Around the Block|
by Cheryl Ristow (Aggie)
OK! I think we'll begin now!
With these words, my life as a teacher changed once again. On November 14th I gave my first presentation as a Professional Development provider for my school district in Southern California.
My journey to this point began when I decided I would once again attend the annual 4-Blocks Leadership Conference held in January in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. When my friend Kim Tracy (another Gazette contributor who writes about brain compatible learning) found this out, she asked me to extend my trip for a few days so I could speak to her college students on my experiences with 4-Blocks. I was happy and excited to be asked to do this. Kim and I have been friends for the past several years but we will meet "for real" for the very first time in January. I am looking forward to getting to know her, seeing her part of the world and meeting her students. However, I knew that I had a lot of work ahead of me as I will be speaking to her students for 21/2 - 3 hours --- and I've never spoken to a large group before!
In fact, I am probably the most unlikely person to ever consider doing anything like this! I am the one who sits in the back of the teachers' meetings with my head down, avoiding all eye contact whenever there is a chance that someone will be asked to speak! I am a shy person, somewhat lacking in confidence and very inexperienced in talking to groups of people older than age 6! However, I have had a lot of success using the 4-Blocks approach to teaching reading in my first grade classroom. In addition, one year ago a chapter that I wrote about my experiences in an ELD (English Language Development) classroom was published in True Stories from Four-Blocks Classrooms (edited by Patricia Cunningham and Dorothy Hall, Carson-Dellosa Publishing Company, Inc. copyright 2001) and I became a "teacher feature" writer for the Teachers.Net Gazette. I would never have contemplated in my wildest dreams these things happening to me --so why not start another new chapter in my life? Who knows how this one will end!
In addition to lecturing, going over the hand-out, doing some activities (such as word wall cheers, a "making words" lesson and tossing around a guided reading beach ball!) I thought it would be interesting to show some short video clips of the students in my classroom. The wonderful Media Technician at my school agreed to give up part of his lunch hour on 4 consecutive Mondays to come and videotape me. If you've never had yourself videotaped doing a lesson, this is an interesting experience! Why is it that, once the camera is on, your nose begins to itch? Why is it that the phone rings or the loud speaker comes on at the most inopportune moment? Why is it that you seem to stutter more, begin to ramble and over-think each thing you are doing? And why is it that, when you make a mistake on an overhead, using a little spit on a Kleenex no longer seems appropriate to fix it?? However, I am hopeful that these video clips will illustrate and bring to life some of the reading and language arts strategies I will be speaking about.
At the beginning of the school year I was also contacted by the people at the district office and asked to consider doing some presentations on what are called "Mentor Menu" days here in Fullerton. On these days everyone must attend some sort of professional development but may choose from a wide variety of topics and speakers. With a big gulp first, I said yes. I was asked to do three 11/2 hour talks on three different days, with the first one to be held in November. Not only would I be paid for these talks but it would give me an opportunity to "try out" my presentation before the trip to North Carolina. I will use the same hand outs for both and basically the same format--- the talk at the college will just be longer and contain more details for pre-service teachers.
As the day for the November presentation came closer, I was pleased that I wasn't more nervous. While I did have moments of doubt about whether my information would be considered unique or different enough to be interesting, I knew I was prepared. My room was clean and decorated, my handouts were ready and I had bought lots of treats because as we all know, well-fed teachers are happy teachers!
On the day of the presentation, the students went home at 12:30. The teachers who were coming to hear me speak would begin arriving at 1:45. I ran to get ready for them--setting out the food, making sure the sign in sheet and evaluation forms were out, putting out directional signs to the "back 40" where my portable classroom is, hanging the welcome banner, etc all took time! I had hoped to go over my notes and overheads before they arrived but it was not to be. When they began arriving, I could see there would be a large group. I was expecting 35 but 43 came! I ran out of chairs and some sat on the floor! On my mental list of "things to do next time" went the note to get more chairs!
As I began speaking I got nervous only at the beginning. I looked down at my notes and had the horrible thought of not knowing what I was going to say. After a stern little mental talk to myself I began and, I must say, after that it wasn't bad. However, I knew I was talking fast and not going into as much detail as I had when I'd rehearsed. When I finished speaking I was still shocked to find that it had only taken 50 minutes instead of the hour and 15 minutes it had taken when I'd practiced in my empty classroom. The other teachers weren't upset about this--they were happy to get out a little early, I suspect--and, after a few minutes of questions, they began to leave. After they left, I had to clean up, take down the signs and collect their evaluation forms. When I was finally brave enough to look at their comments, I was overjoyed to find that they were very positive! They thought I was organized, had good ideas and was enthusiastic--PHEW! The only negative comments were on how crowded the room was and on how hot it was--and neither of these things are under my control.
While I can't say that I'm looking forward to doing the next district workshop in January, I am anxious to see if the changes and refinements I'm planning will be affective. I also want to use the Power Point presentation that I will be using in North Carolina. It will be good to practice with this before I go. I also know I will feel a little more confident than I did last time.
The internet, of course, has proven to be an invaluable resource for developing my notes and materials for use during the presentation. There are many, many excellent websites out there for 4-Blocks educators. While my favorite website is, of course! here at Teachers.Net http://teachers.net/mentors/4blocks (be sure and check out the "goodies" page!) some of my other favorites are:
http://wordles.com/getwordsinwords.asp (for developing "Making Words" lessons)
Teachers.Net has been such a positive force for change in my life. Not only is this the site where, 5 years ago, I heard about 4-Blocks for the very first time it's also the place where I have made good friends and begun to make professional contacts. While I probably won't become a professional speaker any time soon, this has been a good experience for me. Stay tuned here to find out what happens next!