If your staff didn’t have to attend your next in-service training, would they?

If the training covers the 54-slide overview of ESSA changes or a new literacy initiative, I’m sure we can all guess the answer. There’s never a shortage of initiatives, mandates, or policy changes to review—I used to be the guy who had all my ducks in a row, with my all-important PowerPoints and handouts ready for in-service day. In retrospect, I know my teachers would rather have been somewhere else than “listening” to me give them information that I could have relayed at another time and in another way.

How can school leaders change our approach to in-service training days to create meaningful opportunities that build culture and foster creative teaching?

A few years ago, I decided to try a new approach: I wanted to create in-service trainings that didn’t feel like in-service trainings. It’s been a learning process, but our in-services are now packed with teachers talking and doing, smiling and learning! My mission has been to encourage innovative teaching and to highlight my teachers’ strengths and passions, all of which has helped to create an enthusiastic, supportive environment that restored the joy in our teaching. We use our time to discover engaging strategies that focus on important skill-building for our students. These activities also provide just enough fun to make us forget we are working!

Sharing ideas is important in education, and I am privileged to work with creative people who have gladly shared ideas and helped me to be better. The challenge is knowing your goal and then developing activities to fit your needs. The following are examples of in-service training ideas I use to model and solidify our focus of building thinkers and doers at our school:

  • Clue: A Mystery at LaCreole: A two-hour who-done-it mixed with digital tools and 21st century skills. Staff are placed in content area teams and charged with completing tasks using problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration, similar to those we would want our kids doing. This activity provides opportunities to incorporate digital learning tools, stretch comfort zones, and allow staff to work together.


  • Chopped: Making Learning/Thinking Visible: A mash-up of examining the Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition (SAMR) model and utilizing tools to make thinking and learning visible. Using the Google Infused Classroom, we invited author Holly Clark via Hangouts to give an introduction to tools that help students demonstrate their learning in diverse and creative ways. Then we had “Chopped”-inspired challenges where teachers spiced up lessons using one of these new tools.


  • Amazing Race: Twitter Scavenger Hunt: Twitter is a learning tool that many educators use to connect with and learn from people of like interests. With Twitter, sharing is always on! To help our teachers learn how to use Twitter, we built a scavenger hunt competition modeled after the “Amazing Race.” Staff teams participated in a variety of challenges around our town, which they had to document via Twitter using hashtags, videos, and more.


  • Energize With d.school Stoke Deck: Bring some energy to your staff development opportunities with “stokes,” or quick and easy energy boosters that I borrowed from the Stanford d.school. If this isn’t your game, then find someone on your staff who can lead it! I have found that even the most motivated staff will need a boost of energy from time to time. These activities are fun even for those of us who don’t like that sort of thing.


As building principal, I work to create learning experiences for our staff that not only help us improve our practice, but also help us rediscover joy in teaching. Finding opportunities to do both helps to build a positive, energetic school culture. It’s more fun for me, for teachers, and for our students!

We all have an opportunity to start the year off with enthusiasm and set our sights on new ideas and innovative teaching. How might we reimagine our next in-service opportunity?

Jamie Richardson is the principal of LaCreole Middle School in Dallas, OR. He is one of the 2017 Digital Principals of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @JamieR42.

About the Author

Jamie Richardson is the principal of LaCreole Middle School in Dallas, OR. He is one of the 2017 Digital Principals of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @JamieR42.

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