Accidentally Networking as an Introvert

In preparation for the next semester, I recently attended a training held by my department.

The training started at 11AM. At 10:59AM, I knew precisely two people in the room: the person who hired me, and the person I had met at 10:45AM when we were the only two people in the room.

By lunch time, I had listened a lot and learned a lot, but I hadn’t actually met anyone else. And there were at least 50 people in the room – assuming I managed to feel un-awkward enough to introduce myself to someone, where would I even start?

Luckily, I wound up next to the woman who hired me at the lunch buffet. We chatted about a couple of things, and then I had the miraculous presence of mind to ask her:

“Who here should I particularly meet?”

Three minutes later, I had met the mentor for the particular class I’m assistant teaching, plus an assistant teacher experienced in that class.

Two minutes after that, she had pulled up up a chair at her table and I was having lunch with them, plus one of the teachers from the expert panel presentation and another experienced ESL teacher.

Did I just… did I just network?

5079551048_0bfb72bf61_z

I’m an introvert who really likes people. Or maybe I’m a shy extrovert? Or perhaps I’m just in the middle, with a muddle of characteristics of both?

In any case, certain things that are second-nature to some are elusive revelations to me.

“Networking” doesn’t have to be slimy. It doesn’t have to be about trying to sell something or get something. It’s really not always about using people.

It’s super fun to meet people you share interests with and who you can learn from person-to-person. And it makes sense to ask someone who knows you and knows the network to point you in the right direction.

I overlook that a lot.

I also overlook that to a some extent, I can help connect my students with each other, with resources, with other teachers, with the department, etc.

My role isn’t just managing the classroom. I’m embedded in a network that can be useful to them, and sharing it might have even more of an impact than my obsessively planned-out lesson.

Photo Credit: Sean MacEntee on Flickr

You’re reading Accidentally Networking as an Introvert, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

Advertisements

What I’m Up To, and What’s Next

Hello again! Just stopping by with another update.

Since we last spoke, I’ve had some great experiences in teaching ESL.

First, I did make it to one day of big TESOL in Baltimore early this Spring. Overall it was a good experience. The sessions I went to were good (if not game-changing), but the networking and re-connecting aspect of being there was completely fantastic.

Second, I taught a class that was new to me. I was more of a facilitator than a teacher, really. It was a Conversation Partners elective class in a full-time program for international students to improve their English. That deserves another post, which I hope to send your way soon!

Third, I’m currently in yet another ESL teaching position that’s new to me: assistant teacher. I waltz in for the last hour of class, help, and then leave. There is no prep. There is no stress. My only responsibility is to show up. This is not my long-term wish for my teaching career (is it weird that I miss the obsessive prepping?), but with the kids so young, it’s pretty much glorious for right now. I believe this gig warrants yet another post – I’ll get on that!

And fourth, a couple of the community colleges I’m affiliated with send out teaching articles as part of ongoing professional development. I think this is a great idea, though I wish there were a bit more dialog about them. I was thinking of posting some links and commentary here from time to time.

Since We Last Spoke

Hello!

Here’s what I’ve been up to since you last heard from me:

As you know, I gave myself “maternity leave” from the blog when my first baby was born. We are about to celebrate her fourth birthday, as well as her little sister’s first birthday. And we moved from our condo into a house. Lots of changes!

Professionally, I completed my MA TESOL. It was a great experience. It took my teaching to a new level, and it opened the door to teaching English for Academic Purposes (EAP), which I’ve been doing for a couple of years.

I’ve also committed to not just attending the annual MD TESOL conference, but making sure to be as extroverted as I can be while I’m there. So far I’ve stuck to it for two years running and it’s just such a wonderful chance to keep up with and meet more of the inspiring people in our field. I’m hoping to get to TESOL 2016 also because it’s in Maryland. It’s a big commitment of time, money, babysitting, and extroversion, but I suspect it will be worth it!

