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The teachers who come to my conference center definitely feel at home, but they also feel like royalty! Instead of releasing them by rows or by the colors they are wearing so we don’t have a mass exodus at the breaks, I have several of my consultants bring in a “luxury snack” on an old-time tea trolley. As each table receives their “luxury snack” they are then released to take care of their needs or visit the educator’s store on our premises. The morning “luxury snack” is always chocolate-covered strawberries and the afternoon “luxury snack” is specific to that day’s theme such as a small birthday cake for each table, a fruit-kabob with a coconut cup that’s filled with pink lemonade, guacamole with chips and salsa, or outer-space ice cream.
During the break, teachers can use the specialty restroom that is complete with every scent of soap available from Bath and Body Works. I also have provided a store, a true convenience store that carries our product line. Teachers do not have to buy a single thing from the store to implement our concepts because they walk away with all of the necessary blackline masters to recreate the activities in their own classrooms as part of the seminar. However, teachers are extremely busy and sometimes it is easier to just be able to buy things already made for you. Whenever you create props fro a demonstration that you model, make a few extra sets. Save the teachers the time of recreating your model. Give the sets as door prizes and it is sure to make a teacher’s day!
Volunteering is greatly rewarded. If teachers actually experience an activity, they are more likely to implement it in their classrooms. However, adults do not always jump at the opportunity to volunteer amongst their peers, but they do at my conference center! Whenever someone volunteers they receive a wrapped door prize. Sometimes the prizes are actual gifts and sometimes the prizes are gift certificates for the store. Then, before they are released on their breaks we have an “opening frenzy.” I love seeing their faces as they unwrap the gifts. There is something about opening a present that makes a person happy. So, the next time you provide door prizes wrap them up and notice the happy expressions on the teachers’ faces as they unwrap the gifts! Every time a person smiles the fondness of what is going on around him/her is stored in their brain!
Another effective memory-maker strategy is using smell. I always have either vanilla, pumpkin, or homemade cookie candles burning in the conference center. These particular smells usually are already attached with positive experiences in people’s lives. So, from the beginning, participants are thinking back to a sweet memory when they enter the conference center!
In addition to the atmosphere, teachers (just like students) need variety in their day. Six hours of lecture time doesn’t tend to work for anyone I have ever known. Every activity that we discuss is explained auditorally, visually, and then kinesthetically. Just as we want them to model to their students, we must be modeling for our teachers as well. A balance of small group, medium group, whole group, and individual activities tend to add to the flow of the day. This constant flow is imperative to keeping their attention. As a consultant, you do not want to lose a teacher’s train of thinking because it is very difficult to get it back on track. A huge compliment to any consultant is when the teachers are released for lunch and they all look down at their watches for the very first time and say. “It’s already time for lunch?!”
The smooth flow of the day is important after lunch, too. Since so many times participants tend to drift in at different times after lunch, I have made sure of three things: 1) always welcome them so that they don’t feel bad for returning a little late, 2) begin with a talkative activity right after lunch so as they trickle in people are less likely to be disturbed or embarrassed, 3) make sure the page number of what you are doing is visually posted so that a late-comer does not disrupt others by having to ask the page number.
Then, to make sure teachers feel welcomed to actively participate when their hand-outs are involved, provide duplicate pages for any activity that calls for the teacher to cut, color, glue, or write on the activity page. The rate of participation increases greatly when teachers know they are not “messing up” their only copy. A clean blackline master is important to teachers.
Additionally, teachers by and large know WHAT needs to be accomplished. They need to know HOW to do it. Seminar after seminar tells teachers what needs to be happening in their classrooms. So make your inservice different and actually show them how! Leading by example is key. Try to anticipate their every need and their every desire. The more you anticipate and plan the more your teachers will know where your heart is. You will also notice the smooth flow you will obtain in your inservices!
Think back for a moment to the case scenario mentioned earlier about the table of teachers and the chocolate. The teacher getting up and throwing away the wrappers probably impeded the flow of the seminar for a moment. A small, simple trashcan at each table could have prevented the interruption.
Stop and take time to visualize the best workshop you have ever attended. Go ahead. Really. Close your eyes and take deep breaths. How did you feel when you walked away from the inservice? Have you compared all other inservices to that one?
As we strive to polish both sides of the school coin, we learn that both sides are beautiful and worthy of the same attitude of service and love. Unless your teachers retire or stay home to have a baby, keep your teachers coming back for more of your unique style that makes your building stronger and happier! So…bring in some chocolate covered strawberries, buy them seat cushions for Christmas, or wrap a few door prizes. It will be the small things that make a huge difference.