When I worked for MLTI, I often lead workshops for teachers I had never met before and might not ever see again. Sometimes teachers were attending the workshop not out of choice but because an administrator required it. I soon learned that I couldn’t just jump into the content in these sessions; I had to take the time at the beginning to establish credibility and trust. I had to convince them that I knew what I was talking about and that I would treat them with respect and not make them look foolish. I also learned that I had to do this within the first five or ten minutes or I would lose them.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t very skilled at this at first, but over time I developed some techniques that seemed to work. Usually this involved telling a quick story or asking a simple question designed to engage the group and help them feel comfortable working with me. Sometimes I resorted to admitting what I didn’t know or mistakes I’ve made in the past. Once, when I was asked to present at a conference for visual and performing arts teachers, I decided to develop something that would appeal to art teachers but also draw on my experience as a literacy teacher. The title of the session was Promoting Literacy with Cartoons, Comics, and Graphic Novels, and I’ve presented it several times in many variations since. But that first time, as I stood before an audience of art teachers and introduced myself, I realized I had to do something to convince them that I, an old middle school English teacher, might have something of value to share with them. It suddenly occurred to me that they were all artists, and I had the gall to talk tothem about a highly visual medium! I remember just blurting out, “How many of you read comics when you were a kid?” Every hand went up. I then admitted that I did notread comic books as a kid and even now, when I read comic strips in the newspapers, my eyes go right to the text. I went on to explain that although I didn’t read them, I had learned a lot about comics from my son and from research, and I was there to share what I had learned. As I looked at the faces in the room, I could see that they were with me. After that day, I used that opening question every time I did that session, and it always worked.
I’m in a different situation now, as a technology integrator for an elementary and a high school. Establishing credibility and trust is much more complex when teaching teachers with whom I will have an ongoing relationship, and it takes longer. In my workshops and presentations, I always tried to do it within the first few minutes, but I’ve been in my new job for a little over a month and I’m still working at it. As eager as I am to get into classrooms, to plan projects, and to team-teach, I know it will not happen immediately. Getting teachers to trust me and to feel I have something to offer will take time. Each weekend, I try to take some time to reflect on what I’ve accomplished during the week, and today I realized that every parking lot, hallway, or lunchroom conversation I had this week was important. When I exchanged stories with individuals about past teaching jobs, when I listened to their concerns about kids who were distracted by games on their iPads, even when I responded to a distress call about a jammed printer, I was building relationships.
It’s a beginning.
Image: © Andrew Greenstone. Used with permission.