Presenting To The School Board

The Surrogate Son

Ten minutes in front of a school board, from my perspective as a Professional PresenterMeaning I got paid once., is gold. With just four people scattered throughout the audience and a board expecting chart- and data-heavy slides, I enjoyed low expectations.

The result was loose and informal (matching my jeans and coat ensemble) and very smiley. At this point in my life, looking boyish and harmless as I do, I’m running an extremely effective shtick which all but defies my categorization.

If I had to try, I’d call it “The Surrogate Son.” When I step in front of 40- and 50-year-olds, I am instantly adopted as their son. I start collecting these goofy and proud smiles, from the mothers, especially, who see in me their own sons, long gone from their eyes, mothers who hope their sons are somewhere warm, perhaps wearing a suit coat, perhaps doing something responsible like talking to a school board.

The Surrogate Son generates audience goodwill as fast as it undermines my credibility. It takes very little to get an audience in my corner but it’s a fight to get them to take me seriously. Winning that fight last night only required a good script and an assist from Scott and Karl’s Did You Know 2.0.

The Script

I opened: “My name is Dan Meyer and I like to teach. For whatever hand you played in getting me that job, thanks.”

I built several slides to demonstrate how communication, love, life, and friendship are moving online exponentially, citing stats from DYK2.



Then I put up a photo of a traditional classroom.

At this point in the presentation, I cringed inwardly, recalling how many bloggers have seized that same juxtaposition for ironic, self-congratulatory purposes. Realizing I was dealing with an audience that was largely oblivious to alternative tools and settings for education, I settled on a more modest approach.

I said I was disappointed in myself, that as much as I enjoyed my job, I felt like an agent of a system I knew was hurting kids. I told them that in that picture the students have been trained to believe that math learning happens for one hour daily, between two bells, and that learning with a capital-L happens only during school hours.

Our little Moodle install is a small stone thrown at that bummer fact, I said. I took ’em through some screenshots (I would’ve taken ’em through a live demo but for a wireless connection) and told ’em why.

A Note On Presentation

At one point I said this, “1 in 8 romantic relationships last year started online.” I originally attached this slide:

I did this ’cause a) it made it easy for me to stay on script without memorizing anything, and b) I could upload the slidedeck to Slideshare without any modding.

I came to my senses and included this instead:

There is only win or lose here, no ties. Only wild success and wasted opportunity. If you use a slide to complement your words, as I did there, you strengthen your point. If you use a slide to mimic your words, all your audience will do is fix on the subtle differences between the two and lose your point.

About 
I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.

9 Comments

  1. At this point in the presentation, I cringed inwardly, recalling how many bloggers have seized that same juxtaposition for ironic, self-congratulatory purposes. Realizing I was dealing with an audience that was largely oblivious to alternative tools and settings for education, I settled on a more modest approach.

    Right on. Lord knows we hate self-congratulatory anything. Especially when we’re making comparisons between the old way and the new way. Let’s avoid that!

    I said I was disappointed in myself, that as much as I enjoyed my job, I felt like an agent of a system I knew was hurting kids. I told them that in that picture the students have been trained to believe that math learning happens for one hour daily, between two bells, and that learning with a capital-L happens only during school hours.

    Yeah, about that.

    Dan, you’re absolutely right, the way I see it, but the more you try to distance/alienate yourself from the strawman you’ve set up (the self-congratulatory School 2.0 types), the more obvious it is that you’re (gasp; minor chord) ONE OF THEM. If the difference between you and them is that you blatantly apologize and they present themselves as saviours, fine, but that’s not enough of a difference. It’s just a matter of tone, not substance.

    This presentation is awesome, though, and yet another example of your inspiring graphic work, and I’ve bookmarked the entry for reference for when, inevitably, I’ll have to take on a similar task. Thanks for it.

