When classes end for the summer, many of us may lose momentum and develop what boxers and wrestlers call “ring rust” – a deterioration of skills resulting from lack of practice during a hiatus. Public speaking and presentation skills are key to good teaching but can dwindle as educators are busy with other projects over the summer. Preventing “ring rust,” however, can be as simple as trying a few of these tips before classes resume for the fall.
Read a good teaching book. Each summer, I try to read one book on teaching. This summer our staff is reading two books: Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind (Jensen) and Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning (Chappuis). Other titles I strongly recommend are The Book Whisperer (Miller), How to Survive and Thrive in the First Three Weeks of School (McEwan), Choice Words (Johnston), High-Impact Instruction (Knight), and I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had (Danza – yes, the Tony Danza of 80’s T.V.). Reading a teaching book can spark fresh ideas over the summer. When we feel excited about trying a new strategy, the demands of the coming school year feel less daunting. Enthusiasm breeds confidence.
Don’t overthink things. Students are focused on themselves, not on the presentation skills of their teachers. Regardless of your style, kids are interested in what interests you. Enthusiastic teachers reach kids. Worrying about ring rust only makes it worse. Writer Kelly Gregario reminds us that preparation is vital. She adds: “Spend time putting your speech together so that it flows logically and is made more vibrant with stories, examples, and props, such as images.” There is, however, a fine line between preparation and over thinking. Rest in the confidence of knowing you got this.
Radical optimism. The term radical rarely carries positive connotations these days. However, coupled with optimism, being a radical can breathe life into kids. They desperately need advocates who believe in them and see their potential. Be the teacher who looks for the good in kids. See the positive. Every child has a story. During the coming school year, you will be introduced as a character in each of your student’s lives. What character will you be? What impact will you have? Deciding on your own attitude beforehand can make a difference in the quality of your year. Optimism and confidence mesh nicely. Advocate for the positive in your classroom. Seek silver linings. Understand that kids come to you each fall having been shaped by countless factors in their lives, and, up to this point, you have not been one of them! As the year starts, you are given the opportunity to become one influencing factor in each of your student’s lives. Make the most of that opportunity.
Borrow material. One of the most stressful aspects of public speaking is coming up with new material. Stories, quotes, poems, and excerpts can constitute a significant portion of what you have to say. By using other people’s material, you become the messenger, and we all know how the rule about being nice to the messenger. Don’t burden yourself with having to create original material year after year. A great resource for new teachers is The First Days of School. The book is loaded with short, usable tools that can ease the planning burden going into fall.
Record yourself and watch it. One way to improve your public speaking skills is to record short monologues and preview them. Have a friend or colleague view them and give you specific feedback. As educators, we are in the business of public speaking. Presenting our “material” in engaging ways is a must. On camera, you can practice your introduction for the upcoming school year. What key points will you share about yourself? What expectations will you emphasize on the first day? What rules or guidelines matter most? By practicing, you can hone this skill and make a strong first impression. Last August, I sent an introduction video out to families. The short video detailed a few important expectations for the coming school year. Also, I broke the ice by introducing myself. Any Smart Phone can produce and upload such a video in minutes. Here’s a video I sent out last August.
Watch stand-up comedians. This may seem a bit whacky, but I have learned a great deal from observing the composure, body language, and delivery techniques of stand-up comedians. They are pros at captivating an audience and keeping them tuned in. Let’s face it: Our composure affects our audience. Sometimes being composed means taking on a classroom persona. If you have trouble presenting, try pretending you are good at it. Seriously. Assume a slightly different identity or develop a persona you can use in class. My favorite is the Teachinator. In Teachinator-mode, I speak to the class in my best Schwarzenegger voice.
Speak to a group once or twice during the summer. Even teachers experience fear of speaking in front of groups. A friend of mine admits he actually develops anxiety after just a couple of weeks out of the classroom. He volunteers to read the morning announcements at his church on Sundays. “It’s an easy gig, and I get to try a joke or two. Keeps me sharp,” he says with a smile. Keep your eyes open for easy speaking gigs. A little practice can keep the ring rust at bay.
TED Talks. TED talks are short, and the presenters are often fantastic. Featured speakers at the annual TED convention are passionate about their subject matter. Watching TED Talks can provide valuable material and wonderful examples of solid presentations. Also, you may find yourself thinking, “If she can talk to thousands, I can talk to twenty-eight.” One of the best TED talks for educators features creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson discussing the role of the arts in a well rounded education.
Chad Donohue teaches English, writing, and social studies at Park Place Middle School in Monroe, Washington. He also teaches composition and public speaking at Northwest University in Kirkland and blogs regularly for Teaching Tolerance.