Effective Teacher Inservices

Fill ‘Er Up!

Someone asked me many years ago if I knew how to say the word, “NO.”  To be honest, I had never considered saying no to anything anyone asked of me.  Over time, I found myself putting off things I needed to do for myself in order to help other people’s goals come true.  This began to wear me down.  I soon realized how important it was to say, “No.”  “No,” doesn’t mean that you do not want to lend a hand to others.  It simply means that you need to stay healthy and alert for all of the things that you have already said, “Yes,” to along the way.

Many people think about filling up their cups, but does anyone ever consider that the pitcher needs to be refilled, too?  In our lives, we are most often the pitcher.  Since we are teachers, we tend to help everyone around us and try to be everything to everyone.  What a wonderful way to design a teacher! However, this blog series is about filling up the pitcher – you!

Take a long, hot bath and sing at the top of your lungs, because sweet friend, you have a lot a preparing ahead of you!  Forgive any students who you have been denying forgiveness to because of how they have been acting or how they have been slacking in their assignments.  Get your mind completely clear and free of any debris that could be a distraction.

Close your eyes.  Envision the best teacher you have ever had.  Make a promise to your students that you will be at your best for them.  Visualize a worksheet that you plan for your students to complete.  Imagine the chart, or the words, or the concepts literally jumping off of the page.  Watch out, because they may jump pretty quickly!  The more you Teach BIG, the quicker two dimensional activities hop off the age and become three dimensional activities.

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The Chocolate Covered Strawberry Effect…. Inservices That Truly Service Part 3


By Randi Whitney


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.

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The Chocolate Covered Strawberry Effect…. Inservices That Truly Service Part 2

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!

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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?

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