Monday, September 3, 2012

The Coffee Shop School

This past summer I've been blessed to have the opportunity to travel extensively.

Throughout my travels I enjoyed searching out the perfect cup of coffee at the perfect coffee shop.  My travels brought me to small neighborhood coffee shops  and "big chain" coffee shops.

Today, as I  sit and compare the two types of shops, the differences are profound.

Generally speaking, the big chain coffee shop looked new and modern but often felt "cold".  I got the sense that these shops were driven by profit and finding economies of scale and savings at every corner. 
Service and relationships were not necessarily the first priority.

Coffee at famous Nicola Cafe (Lisbon)
Most of he neighborhood coffee shops I visited, on the other hand were built on  service and relationship.  These shops usually had character.  No two shop looked the same.   As a visitor, I noticed that the employees knew the  name of every local that walked in.  Visitors were welcomed and made to feel that they belonged.   They did more than take  orders.  They were patient with indecision at the counter.  They even offered suggestions.  They spent time with people, providing any and all advice.  They were patient with  questions.   While they needed to be competitive in price, they were not driven by economies of scale.

Sitting in these coffee shops, I thought about how schools and the teachers and staff within them need to be like the neighborhood coffee shop.

Here a list of some traits of a "coffee shop school":

  • The "coffee shop" school needs to be a place of warmth and comfort.  It needs to exude character and uniqueness.  It should be a place to hang out.  A place of both silence and conversation.

  • The coffee shop school needs to be a place rooted in  relationships.  The adults in these schools  shouldn't  impatiently take orders or just provide the basics (e.g.  good pedagogy, wifi, tables, chairs, desks,  textbooks, worksheet, website, etc.).  We need to patient with "indecision", mistakes and questions.    We need to  get to know each and every student and their needs, dreams and aspirations.  

  • Leaders in the coffee shop school need to make decisions that enable relationship building.  Scheduling, timetabling and  budgeting are but a few tangible examples where leadership can make a huge difference if decisions are informed by a "students first" mindset.  

  • Like the neighborhood coffee shop that is not driven by economies of scale and profits, schools shouldn't be driven by test results.   It is particularly devastating when we measure the effectiveness of our schools based on these tests.We shouldn't rate schools against each other. 

  • We should ask our students what they think about their school.  Ask them if school excites them.  Ask them if they feel that teachers care about them.  Ask them if they feel safe at school.    Ask students if they want to hang out at school?  

This is at the core of the coffee shop school. 

The coffee shop school is place of connections and relationships.  Where individual needs are met and dreams are realized.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, and timely I think. I just finished Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson and he ties the birth of the Enlightenment to the creation of early coffee houses. He argues that real innovation does not come from the "eureka" moment but from environments that encourage intellectual discussion and collaboration - like a coffee house - and he suggests we foster these atmospheres in our schools and workplaces. Small font aside, I loved the book. Here is his clip from Ted Talks PJ