Presenting a workshop or seminar is at least as good a learning experience for the presenter as it is for the participants. The presenter continually updates his/her understanding as it is reflected back from the participants.
In a room with 30 educators there are at least 31 different opinions about everything, and, while we may not agree with all the views expressed, we at least gain an understanding of the perspectives of others.
We all get the 5 to 15 percent of participants who, for their own reasons, do not want to be there and, again, for their own reasons, want to take it out on the rest. Invariably, these are far outweighed by those who approach the presenter during, or after, the session to express their appreciation of either new understanding and/or a reminder of something they know, but have left out of their repertoire in recent times.
Rather than simply dispense “wisdom”, presenters must acknowledge that, in virtually every group of teachers, there is a vast store of collective pedagogical skills and knowledge, which, for various reasons, is not universally employed. Teachers need to know that their knowledge is valued. Therefore, the real task of people who work with teachers is to clarify this prior knowledge, maybe add a bit to it, and then draw it together into a framework that all teachers can use. A major aspect of any presentation is showing participants how they can immediately return to their classrooms and improve the educational outcomes for their students, and helping them develop the intrinsic motivation for doing this.
It is very interesting to see how teachers from different cultures approach interactive professional development. Indonesians, for example, usually love to have fun, and, when they get the chance to do group presentations will often opt for role plays, songs and dances. People from “western” cultures vary in their approach to learning engagements in a workshop that lead to emotional “highs” – some lead the way, while, at the other end of the spectrum, others become downright hostile. In more group-orientated cultures, the latter does not happen, because even the most (initially) resistant participant is quickly drawn in by other members of the audience, and ends up as enthusiastic as the rest.
The point, of course, of using enjoyable engagements and involving participants in group interactions, is for them to actually experience the sorts of things that facilitate deeper learning with their students, rather than just read or hear about it – strong memories need something to “hang” on, and emotions are perfect for this. We need to be mindful of the different needs of those who are not completely “on board” with the workshop/seminar, while not compromising the enthusiasm for new learning of the majority.
So, presenters need to assess the audience very quickly, and balance flexibility with what is effective learning. At the end of the day, if there is an audience with a majority of participants who simply wish to sit with their friends and not challenge themselves, the experience can become uncomfortable for all concerned. The presenter can be left feeling like a stand-up comedian whose joke has fallen flat. Luckily, the very great majority of audiences appreciate the time and planning that has gone into the professional development activity and enact the old adage that “you get out of it what you put into it”.