Sunday, 18 January 2015

Presenting: I (Used To) Hate It!!

Public speaking - to some, one of the most feared things in the world of education. Whether it is being called upon unexpectedly or having to give an oral presentation in front of the class, it is often associated with anxiety, butterflies in the stomach, panic, uneasiness and, quite frankly. can be terrifying for anyone. 

I still remember having to write speeches in grade 3 and present them in front of the class for the first time. What if you forgot what you were supposed to say? What if you had to read from your cue cards instead of doing it from memory? What if people didn't like what you had to say or even laughed at you? What if you didn't want to picture everyone in their underpants in order to calm down and relax? 

The one thing I have to say is that it really does get better with practice. The next time I had to present I wrote a speech in Grade 6 about water. The night before the written part was due, I had all the facts together but just couldn't piece it together  the right way. I remember sitting down with my mom and her helping me plan out an order that made sense, told a story and would flow. She helped me rearrange my plan to have it unfold as a normal day and all of the different places a person would interact with water. When I got up to do that speech, it was easy because we had plotted out a path that would make it easy to remember and not be stressful. Who would've thought I end up getting to represent my school at the public speaking contest in our city? But it didn't stop. The following two years I was able to represent my school again and again. Each time I gave a speech, it got easier and I became more confident sharing in front of an audience. I began to enjoy it more and it was almost like I was in another world when I stepped on the stage to speak. It also helped that I had my number one fan in the audience cheering me on, my mom. 

Grade 9 came and the unexpected happened and my mom passed away to cancer. The public speaking project was something that had kind of become a tradition for us each year. I had to decide if I even wanted to present a speech that year, do the research as normal, and have to figure out some kind of plan that made sense all on my own, with no guidance. So that year I decided to speak about something that I was really passionate about and mattered to mom.  I did a speech about cancer, the impacts of it on families and even shared a poem I wrote about cancer the night my mother died. Perhaps it was a way for me to say goodbye, come to terms with what was changing in my life or just do something I had learnt to find comfort in. The lessons she had taught me and the steps we would do together to plan it out were so familiar and comforting even when alone. But after I had done my speech that year, a part of me didn't want to share anymore and the door closed to my voice being heard in many ways. 

Fast forward to this year. Encouraged (or rather pushed a bit by others), it was time that I start letting my own voice be heard again. I first co-presented at the Singapore American School who hosted the EdTechTeam Singapore Summit featuring Google Apps for Education back in September. Even though I was terrified and was up all night worrying about it, changing slides and reviewing what I wanted to say, it was easy to talk about something else I had grown passionate about in the last year or so - the use of technology in the classroom. 
I went back to my class after that presentation and shared the experience with my students. It was a big deal to me to present at such an amazing conference and I started to wonder how my students felt about public speaking themselves so I asked them for their thoughts. Most didn't like it. They said they never had and it was a scary thing to stand up in front of their peers. They said they felt really nervous when they had to present something, just like me. 

So I decided that if my mom could get me to conquer my nerves when it came to public speaking, maybe there was hope I could do the same thing for my students. Presentations became a much more prominent thing in my classroom. First, it was just little things they had found and they shared more after an activity. Then it became students doing a bit of research on a topic before sharing. I was looking for small ways for my students to share their ideas in a safe environment where they wouldn't feel those nerves and fears kicking in. 

Finally, the moment that made the biggest impact was when we held a mini exhibition for students to share their independent research projects. We first presented to each other, then to parents, administration and other students into our class to share with. After the event, I asked my students again about presenting and one of the biggest things was that they wanted to present more. It wasn't so scary when they were confident about what they were talking about. It wasn't so terrifying when they saw how proud their parents were of them and their work. It didn't create anxiety when they knew everyone was supporting each other and they had worked so hard that they knew their topic so well. To be honest, they didn't want to stop sharing either. I think we spent about 2 days presenting and my students just kept inviting more people to come - their buddy class, a Year 6, teachers they had last year, administration - they wanted to keep talking about the work they had done and their process of getting to this point. 

From there, we began sharing our e-portfolios orally to the class more and talking about what makes a good presentation. My students would give each other feedback about glows and grows and set targets for the next time they were to present. I would actually not provide too much feedback for this but rather let my students help each other grow.  Now, it's almost time for parents to come back to celebrate our next end of the unit and it's the students asking for the parents to come in so they can present to them not the teachers saying the parents are invited. 

Through all of this, I've tried to continue to present as well each time sharing with my students my own glows and grows as I develop in this area as well. I think my students have a different level of respect when they know you are doing the same thing they are and experiencing similar feelings. Whether it is a small 5-minute presentation or a full hour session, I know presenting is helping me develop in new ways, just like my students. It's something I force myself to do, even though I'd be just as happy listening from the audience. I know as I continue to move forward in my international teaching career, the importance of sharing, leading training sessions and presenting will become more and more a part of what I do.
Public speaking may never come naturally to me - I hate being put on the spot in public, big crowds, being the centre of attention and being put in a position to be easily judged - I'm an introvert, to say the least. But it's easy to talk about things in my career that I am so passionate about - my school, what I do in my class and most of all my students. But just like my students, I'm learning to enjoy sharing more. I can only hope that in my quest to find my own confidence to share my voice again that maybe I've helped even just one student find theirs as well.

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