Leaders and Children: Pretend TED Talks
There are times I pretend TED talks. I know that sounds silly, but it’s true. I don’t think I’m alone. I’m sure others do it, or have considered it. I think of topics, and end up building an entire TED talk in my mind. Then I pretend to present the topic. I probably have done more pretend presentations in my head, to fictitious audiences, than most. I was thinking that my interviews with school leaders, educators, and children would be a great pretend TED. They may not know it, but I have most of them do pretend TED talks, too.
I’ve had the privilege of interviewing many school leaders, as well as generations of children. You can learn a lot by doing that. School leaders, to me, are not only administrative level staff, but also all educators, at every staff level. Children, on the other hand, are a more diverse group, and unlike traditional education leaders, you never know what they’re going to say. I remember interviewing kindergarteners and they weren’t very cooperative. Most of the answers were yes and no, and usually shakes of the head. I think that’s brilliant. Now, interviewing first graders is another story, and anyone who has taught that age group can tell you why Show and Tell can last the whole day. Sometimes, I’d like school leaders to be as open in their answers as first grade children, but there are usually more things at play for adults in leadership roles, so guarded and scripted responses are usually the norm.
My favorite thing to do with school leaders, before asking questions of them, is to set the stage—so to speak. I say, “ If you had a whole auditorium full of educators and school leaders ready to listen to you, what would you say?” In most instances reminding school leaders of their expertise, interests, and things they’ve already said and written is a good idea. With students it would be revisiting prior knowledge. Yes, you’re right, I sort of use the pretend TED technique to fire up the conversation.
What surprises me, is that sometimes the talk to an auditorium audience puts a little more pressure on educators, or school leaders. I think that somehow they begin to re-assess what they so freely say, or write, daily—wondering, sometimes for the first time, if it is appropriate for a pretend presentation. That focus on audience is more daunting a task than just pleasing oneself with familiar ideas and words.
Usually, there is silence. I wait, as if I were waiting for a student’s answer, and sometimes, if the pause is great enough, revert to one of my favorite lines from E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web—“Twilight settled over Zuckerman’s barn.” I usually change the word “Twilight” to “Silence”. It usually offers enough time to shift gears for further explanation, and get a few concrete examples. It’s what classroom teachers do each day with students, and it works with adults, too. I think children react quicker than most school leaders, though, when you ask them to do something that’s different than what they’ve always done.
That’s important to know, next time you think changing education is easy. It really is a matter of changing mindsets along with everything else. Children seem to be much more open to change than adults, especially when children are allowed to follow their interests, rather than those interests prescribed by adults alone. If free to do so, children have the ability to wonderfully TED talk everything. Most times adults need to be convinced, and reminded, they are still capable of saying what needs to be said—out loud—regardless what other think.
What’s interesting is that each time I do the pretend TED talk technique with school leaders, it seems to unleash the Show and Tell child in them, and they go from limiting their answers to extending those responses into much more. It is amazing that a 30 minute planned interview can go an hour, or more—and the time passes quickly—and no one minds, because the time is well spent. Good lessons are like that, too, where educators actively engage students in learning—and the students hardly know it’s happening, because they’re so caught up in the doing. I’m thinking it might be a good exercise for everyone, no matter age, to do a pretend TED talk. What do you think?
Contact me, if you’re a school leader, who has a pretend TED talk message to share. I’m ready to listen! ~Ken Royal
About the Author:
Ken Royal is a former educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience. He has written at many of the major education publications, including District Administration, TechLearning, and Scholastic Administrator. Presently, Ken is a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.