What I Wish I’d Said

Important PersonOften, when I give a presentation, I spend the next hours and days thinking through what I wish I’d said.  It’s a golden opportunity to be able to speak to my country’s chief state school officers, state superintendents, deputies, and commissioners.  Perhaps more than anyone else, they lead education here.  It was an equally golden opportunity to speak to first year teachers last year — many of whom will become GREAT TEACHERS.

But when you only have an hour, and you need to plan your presentation before you get there, before you’ve met them, before you’ve seen other presentations and can absorb more of the context of your audience, and before you’ve heard some of the reaction afterward, then I suppose you can’t help but walk away saying — I wish I’d said…

As a sidebar, the conference is making very good use of online chatting. I’m not very impressed with the mechanism they are using, AOL’s IM chat room, but I have to say that I am quite impressed with the subterranian conversations that many of the superintendents are engaging in during the presentations. ..very impressive for people who are mostly my age.

I believe that it was a good presentation of information they need to see, and see again, and that it was structure and conveyed in a way that was useful.  But here’s what I wish I’d been able to include in that one hour and the three minutes I went over time.

  • The structure of my presentation was useful, but it didn’t occur to me until afterward that I had fallen back on Dr. Jennifer James’ elements of a compelling story.  I started with the 1) market — flat world (though I didn’t belabor that point,  they’ve all read it), the economic need for the arts, etc.; 2) deeply held values — our children and their unique context and information experience; 3) something to point to to mode — new information landscape and what it means to our definition of literacy.  I wish I’d made the point that these were the elements of a compelling story — and that leadership is, in no small part, about story telling.
  • I should have included, as a topic, that context is equal to skills, that at the same time we should redefine and help our students to learn a new model of literacy (learning literacy), we should also continue to teach context (history, science, math, language, health, art, music, etc.).  Information skills are useless without a context of who, what, where, and when we are.
  • I also believe, and wish that I had included in the presentation the idea that new information skills should not simply be taught.  Perhaps even more than skills to learn, they are habits to be embraced and ingrained in our students’ behaviors.  Students must not simply learn how to deconstruct a web URL, analyze the logic of an argument, research an author, and consider the opposing position.  They must be in the habit of doing these things.
  • After my presentation and during a debriefing discussion, one of the chiefs asked (paraphrase), “but if we are teaching students to use technology, might we leave them short, if they find themselves without the technology, and, as a result, without the ability to solve the problem?” 

    I was lucky here.  I had an opportunity to respond, and I said, “It isn’t about the technology.”  “If we are teaching technology, and in many cases that’s exactly what we’re doing, then you are right to be concerned.  I am too.  But if we do this right, then we are not teaching how to use technology, but how to solve problems.  We’re teaching critical thinking, analysis of situations, resourcefulness — and with these skills, our students will learn to solve problem, no matter the technology they have access to or do not have access to.” 

    It just occurred to me that this is a bigger question than I’d originally thought.  Because it’s not, “what if they do not have access to technology? but what if they do not have access to the technology they were taught?  What if it’s new technology.”  It requires a different kind of teaching and learning — and our standards need to reflect this…

  • Finally, and this is what I feel the worse about, the network went down in the middle of my demonstration of RSS.  I was gracious.  I graphically described the process — continuing to teach.  What I should have done was to say, “Look!  I can’t teach you about this very important new way of using information, because the network is down.  My teaching is over.” 

    In the way that I reacted, regrouped, called on other resources, I was forgiving the hotel for losing its Internet connection — and by doing that I was forgiving schools and school districts for having infrastructure and technical support that was insufficient to the needs of 21st century teaching and learning — and this is unforgivable.  Of course, I couldn’t pitch a fit in from of these people.  But it might have made an important point, if I had.

What do you think?

17 thoughts on “What I Wish I’d Said”

  1. What else could you have done other than recover from the technology failure?

    I find that so true myself in the school classroom. The technology fails and so you slip into recovery mode – like the MacGyver of schools, bending the software, flicking switches, repatching cables and voila – your lesson continues in some fashionable state, albeit not as effective as your original lesson plan.

    Teachers hold up the learning process like a circus clown spinning plates.

    I only wish the IT support guys had as much wherewithal and tenacity.

  2. It may have proven a point to some individuals. Other individuals may have thought you were a bit over-the-top.
    I on the other hand believe this would have been a great way to show the group the importance of a connection, not only now, but in the future.
    On a side note… David, have you heard of The Lead Pencil Club? I am on my travels in the Notheast and came across a book written by this organization. I just wanted to hear your thoughts about them.

  3. David,

    Consider that if you did not discuss the RSS information that you might have conveyed that the information was not important. When technology experiences a failure during a presentation, it is often a reason for the skeptic to say, “That’s why we shouldn’t waste time and money on technology…it’s not reliable, and reduces time on task.”

    I agree with you in that faulty networking should not be tolerated. But we are still in the overwhelming minority of people who truly believe technology and web 2.0 is important for today’s students to understand and use.

    Sent from my iPhone. Please excuse spelling errors.

  4. Wow, I am a bit stunned here — first time I have disagreed with you — and (grins) it is kind of liberating………

    I need to address your comments about “What I should have done was to say, ‘Look! I can’t teach you about this very important new way of using information, because the network is down. My teaching is over.'” Hopefully that was just said in frustration at the situation —

    Because I think the way you handled it was perfect. Most teachers do not have the luxury of working with perfect hardware, internet connects (some still are on dialup), up to date software, while dealing at the same time with perfectly behaved students.

