William Riggs

     A recent article in Education Week Magazine (by Sarah Schwartz, May 15, 2019) reports that the most profound emotion that educational in-service speakers evoke in teachers is… wait for it… disrespect. Wow! All that planning, work, and money invested by school districts in Professional Development days is often not only wasted, but transformed into a net negative. Teachers feel like they’ve been slapped in the face. This outcome doesn’t surprise me. I’ve been conducting teacher in-services for more than two decades and frequently hear afterwards: “That was the first in-service of my career that actually helped me, or that I even paid attention to.” One teacher even commented that her usual habit (and silent protest) during professional development sessions was to take out her phone and play “Angry Birds” the whole time, but that she never even thought about doing so during my presentation. The Education Week article was actually emailed to me by an educator who wanted me to see it, commenting, “Yours was the best I’ve ever heard.” Why are most in-services a waste of time or “agony” as one teacher told me?
     Mandatory seminars and credentialed speakers rarely touch on subjects of interest or import to educators. Instead, they pontificate on subjects irrelevant to their work or too esoteric to be of any practical use in the classroom. Others deliver information that most of the teachers have already known for many years. Moreover, they often violate the very best-practices they preach: using poor grammar, speaking to their slides, not reading their audiences, standing motionless while talking in a monotone, spinning hypotheses without ever applying them to real life, etc. Worse still, they commit the cardinal sin of being boring. (If a boring teacher doesn’t teach the students anything, how can we reasonably expect a boring speaker to teach the teachers anything?)
     Professional Development training must – at the risk of stating the obvious – accomplish two things: 1) Treat the hearers as the professionals they are and, 2) Develop them. The goal is not to check a PD box, use up designated grant funds, or to fill a speaking slot. The objective is to do for district employees (all of them, not just certified staff) what a football coach should be doing for his players. The coach’s role is dual, and both parts are essential.
     First, a coach must improve his players’ skills and knowledge. An in-service is an opportunity to educate the educators, make them better in the classroom, and keep them up-to-date and informed. When time permits, I always use part of my in-service speeches to train teachers how to seize and rivet students’ attention, engage them, and implant knowledge in their brains. My company, Verbalescence, teaches anyone how to speak publicly and become more dynamic in front of a group of people. (I’m not just a presenter, but a speaking coach.)
     Secondly, the coach must inflame the players’ emotions with a passion to be their best and to win. An in-service speaker who doesn’t grip hearts or touch emotions will rarely be worth the time and money you invest in bringing them in, for any worthwhile ideas communicated are quickly forgotten. Only when people’s emotions are moved are their ideas likely to be implemented, for it is the touching of the heart that transforms ideas into useful action.
     This dynamic duo of qualities come bundled together in a good speaker, for dreams must be both taught and caught. A dream that is taught, but not caught, is drudgery. A dream that is caught, but not taught, is anarchy. Only a dream that is caught and taught leads to victory. I strive to do both in my every presentation. I deliver a message that is deeply relevant and inspiring, immediately practical and useful, and so fun that they can’t help but laugh their way to learning.

William Riggs

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