The start of a school year offers a blank slate for the development of new habits.
In recognition of the value of a fresh start I propose the elimination of the list-heavy PowerPoint type of “presentations” that dominate many meetings and far too much “professional development.”
“Presenting” is not synonymous with “teaching.” Teaching, in my mind, is a complex cognitive and behavioral process in which teachers, and often their students, choose learning outcomes, select the instructional methods that are most likely to produce those outcomes, determine whether the learning has been acquired, and provide additional learning opportunities for students who have not achieved mastery.
Presenting, on the other hand, may include some or all of those steps, but in practice seldom does.
While “presenters” may intentionally engage learners through various activities, more often than not they speak to mostly passive “audiences,” which is why professional development is often derisively known as “sit and get.”
As they are commonly used, presentations are not intended nor designed to give more than lip service to higher-order cognitive processes such as planning, assessment, the critical analysis of research, and the development of professional judgment, among other complex instructional knowledge and skills.
Therefore, I recommend:
• That “presentations” be used sparingly and only when the explicit goal is “communicating” a modest amount of information for relatively low-level purposes. Such presentations are not to be confused with the type of learning experiences required to deepen understanding of complicated subjects or to develop complex skills.
• That leaders be ruthlessly honest with themselves and others to determine if the “presentations” they are considering are really a good use of teachers’ time and good will.
• That the term “teaching,” not “presentation,” be used to describe the methods required for the development of the kinds of knowledge and skills mentioned above.
We honor teachers and teaching when we use the verb “teach” to describe the processes by which important and complex understandings and skills are developed, whether the students are young people or professional adults.
In another post I wrote, “… with few exceptions, presentations—because of their typically brief and superficial nature—do not change beliefs, create deep understanding, or cultivate new habits of mind or behavior because they are seldom truly intended to achieve those ends. And if those are the expressed purposes of a “presentation,” let’s then call it what it is—teaching.”
I urge administrators and teacher leaders to consciously justify the absolute necessity of every “presentation.” I am confident that few presentations will meet the standard of being “a good use of teachers’ time and goodwill,” which hopefully means their rapid demise.
All of the above require that leaders be more intentional about the kinds of learning experiences required for educators to expand and deepen the sophisticated and nuanced skills and understandings of their profession.
What do you think—do “presentations” have a place, and, if so, what purposes do they best serve?
[A year without presentations will also likely require a year without PowerPoint, which will be subject of my next post.]