Conference Speakers: I Can Read. Now Make Me Laugh.

When I was a teacher, I often found myself wondering what superintendents did for a living (of course, this happened only after I had completed my lesson plans).

I was pretty sure they worked in education, but the specifics of the job were lost on me.  They looked busy, but I noticed they spent a lot of time out of the school district.

How could they run a school and not be in school?He Seems Like He's Enjoying the Conference.

Where did they go?

What were they doing?

Then I became a principal.  I assumed this would allow me to understand the inner sanctum of a superintendent (this sentence just sounds weird and borderline obscene… mainly because it is).

But no.  After a few years as principal, I still wasn’t 100% sure what superintendents did for a living.

But they seemed happy.

They seemed to enjoy their jobs.

So I became one (not the only reason, so easy on the angry emails).  And I found out what they already knew.

The superintendent’s position is the odd duck of a school district (insert your joke here). 

The job is as different from a teacher’s position, as a custodian’s or a coach’s.

The superintendent is in education, but just barely.  The primary focus of the job is no primary focus at all.

It’s people.  Students. Staff.  Money (or lack thereof).  Insurance.  Architects.  And meetings.

Lots and lots of meetings.

Meetings about stuff.  Meetings about nothing.  Meetings about meetings.

Most aren’t earth shattering.  If the truth be told one meeting isn’t much different than the previous 174 (but my anger at wasting time causes me to digress).

Another item on the superintendent’s to-do list is attending conferences. 

They are meetings on steroids.

I’ve found conferences always mean the same things.

Uncomfortable chairs.

Bad carpet.

People who want to shake your hand.

Rooms that are too hot.  Or too cold.  And dry.  Like desert dry (why is that?).

There are overheads.  PowerPoint slides.   And handouts. 

And more podiums than I can count.  Is it a law that you have to stand behind a big wooden box with the hotel logo on it when you speak?

And for every podium there are 5 people with giant name tags.

Each conference has at least 100 people listed as presenters.  Which means, by the law of averages, one will be great and one will be good.

That leaves 98 other presenters (check my math).

98 people who want to have a conference presentation on their resume.  Why they want this, I will never know.

As far as resumes go, is speaking at a conference a deal breaker on getting a new job?

Does it boost your income?

Provide better health insurance?

Increase your retirement package?

Whatever benefits presenting provides, I have a simple request (I’ve made it before and I’ll make it again).

Is it too much to ask when I (or a school district) pay hundreds of dollars in conference fees that someone with a microphone makes me smile.

I’m not asking for Carrot Top quality entertainment here, just a giggle.  Or a grin.  Or a split-second of happiness.

Anything, but someone standing behind the sacred podium reading a PowerPoint in a monotone voice (I know this comes as a shock, but I can read).

Why do I have to be held captive just so they can improve their job prospects?

The best conference speakers aren’t the ones with a ground-breaking message.

The ones you remember are funny.

It might be a joke.  Could be a video (YouTube has them for free you know).  Maybe even a self-deprecating story.

There are parts of being a superintendent that continue to be a mystery, but after 8,000 meetings/conferences I think I’ve discovered the formula for a memorable presentation.

A simple message + at least one laugh.

Try it. Your audience will like it.

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Good Presenters Are…


I know nothing about a lot of things.

One of these is my limited understanding of giving a presentation.

But lack of knowledge doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion (my blog after all).

A great presentation requires many things.

A nice room.  Comfortable seating.  Air conditioning, but not too much air conditioning (I get cold now that I’m old).  A PowerPoint that doesn’t have Funny is Always Good.a bazillion words on each slide.  An internet connection that isn’t slower than dial-up.  Free stuff (you can buy an audience’s love with food, pens, letter openers, umbrella (?)… possibly a car).

The problem is most people only focus on these items.

They double-check the room set-up.  They obsess on the sound system.  They spend hours preparing their PowerPoints.  They go to great lengths to memorize entire presentations.  They make sure they look professional.  The buy all kinds of crap with their name/logo on it (don’t get me wrong, I like free crap… but it’s still crap).

Then they present.

And it stinks.

It’s totally unremarkable.  It’s hard to remember what the presenter said 10 minutes after it’s over.

I don’t understand why people do this.

Especially when the problem is so obvious.

It’s wasn’t the room.  It’s wasn’t the PowerPoint (although for the love of Pete… stop with all of the words and clipart… and remember your audience can get your general idea in less that 120 slides).  It wasn’t even that the free stuff was crappier than usual (again, it’s crap… but keep it coming… I can never have too many nail files).

The problem was the presenter.