    Your situation was real life — and in RL you go on — with or with out the tool available. Sure, it might cramp your style and your flow might be broken a bit — but it is real life — which the majority of teachers are dealing with daily.

    To have stopped would have not proven anything — to go on proved that you understand that things like this WILL happen and you need to adapt (and be ready to adapt quickly — because a room full of middle schoolers will not be as gracious as your audience probably was.)

    Enjoy your day!
    Jennifer Wagner

  5. Smiles — and also — I reread your blog and you are right — we shouldn’t stand for the bad dialups, outdated software, and hardware issues —

    but I agree with you — that the venue you were in was NOT the place to address that —–

    but next time you are in an ADMIN meeting — I would urge you to do it. They (hopefully) would get the point.


  6. Dave:

    Wanted to echo the sentiment on the importance of Information Literacy and Digital Citizenship. These two topics must become part of the ‘swiss army knife’ of skills all students have in a 21st Century society.

    Second, there is a “RSS in Plain English” video that I use in presentations, and you can use a Mozilla plugin to get a copy of it to play off of your machine when there is no network connection available. The creator of the video now has videos on Social Networking and Wikis.

  7. Okay, enough on the infra-structure issue as important as it may be I have other things on my mind. I am busy preparing for the August in-services and I have been reflecting on what the focus of our educational tasks should be for the year. I have blogged about your slide that said “Stop integrating technology, and instead redefine literacy and integrate that.” ( by the way I think Darren K is a great exmple of this) However today you tokk that to the next level by talking about building habits as opposed to teaching how to. I think this a critical statement that has the power of deepening classroom activity.

  8. I have just blogged about this very issue last week. I was trying to teach a class to our faculty and the lab’s connection to the net was SLOOOW. I know the IT guys can’t keep a “perfect” connection environment all the time. But where should we draw the line?

    I also agree that the most appropriate place to have this discussion is with my own administration. But HOW do we make non-educator IT guys understand our needs? Maybe what we need is more educators that are trained like IT guys!

  9. I used to give myself way too much stress over “What I Wish I’d Said”. I should have just taken it as a learning experience and move on.

    I have to say though that most hotels don’t have to right network infrastructure to support conventions. It is almost guaranteed there will be a problem at some point.

    Brenda: Haha, start the do-it-yourself IT revolution for the masses. I wouldn’t be surprised some time in the future everyone will have a basic understanding of IT that is now considered a unique skill. In honor of Home Depot, we’ll call it Tech Depot.

  10. This is not a solution to your problem but a “work around”. When I present I capture all my website screens using Hypersnap. Then I don’t have to worry about quality or speed of connectivity–the audience doesn’t seem to notice and the presentation runs smoothly.

  11. David, those of us who do a lot of presenting in hotels and conference centers can “feel your pain” at the loss of internet connection. For that matter, those of us in classrooms can empathize also, if not for loss of connectivity but maybe for slowness or lack of updates or curious district rules about what is and is not permitted.

    Be that as it may, the backup arrows in my quiver, when I miss the target because of connectivity issues, are hyperlinked screen shots (using SnagIt) of everything I was going to demo or explain. I even create slides of each step in a Bloglines registration, for instance. If the links can’t connect, I can still show the site and the static slides.

    I’m not OCD, but I do tend to review these screen shots and their live counterparts the evening before my presentation because Murphy’s Law would dictate that if you are demoing a site, its GUI will change within 24 hours of your planned visit with your participants!

  12. Dave,
    You had just said, “After my presentation and during a debriefing discussion, one of the chiefs asked (paraphrase), “but if we are teaching students to use technology, might we leave them short, if they find themselves without the technology, and, as a result, without the ability to solve the problem?”

    It appears to me that you had a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the answer to that concern and I’m sure you handled it well. Nothing in life, be it technology or anything else, goes perfectly and we usually have little option except to go with the flow.

    The statement in which you talked about not just integrating techology but making it a habit is perfect for a an argument I am hoping to make. Thank you!

  13. Nice comments here. For the record, I have all of my frequently used web sites cached using Capture Page, a Firefox extension. But I use an external aggregator to demonstrate RSS. I do this so that the focus of the demonstration is on the concept of RSS, rather than about Bloglines or about my browser. So caching would not have solved the problem. I’ve thought of making slides, but the impact would not nearly be the same.

    Also, for the record, I was not so frustrated about the outage. It happens. I covered it. However, my frustration was that in covering it so seamlessly, I missed an opportunity to drive home a point, that the infrastructure is there for the teaching and the learning, that the network and the IT staff serve the teachers — they work for the teachers. Failing technology fails our children.

    Thanks again!

  14. Dave,
    You carried on just as I would have. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that consistent experiences with slow or intermittent connections, I believe, are one of the main things that is standing between the status quo and an environment in which all educators recognize the value of Web 2.0 tools for their students. The fact of the matter is that if you’re working with a dial-up connection or one that routinely fails you’re online experience will be far less meaningful and the teachers at your school will be far less likely to see the interactive light.

  15. What is the origin and writer of the French phase , roughly translated as the ‘landing syndrome’ where clever quips come to one when it’s too late and become part of a later story ? This is definately a ‘I wish I’d said that’ item. What is the origianal qoute , can anybody help ? thanks

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