Career Changing

Some thoughts from my first ever presentation as a conference keynote speaker.


Yesterday I was invited by the Pennsylvania Association for Education in Communications and Technology to deliver my first ever keynote presentation at the 2019 Keystone Technology Innovator’s Summit. Generously, the team offered me a morning slot of two full hours, and an open invitation to cook up any sort of presentation I thought would help get their team of about 100 teachers from throughout the state of Pennsylvania fired up to change the game for the upcoming school year. The conference was hosted at Shippensburg University, not too far from where I grew up in northwestern New Jersey, and I was pumped to head back to my stomping grounds. My only request was that I could invite my parents to come along to see the presentation firsthand. My mom’s a retired teacher. And my dad spent my childhood volunteering as a little league baseball and soccer coach. I couldn’t wait to show them what I do.

Naturally, we started with a game, where 16 teams competed in a massive Mario Kart-themed #QRBreakIN.

Breaking activities into small group challenges like playing with Rory’s Story Cubes.

And competing to see which squad could be the first to race to the finish.

Popping balloons to keep track of how many stations each team had completed.

While collecting power-up cards and mastering game-inspired instructional strategies.

The energy was high.

And the competition was fierce!

But by taking a game-based approach to working alongside fellow educators, it really helped us relax into the day and learn from one another.

Turns out games can be a pretty effective Trojan Horse for some serious education.

Here’s a few video highlights of what the day looked like in action:

After the game was over, it was time for the main stage keynote presentation. Lectures, as we all know, are routinely awful — and among the least effective ways to actually learn something. So instead of rattling off a bunch of bullet points, we debriefed the hands-on game-play by focusing on the things that motivate us.

And tried to share a few messages to keep the big picture in mind.

As a general rule, I think many keynote presenters tend too rely too heavily on pithy motivational quotes — regardless of their field of experience. But you’ve got to remember, presenters are humans too. And they’re trying to reach large audiences. So sometimes, a universal message is a good way to leave a group with something bite-sized to take home and chew on long after the day has ended.

But from a personal preference, my favorite keynotes have always been those presenters who mix a few stories from their own classroom with a few thoughtfully selected works of research.

Ultimately, I think a good presenter should leave people feeling inspired without feeling overwhelmed, and provide them with the foundations for future growth along with a few simple steps to help get them started.

People were excited.

And said some really nice things.

Like, really nice things.

Not going to lie: the entire experience has been incredibly humbling and very surreal.

After the presentation, had the chance to meet with conference attendees one on one. Talk shop, grab lunch, and sign a few books.

It was really inspiring to see teacher’s minds start racing with ideas on how they could implement strategies from the presentation in their own classrooms.

And I was psyched to see wheels spinning from teachers across all content areas. Teaching is both an art and a science — and so it’s really encouraging to see that the same basic approaches can light a fire for teachers regardless of their subject area.

There was even a really cool moment where a teacher who’d snagged a Kindle copy of the book asked me to sign her arm instead. My life is really weird sometimes.

But my favorite part of the day, without question, was the fact that my family was there with me.

My mom.

And my dad.

So grateful for their support, and blown away by their amazing examples as parents and role models. Incredibly proud to share this experience with them.

Author: John

John Meehan (@MeehanEDU) is an English teacher and school instructional coach at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia. He began his teaching career in 2010 as a career switcher through The New Teacher Project, after spending five years working in social media and event marketing. He is a 2017 ASCD Emerging Leader, and an alumnus of the 2016-2018 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council. In 2016, he was named one of Arlington, Virginia’s “40 Under 40” by the Leadership Center for Excellence. He is a past presenter and regular attendee at educational conferences throughout the United States, including the annual conference for National Catholic Education Association, ASCD Empower19, and the Play Like a Champion Today: Character Education Through Sports summer conference at the University of Notre Dame. He’s an avid runner who’s completed more than three dozen marathons, half marathons, long-distance road relays, mud runs, and obstacle course races. John lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

2 thoughts

  1. Thanks again! It was so great to meet you and hear how you are using gamification. It was so fantastic, next time pay attention to the exit signs… Haha. – dave

    1. Hahaha. Tremendously appreciated Dave! Had a blast with y’all — so much so that *OF COURSE* I was too excited talking with my folks on the phone to pay attention to the GPS on the drive home. Five hours of driving later… safely back where I started. But so worth it!

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