card, write your opening statement, the list of topics and key words and your closing statement. This outline of your talk is for your eyes only! Print it out in a large, easy to read font that you can glance at during your presentation. You aren't going to read it word for word, it's an outline to help keep your presentation organized and on track!

For the cue card, we use a file folder stapled shut so it doesn't flop open. We glue our outline on the front of the file folder. One glance at the front of the folder and we have our opening sentence, topics with key words, and our closing sentence. Use this outline when you practice your talk. You can hold the file folder as you give the presentation or have it on a nearby table where you can glance at it as you speak.

Practice giving the presentation in your classroom. Walk to the front of the room, stand in the spot where you plan to speak and give the presentation. Stand square and face the audience. Count to three and begin your practice presentation. Pay attention to how long it takes you to complete the talk. It will probably take longer when you are presenting it to a "real audience."

Using Words Wisely

Sound more confident by eliminating these words from your sentences:

Which sentences sounds more confident and powerful?

I really try to maximize learning time in our classroom.
In this classroom, we maximize learning time.

Now, I have a few little things I want to share about our classroom.
Now, I will share important information about our classroom.

You can also boost your confidence rating by not adding question words to the ends of sentences. Avoid these words at ends of sentences:

Which sentence sounds better to you?

"It's important for your child to come to school on time, right?"
"It's important for your child to come to school on time."

"Our classroom is a busy place, isn't it?"
"Our classroom is a busy place."

Avoid Acronyms

All teachers speak "educationese" ~ remember to avoid using acronyms which may confuse listeners.

Body Language

Stand and face the audience squarely with your hands at your sides.
Use the power of eye contact to connect with the audience. Rather than gazing all over the room, make contact with someone in the audience and then move on to another person. Continue to make eye contact with listeners seated in different areas of the room. Be sure to walk a few steps to the right, left or forward as you speak.
Try not to be frozen to one spot---move around and you will feel and look much more relaxed.

The Art of Handling Questions

Let parents know that you welcome their questions. However, ask them to hold off on questions until you have given your presentation. Chances are most questions will be answered in your talk. When someone asks a question, repeat the question unless you are absolutely positive everyone heard it. If you need a moment to think, repeating the question buys a bit of thinking time. When you answer the question, respond to the whole group---not just to the person who asked the question.

Don't let a parent put you on the spot. If someone asks a question you can't answer, simply say:
"I don't know. I'll have to find out about that."
Or, "Let me reflect on that and get back to you."

Do not get pulled into answering questions about situations that are not of interest to the whole group. If a parent asks a specific question that only pertains to his child, tell him you will talk one-to-one at another time.

If you've allowed time for questions and there are none, be prepared to fill the time with some additional information. Have a list of other snippets of information you can share if there are no questions. You might say,
"We have a wonderful school library. We will visit as a class once a week. I also encourage you to take your child to the public library and to help him get a library card."

"Our routine for entering the classroom and starting the learning day goes like this. Children enter, put away their backpacks, place notes in the ..."

Creating the World's Best Handout

You can bring on instant boredom by creating a handout or a power point presentation and then reading it to your audience. Adults hate to be read to! Instead, create an interactive handout that keeps the attention of your audience. Your one page handout might look like the example shown below. When you announce which day is library day, parents jot it down on the handout. They can jot notes as you speak about homework, school lunches or any of the other topics you cover. This handout is an outline of your talk. It helps parents take notes in an organized way. You can fill in some of the information but be sure to make it a note-taking type of handout so you aren't reading to your audience.

Using different colors of paper is a great way to differentiate handouts. Tell parents they may want to take notes on the beige handout because it follows your presentation. You'll find parents appreciate having this handout to take home!

Welcome to Room 11

Grade 2 ~ Ms. Sunshine

Library Day is ________

Our lunch time is ______

School Lunches:

Your child's sharing day is _________________

Homework: Mondays through Thursdays

Birthday Celebrations:
Please consider donating a book (new or used) to our classroom library to commemorate your child's birthday.

Friday Folders:

Thank you for coming to learn about your child's classroom.
Ms. Sunshine

After your presentation, cruise around the room greeting people and thanking them for coming. Have a pen and notepad handy so you can jot reminder notes if you promise to contact parents. Do not let parents turn this meeting into instant parent-teacher conferences. At the beginning of the school year, you are just beginning to get to know your students. You probably aren't prepared for spontaneous conferences. Let parents know that you will keep them informed about their children's progress as soon as the year is in full swing.

Congratulations -- you've just done a great job of sharing important information with parents! You've just set the tone for a positive year!

Isn't it wonderful that we get a fresh start with a whole new set of kids and parents each year? Here's to a fabulous year with your new class!

If you like the kinds of ideas we have to share, we encourage you to take a look at our online courses for K-6 teachers on the internet at http://www.bgrubercourses.com. You can earn up to three semester units of University credit and in many states we are approved professional development providers. Courses are self-paced and run continuously. Teachers say our courses are the most practical courses they've ever taken. They tell us they are using so many of our activities and teaching strategies in their classrooms every day. Now, that's the ultimate compliment! We're delighted to know that teachers not only like our ideas but are putting them in action in classrooms everywhere.

Best wishes ~

Barbara Gruber & Sue Gruber

Copyright 2003: Barbara Gruber Courses for Teachers

Barbara Gruber Online Courses for K-6 Teachers
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