I would love to commit right here and now to blog journaling my next class the way I used to, but we’ll just have to see how it goes. I take teaching seriously, and I also take my family seriously. The past few years there hasn’t been much left for taking a blog seriously too, even though the reflection time and long tail of notes are both so valuable to me.

So that’s my status!

Volunteer Management Conference

After being kind of disappointed by MinneTESOL, I wasn’t hugely excited about the next conference on my list, the Volunteer Management Conference.

Concrete Bricks by Alesa Dam on Flickr
Concrete Bricks by Alesa Dam on Flickr

It seemed unlikely to be valuable because I was feeling pessimistic about conferences in general, and also because volunteer management is kind of a “fluffy” profession, not backed up by much research or data or formal history.

I’m thrilled to report that I was pleasantly surprised.  The sessions I went to did not perpetuate the fluff, but sought to give us concrete ideas and skills for taking our work to the next level.

I gained background in creating a volunteer-led ESL curriculum, setting up focus groups (of students and volunteers), addressing the 80/20 rule of life (that 80% of your effort will go to 20% of your tasks and problems), and creating well-designed flyers and brochures.

I think I actually found the last one to be the most useful.  Making flyers is one of those random parts of my job that I’m expected to just do, and I have never had the slightest bit of training on how to do a good job.  The presenter walked us through the four pieces of the puzzle that we need to consider, and three days later I still remember them: proximity, alignment, repetition, and contrast.

Here’s what I think she did right:

  1. limited her scope,
  2. stayed focused on it, and
  3. provided different levels of meaningful practice.

That presentation had no hand-outs.  This was disconcerting at first, but it turned out to be a strength.  Her goal wasn’t to give resources, but to convey four interrelated elements of design.  She didn’t try to make us into designers that afternoon.  The unified design she was teaching us was reflected in her presentation: she taught what she said she was going to teach, and she did it in a way that assured our attention was never split.  She also followed the basic format of a good ESL lesson: I do it, we do it, you do it.  By this I mean she gave us opportunities to practice what we were learning, and that over the course of the session she went from actively guiding our practice to letting us work through examples independently.

I think what made this conference stand out is that all the sessions I went to were taught in this way.  I hope other conferences catch on soon.

MinneTESOL

MinneTESOL was last Friday and Saturday.  Overall I’m glad I went, but I wasn’t quite blown away.

To my mind, the conference’s highlight was when Kao Kalia Yang, author of The Latehomecomer spoke on Friday evening.  It was poetic and moving and beautiful.

The rest of the conference was a let-down except when I went to presentations by Hamline University faculty.  And no, Hamline did not pay me to say that.  The fact is that their presentations were exactly what they sounded like, were well-thought out and easily within their expertise, included hands-on practice of what we were learning, engaged and engaging presentation style, and successfully distributed useful materials that I’ll be able to use and/or alter at the learning center.

There was actually one other worthwhile presentation about a research project in neurolinguistics.  It was just a talk with a PowerPoint but the speaker’s energy and focus on actually communicating with the audience made it work wonderfully.  My colleague also pointed out that the scope was perfect for a short presentation.

The other presentations committed the following (what I consider to be) sins:

  • the keynote was plain lecture with a busy, dense PowerPoint for an hour straight.  Also, they didn’t know that PowerPoint has several pointer features and that they didn’t have to point to parts of their graphs with their shadows.
  • one woman actually just read her paper to us without pause while her busy PowerPoint went on behind her.  I’m sorry, but I didn’t get up at 6:45AM on a Saturday for your airport voice.  Thank goodness she only wasted 20 minutes of my life.
  • the following 20-minute session was at least an attempt to communicate with the audience, but he had not only made too few hand-outs but misplaced some of them and didn’t freely pass his card around for us to contact him later.
  • the special interest brainstorm session on Adult Education had potential, but I ended up in a small group that was taken over by a group of three women griping about terrible cooperation between ESL/ABE and the MN State Colleges and Universities.  I wish we could have moved past that phase of the discussion.
  • I went to another 20-minute presentation in which the speaker concluded that adopting technology in the classroom was easier than people think and they just need more time.  Clearly he hadn’t seen the keynote in which they thought they knew PowerPoint.