Most are very knowledgeable.  Most have a great deal they want to share.  Most are very well prepared.

And most are still boring.

Not bad.  Just boring.

Really boring (like Mitt Romney boring).

It’s like watching slides of your parents’ first vacation to a local state park from 40 years ago (explanation for the kids:  slides pre-dated digital cameras, Polaroids, colored film, and life as we know it).

Boring is always worse worse than bad.

Poor presentations can always be traced back to one thing.

They weren’t funny.

That’s the key.


The more the better.

The presenter doesn’t have to be a professional comedian, but every presentation needs a little entertainment value.

It can be a joke.  Or a video.  Or even an activity (as long as I don’t have to participate… not interested in group projects or role-playing… that’s just me).

Maybe a talking dog or a monkey in a suit (always funny).

But it has to entertain people on some level.

If you want me to remember your great idea, you need to make me smile.

And don’t forget… if all else fails, give me free crap.

You had me at funny.

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Blogging Makes You Smarter.

Every so often, I try to write(?) a blog that encourages (or shames) educators to embrace (or a least try) technology.

While I don’t know if I’ve made any headway, I’m not willing to give up.

Most school administrators don’t know jack about technology (we could have a longer conversation about what else administrators don’t know, but this is a family blog and we need to watch our language).

I point this out because I would include myself in this group.  Most of us learn the basics, but we are hesitant to delve any deeper into the ever-changing world that involves computers (and other iStuff).

Show us how our email works, explain the basics of Excel, hook up a projector so we can present a bad PowerPoint with far too many words, and maybe even sign us up for a Facebook or Twitter account (this last one is just an example because I realize most administrators are frightened of being Tweeted).

Oh, I almost forgot cell phones.This is a School Administrator Before They Started a Blog.

We need our phones.

Sort of.

We only know how to use 12% of their capability, but we know we need them.

Since administrators find cell phones confusing (and frightening), we try to keep them out of our schools.

I not sure why we are against students bringing mini-computers (that their parents paid for) to school, but we are… and it’s not up for discussion.

This lack of understanding and interest in technology is disturbing.

We are educators after all.

We went to college so we could teach the future, not the past (I hate the “teach the future” phrase, but it seems to fit here).

Yet we continue to ignore technology.

This may be a generational issue.  It could be a question of ambition.  It’s probably something that I don’t understand (again… administrators… we aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer).

Whatever it is, I shouldn’t complain too much.

For the last 3 years, I’ve benefited from being one of the few administrators who blog.

There are certainly others, but most have been unable to combine my complete lack of understanding of the English language, with just a hint of sarcasm (like the last 5 words), and an almost perverse ability to blog on a consistent basis.

What can I say, it works for me.

When I say I’ve benefited, I don’t mean financially.

Blogging doesn’t pay the bills.  Or a single bill now that I think about it.

But it has given me opportunities.

More opportunities than I could have imagined.

The greatest thing about blogging… it makes you smarter.

Way smarter.

Granted, I started out in the deep end of the dumb pool but blogging has broadened my understanding of education.

And what superintendent or principal doesn’t need an upgrade in intelligence (I will give the teachers reading this a moment to compose themselves as they wipe away the tears of laughter)?

Blogging is free professional development at your kitchen table (or wherever you choose to type… I’m not here to judge).

No college class required.  No long drive to a workshop that might not be terrible.  You don’t even have to try and find a mentor (which is the French word for “someone who doesn’t want to see you fired”).

It’s simple.  You blog.  People read it.  Then they tell you what a moron you are.

This is how you learn and broaden your perspective (it’s a form of tough love).

It’s great.

And so informative.

I think every administrator should blog and become part of a larger discussion on education.

I also think people fear they may say (or type) something they will regret later.


But the reward of what you can learn far outweighs the risk (really, what is the downside from learning more stuff from more people?).

And the students are worth it.

PowerPoint will only take you so far (even if you use 105 slides with really small font).

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I Need a Book Deal.

Consultants make a lot of money.  And by a lot, I mean a boatload.

It’s like robbery, but they use a PowerPoint instead of a gun.

This leads me to believe I need a book deal.

Each and every speaker I am forced to listen to has a book they are pushing.This is Genuis.  My Book Won't Have Actual Words Inside.

I’m not a smart man, but it’s occurred to me that these speakers aren’t giving away things for free.  Especially their “knowledge”.

And then there is me.

No book.  No t-shirts.  No CD’s (do they still make CD’s???).  No advertisements. 

No nothing.

Everything is free.

All of my “knowledge” is out there for anyone to use. 

I get the impression these speakers aren’t even concerned about selling their books.  If you want to buy their book great; if you don’t who cares (certainly not them).

