Outreach, Performance, and Introversion

I’ve been doing a lot of outreach work recently. For example, this week I’m running education sessions for over 180 high school students.  In most cases the students are visiting in groups of 40-50 to learn about residential schools and the Shingwauk Indian Residential School site. In instances I’m co-teaching these sessions with a residential school survivor and in other cases I’m running these sessions solo.  I’m also teaching a public history course this term which has caused me to think a lot more about instruction styles and engagement.

Recently Myron Groover wrote a series of tweets that discussed the idea of teaching as performance.  I’ve embedded a few of Myron’s tweets below but I would encourage folks to read the whole thread.

The idea of teaching as performance really resonated with me. I enjoy teaching and I enjoy outreach work. But to be honest I often find it outright exhausting. I’m an introvert and having to constantly be ‘on’ while doing outreach can be really draining.  When I do K-to-12 outreach programming it’s often delivering a variation of a lesson I’ve done hundreds of times, however just interacting with students for extended periods of times can be tiring.

One of the challenges of doing outreach work with K-12 and post-secondary students is the limited amount of time you’re spending with them.  What material students know prior to me talking with them varies greatly and I often tailor my plan for a session based on the first 10-15 minutes with the students.  Reading and getting to know my audience is particularly important in the situations where I’m talking about residential schools.  The material that we’re covering can be triggering and sensitive in nature and I want to make sure I’m providing a supportive space for students to learn in – while being aware of the need to shift gears depending on how students are reacting to the material.

Over the years I’ve developed personal practices to help with the performative nature of instruction sessions.  These include:

  • Whenever possible I’m trying to not book more than one school group a day.  Wrangling a bunch of students who are on a field trip can be hard and scheduling more than one group in a day means the second group ends up getting a tired version of me that isn’t quite on my best game. I realize I’m extremely lucky in that I get to set my own outreach schedule and that this is a luxury that might not be possible for many people.
  • I also try to schedule time immediately prior to and after the instruction session for me to decompress.  I use the time before to do any last minute prep and room setup and the time afterwards to reorient myself.
  • If I have high school students for more than one hour I need to incorporate hands-on activities. This is in addition to audio-visual materials and guided discussion.
  • If I have an elementary school group for any length of time I incorporate hands-on activities.
  • I have a roster of backup activities to turn to just in case a) the group is particularly restless, b) I’m sick/need to give myself a break c) The group works through the planned activities quicker than anticipated.

What techniques do you use to help cope with the performative nature of teaching and outreach?