I feel the conference as a whole could have done a better job with:

  • making sure there were on-site photocopying resources
  • facilitating electronic communication of presentation hand-outs in lieu of paper hand-outs (i.e. a Conference Resources page on their website, or an email directory of the presenters)
  • laying down some standards of presentation style

Several people I talked to agreed with me but remarked that these are perennial issues with conferences.  Which begs the question… why?  These are very fixable problems!

Conference Thoughts

Rewired State Presentations by Ben Dodson on Flickr
Rewired State Presentations by Ben Dodson on Flickr

(At the end of this post I ask a specific question about my tone.  Please tell me how I come across!)

I recently attended a small conference (maybe 80 or so participants) for half a day.  There was some good information and valuable context, very little of which I absorbed.  In short, here’s why:

  • I was not on board with the theme.
  • I could not see the speakers or Power Points properly.
  • The answers we needed were not there during our small group discussions.

A bit more on these points:

Not On Board

The conference was about distance learning, mostly about how we’ll be doing a lot more of it.

Well, ok.  Yes, there are many benefits, and yes, there is potential for us to reach more students.

But what about the fact that most teachers teach because they love the in-person interaction?  What about the fact that many of our students attend class as much for the social connections as the content?  What about the interesting combination of emphasizing things like additional trainings and “designating a distance learning staff member” while talking about looming budget problems?

These were issues on the minds of everyone I talked to, and the conference did not address them.  They were talking, and the participants were thinking, and they were not necessarily about the same things. I think they really missed an opportunity here by not meeting the skeptics where they were at.

I Couldn’t See

saving lives in church basements by smussyolay on Flickr
saving lives in church basements by smussyolay on Flickr

Ok, full disclosure: I arrived five minutes after the program started.  Sitting in the back was my fault.

That being said, lots of people had to sit in the back – there wasn’t room for everyone in the front.  All of us sitting in the back trying to see the Power Points and speakers had to contend not only with the people sitting in front of us, but with floor-to-ceiling support poles.  Not the greatest space.  In the future, no poles.

And now let’s talk about the PowerPoints.  They had a ton of tiny text, often in colors that didn’t have much contrast.  The presenters appeared (from what I could tell) to use them as notes.  Where does the nonprofit obsession with Best Practices go when it’s time to bust out a PowerPoint? Seriously, we can do better.  Seth Godin has some great pointers.

The Answers Weren’t There

Thankfully, the organizers did not plan an all-PowerPoint program.  For the second half they broke us into small groups with facilitators and well-thought-out questions to discuss.

The discussions were very “Collective Intelligence,” intended to have us share our knowledge.  We discussed some common fears too:  What if my job changes in a direction I find utterly mind-numbing (i.e. computer/internet troubleshooting)?  How is administration going to support the additional trainings I’ll need?  What assurances do I have that my other work will be reduced when I start taking on this new distance learning work?

My group actually did a great job of not focusing on the negatives or the potential negatives.  Still, it would have really helped us to be listened to and have some of those fears assuaged (or at least noted).

We took notes, and the organizers collected them at the end to type up and email out to our groups.  I really liked that.  They never said whether they plan to read them for content and respond to them though.  I very much hope that our notes are taken as an opportunity to listen and reply – the higher-ups and our students both need us folks in the middle to be on board.

So… on the spectrum of whiny vitriol (0) through groundbreaking problem-solving (10), where does this post land?

Oops! and Skype is Sneaky

I’m at a VISTA supervisor training in Dallas, and I completely forgot to blog.  Sorry!  I’ve met so many fascinating people and have lots to report.

One barrier to reporting this, besides full days of sessions and an evening out in Dallas was that Firefox was running funny, and I couldn’t understand why.  I finally figured out thanks to Felipe that when I installed Skype, it automatically/sneakily included a buggy Firefox add-on.  Shame on Skype for sliding that one under the table, and further shame for doing so with something that hurt my web-browsing.

More soon!