Why their disinterest in selling books?

Because some organization just paid them big-money to come and speak.  And in far too many cases, waste most of my day.

They aren’t selling their book as much as using it to prop up the idea that they are an expert.

And sadly, this scam seems to be working.

I seem to be getting the short-end of the deal.

They write a book (supposedly… who actually knows because no one ever reads it).  They put together a PowerPoint presentation with way too many slides with way too many words on them.  Then they get paid to give a speech because they are an “author”.

All of this makes them an expert (as long as they go more than 100 miles from their former place of employment).

Good deal for them.

Bad deal for me because I have to sit through their speech.

Often times, they casually mention their book in the speech/PowerPoint (like a thousand times…).  I don’t buy the book (nobody buys the book).  I leave the speech angry because my day has been wasted (everyone leaves the speech angry… except them).

I drive home with high-blood pressure (not really) and they swing by the bank on the way to the airport to cash their rather large check.

It’s a crime.

I need a book.  This whole blog thing isn’t paying the bills.

Don’t get me wrong.  Needing a book and writing a book are two different things.

I’m not the least bit interested in actually writing a book.

That would take both talent and patience.  And a coherent thought.  I have none of these.

I am looking for a publishing company that will simply set up a “fake” book with my picture on the back.

If someone would be kind enough to do this (and I’m willing to pay… upwards of $43 for this service), I can get started putting together a PowerPoint.

Then I will hit the road.

Of course, I will only give speeches when I’m at least 100 miles from home.

I certainly can’t declare myself an expert where people know me.

That would just be crazy.

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Is Three-Day Weekend a Mood?

I’m in my 7th year as a school administrator (for those of you counting at home… that’s 49 years if I were principal of a kennel).

When you have been in administration as long as I have it does strange things to you (somewhere there is a principal or superintendent starting his or her 40th year that is mocking me… and I mean mocking me more than usual).

My personality has been forever changed since I left teaching. I’ve lost something and it has taken me the longest time to figure out what.

Yesterday, it came to me.He's Grumpy.  And He has Cool Shoes.

I’ve lost my moods.

When I was younger, I had a wide range of different moods.

Happy, sad, excited, angry, jealous, fear, guilt, and all the rest.

After seven long years (that have flown by) I am left with only two moods.

Grumpy and Three-Day-Weekend.

Even when I’m experiencing the Three-Day Weekend euphoria… it always comes crashing down on Sunday night… which means grumpy returns.

Grumpy sounds bad, but it really isn’t.

It’s just a combination of extremely busy, slightly overwhelmed, mixed in with a hint of worry (on a good day… on a bad day there is a lot of worry).

This became crystal clear to me yesterday because I had a flashback.

Back to when I was teaching.

A time when I had more moods (and less money).

I spent the morning working on a highly sophisticated technology project with other administrators (sometimes referred to as a PowerPoint).

Putting administrators in charge of a project this complicated is at best a roll of the dice.

At worst, it’s an embarrassing nightmare that ends up with lots of slides with way too many words, bullet points, and bad clipart.

But we got lucky.

Because I was there (I sense there may be more mocking).

And who knows more about technology than me?

The correct answer is just about everyone. The even more correct answer is my wife.

And she has trained me well.

Not around the house, because that is still a work in progress. But with technology.

Actually, the truth is she has a long way to go before she has me fixed in knowledge of all things technology (and that’s not the only thing she would like to have fixed on me…).

But she has got me trained better than most.

This brings me back to yesterday. I didn’t have to know exactly what I was doing, I just needed to know a little more than the other administrators.

It was like when the bear chased my friend and me through the woods. I didn’t have to be faster than the bear, I just had to be faster than my friend (I kind of miss him).

So with my little bit of knowledge (learned from my wife… or stolen if you want to spit hairs), I was able to help with the PowerPoint.

For the first time in many years, I felt like I actually got to teach.

I got to experience the feeling that teachers live for. The moment when a student gets it (which if I remember correctly doesn’t happen as often enough as teachers would like).

Students light up when a concept finally makes sense to them. When it happens you can see it all over their faces.

It’s great.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen nearly as often in administration as it does in the classroom.

I wish it did.

What’s odd is I didn’t even know I missed this feeling until yesterday. I wonder if that’s because I’ve been stuck on grumpy since my last three day weekend.

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While this site operates with the knowledge and awareness of the Tuscola CUSD #301 School Board, Tuscola, Illinois, the content and opinions posted here may or may not represent their views personally or collectively, nor does it attempt to represent the official viewpoint of Tuscola CUSD #301 administrators or employees.