The Chocolate Covered Strawberry Effect…. Inservices That Truly Service Part 1


By Randi Whitney

“Would you like a chocolate covered strawberry Ma’am?” This is a question that few teachers have ever heard at an inservice – unless they have been to one of mine. I think that most educators would agree that what we do for children day in and day out is a service-based, heartfelt act of love. It is no wonder children love coming to school! And on the other side of that shiny coin is a less looked at aspect of education – teacher happiness and retention.

For many years I have traveled from city to city logging thousands of miles in the air. On one particular flight I sat next to a very happy, energetic, and genuine flight attendant. Intrigued by her willingness and desire to help everyone, and by her uncanny ability to anticipate our needs before we even knew what they were, I asked her a question. “Why do you love your work so much?” Her reply was simple, yet profound. “Because this company loves me.” Upon further conversation, she told me that her company’s motto is to make the employee happy first and the customer second. This took me by surprise! The theory behind that, of course, was that no matter how many great things were put on the plane for the customer’s convenience it all depended on a friendly delivery by the employee. And since the “boss” could not always be there to watch over everything, this company realized the importance of making this happiness intrinsic. This flight attendant’s attitude was not fostered over the course of one pep rally, it took weeks, months, and years of consistent respect, love, creativity, and fun.

For 22 years, I have been giving seminars to educators about teaching writing to their students…not handwriting, although that is important…and not nouns and verbs, although they are important, too. But rather, how to compose a composition that will leave their audience amazed at its content, style, voice, and fluency. So much of what I share with educators has to do with making their students feel confident with their abilities and safe to take risks with new ideas. I suggest everything from room arrangement, auditory atmosphere, and tone of voice before ever even mentioning the content at hand. If we want students to input, store, and retrieve our valuable information, then we have an obligation to set that stage accordingly.

The same rings true for adult learners. So as I have traveled around to countless schools, districts, regions, hotels, and conference centers I began to have a vision of how the ideal inservice should be conducted. As I would travel from place to place I carried with me a notebook where I would write down ideas as they would come to my mind as to what I thought the perfect inservice should be. Not only so that teachers would enjoy their jobs, but so that they would retain information for years to come!

One beautiful thing that I learned early on about teachers is that they delight at the smallest special touches. Having grown up in a family of teachers and preachers I must have taken on that same quality because my husband often comments, “It is so easy to make you happy!” The same is true with teachers. I have seen teachers who were tired after lunch squeal with excitement over a bowl of assorted chocolates. It always makes me smile when those same teachers then divide the pieces out evenly and begin sharing why a certain kind of candy bar is their favorite. I have also seen that same group of teachers neatly stack their used candy wrappers in little piles on the table to the point that one of them is finally bothered by the wrappers. She’ll then gather all the wrappers at the table and stand to look for the nearest trash can to dispose of the bothersome pieces of foil. As she is walking away from her tight-knit group, they smile and say, “Oh! She always does that. She can’t stand the mess.” And then, if that group of teachers is anything like my team, they would jokingly try to find more empty wrappers to put at her spot before she returned. No doubt about it, this case scenario is played out time and time again. There are just some things that we know about teachers. They love the little things, like chocolate. They organize their trash into stacks. They like a clear workspace (we work at this one the most, but rarely attain our goals). They enjoy their fellow teachers. And they have great senses of humor. Since we know so much about teachers wouldn’t it be easy to cater to them?