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By Randi Whitney
Sometimes principals and consultants get so involved in the information they are sharing, they overlook the smaller things. But here’s the big thing…creating an atmosphere where the small things are in place helps to foster an attitude that allows the brain to happily accept new information about the bigger things. Not only does the brain accept the content that the principal or consultant is conveying, but it also has a specific place in which to store the information. In other words, I teach different information during each day of my Four-Day Presentation. Some teachers attend the seminar all at once in a Four-Day Summer Institute, while other teachers attend the days separately throughout the school year. There are even some teachers who only attend Part I. In any case, I want them to be able to easily retrieve crucial information long after they have left my seminar. Therefore, each day of my seminars has a different theme. Part I is a birthday party theme, Part II is an Hawaiian Luau theme, Part III is a cowboy theme, and Part IV is a space theme. This helps teachers as they try to recall a specific concept. For example, Starring (Idea Development) is a major concept introduced in Part I. When teachers sit down to plan a lesson on starring, I want them to be able to close their eyes and visualize in their mind’s eye (the visual cortex of the brain) the activity where we used the birthday balloons and first learned about starring. So, in effect I have helped them efficiently store and effectively retrieve a key concept from the seminar. Which, after all, is the point. I have also created the memory of when they learned the concept to be one of fun and enjoyment. By doing this, I increase the chances of the teacher smiling when thinking back on the seminar. And that smile usually translates into a lesson the teacher will use and its enjoyment will resonate as the concept is spread to the students. The students will then remember the new concept in a positive light and thus they will store it efficiently and then later retrieve it effectively as well. Mission accomplished! The students’ brains now forever house a key writing concept that will follow them all the days of their lives. All of this success simply because I brought in a few balloons? Not exactly.
The entire atmosphere had to be in place from the very beginning. Every teacher knows from the moment they enter my conference center, they are appreciated, loved, treasured, and in for a day like they have never had before! No stone has been left unturned. The motif is that of an antique sitting room, or a coffee house, where good friends get together and share great ideas. The tables and chairs are from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s, as is the stained glass that adorns the windows. The tables are decorated with crystal bowls that sit atop the off-white doilies. The bowls house many things that make their day run a little smoother. Of course, their supplies for the interactive writing workshop (such as adult-sized scissors, glue sticks, and colored pencils) are there. I do not want to spend valuable seminar time passing out supplies. In addition, teachers will find various highlighters, paper clips, sticky notes of several sizes, and sticky tabs so that they can take their notes in whichever way works best for them. Educators will also find tissues and antibacterial hand sanitizer at each table.
To make their sitting experience as pleasurable as possible, I have provided cushions for anyone who would like one. Then, on the breaks they can enjoy a vibrating massage chair to treat those sore muscles that are accustomed to crouching down on small, plastic, round stools intended for an eight-year old bottom and a thirty minute lunch period. Or, if a teacher is really lucky, they will get to sit on the slightly taller, wooden chairs in the library that were intended for a nine-year old. And here’s another marvelous thing about teachers – they never complain about it! But how excited they would be if the principal brought in a stack of seat cushions and said, “I can’t get you the chairs you deserve, but I sure can add to the comfort of the ones we already have!” Teachers would never forget that faculty meeting when you gave them those seat cushions!
Then, of course, there is the temperature of the room. No matter what the thermostat is set on, someone is bound to be too cold or too hot. Instead of throwing my arms in the air in frustration with this, I provide really soft chenille throws so that they can wrap up and get warmer. This single act has elicited more thoughtful comments than anything else I provide. In fact, there have been several times where I’ve noticed that more than half of the teachers are wrapped up in the throws. When asking if they’re cold, they’ve responded, “No, we just like feeling like we’re at home. We learn better when we’re comfortable.” That is exactly right! But don’t think I forgot those ladies who need it a little cooler. For them, I have small personal fans!