  2. Great job, Dan and thank you for offering the District a view of the options out there for learning (capital L or no capital l). One quibble, I’m 43, I’ve seen you at District events, and I don’t feel you are my adopted son. My son is 7. You do, in fact, look older than 7. :)

  3. I, too, presented to the school board recently. I was the ‘cheerleader’ for an intiative to bring in 70x the current bandwidth to wach school in the district. After the admin detailed cost and logistics, I was the finale. I hadn’t rehearsed or practiced anything but it really took seconds to get them sold on why we need more bandwidth. There was a wow factor for some of the applications of the tools. But my favorite moment was when I said, “When we only provide a network of limited bandwidth, the administrative functions of the job trump the instructional ones. If we don’t get more bandwidth, this (pointing to GoogleEarth) is the type of tool that we are giving up.” I could have really just said that and I think it would have been enough. Speaking to the board, I think, is one of the most powerful ways to push innovation… we all work for the board… principals and teachers alike. We are getting the fiber optic run to the building soon… 10 minutes of my time=7000% increase in bandwidth. Now those are some numbers I like!

  4. I was once part of a professional development “experience” designed to bolster leadership abilities and team unity, where I was separated from my time and given a task to complete with three members of other teams. These women, who wore sweatshirts with bead designs (2), puppy dogs (1), and a turkey (1) spent our task-completion time asking me the following questions:

    -How old are you?
    -Is your mother proud?
    -Why can’t my son be more like you?
    -How old are you again?
    -Will you talk to my son?

    After providing the information (23, sometimes, it’s probably for the best anyway, 23, no way), they launched into strange exclamations of weirdness:

    -Just so young!
    -Kids must love you!
    -Wow!

    We never did the task.

    At that point, I’d been a teacher for five months; I went home and started looking at potential grad schools.

  5. Jeff, maybe the difference between My Approach and Theirs isn’t as strong as I aimed for. Maybe “Theirs” does constitute a straw man.

    I’m inclined to disagree, though, on the evidence of nearly any post complaining about a) a school’s reluctance to drop Internet filtering, b) a school’s reluctance to implement 21st-century technology, which, with scant exception, paint these schools as lumbering, stupid creatures and their boards as intractable foes.

    My point was that these people — the school boards — are largely oblivious to tools like Moodle and to projections like those presented in DYK2. The kind of scorn heaped on their heads from this group we commonly call “School 2.0,” if it should be a part of the conversation at all, belongs at the end of the line, not wherever it’s currently inserted.

    On the off chance you’re right, though, that these bloggers exist only in my head and not all over my reader, all over Ning, I’ve resolved to cut back the “shin-kicking” (as our erstwhile blogging colleague Christian Long put the same behavior you’re talking about) significantly.

    Liza, it’s outlying folks like yourself who force me to push past my shtick and actually present. Thanks?

    Diana, nice work. That’s a solid return-on-investment there.

  6. When my 6-8th grade students create slides, they get taught to put a title and image on the slide. They create notes in the note section and print them out to read or for backup if they choose to memorize what they are going to say. I’ve been telling them for years exactly what you said. The slide show is to support what you are saying. Otherwise, people could just read your slides. Nice choice in lieu of written statistics about couples meeting online.

  7. “Otherwise, people could just read your slides.”

    Which would actually be better than what seems typical, asking them to read your slides while you paraphrase them. Yeegh.

  8. And Dan, you know I’m just trying to be constructive–I dig what you do, but I often read your stuff after getting everything set up and before the crew comes into the room, so I’m not always in my most receptive mindset. Anyway:

    My point was that these people — the school boards — are largely oblivious to tools like Moodle and to projections like those presented in DYK2. The kind of scorn heaped on their heads from this group we commonly call “School 2.0,” if it should be a part of the conversation at all, belongs at the end of the line, not wherever it’s currently inserted.

    Oddly enough, our superintendent’s son actually works for Moodle (I think–it’s not Google, but it’s something with that sound combination) AND I was one of several lucky unblemished sacrificial heifers (there were seven measures of pure meal, and some olive oil and incense) chosen to present, at our end-of-the-year staff development ritual, the DYK thing. And yet our tech department still won’t punch a hole in the filter so my students can use Clay’s AP Lit Ning.