25 Jul 2017

Coffee Shop Classrooms

I love coffee shops. I don’t even like coffee and yet, I love coffee shops. Everything about a coffee shop is designed to encourage possibility. As I walk through, I notice wide varieties of people, some alone and contemplating, others in collaborative discussions. Those discussions could be about anything. I can’t help but wonder if the next viral .com business is being germinated at the very tables I’m walking past. More likely, the conversations are about annoying bosses, loveless marriages, or frustrating children, but that’s not the point. The opportunity is there to discuss anything from the mundane to the revolutionary, all within a few feet from each other.

As we think about the upcoming school year, we should strive for that same sense of possibility in our classrooms. They should be places where curiosity percolates and possibility is the house blend. Here are just a few characteristics of a coffee shop that you can incorporate into your own classroom.

Give Choice a Chance
In every coffee shop there’s what I call the sugar station.This is where I can put my five packets of sugar into my tea and destroy the torn white paper evidence without judgment. Others may pour cream or sprinkle cinnamon or whatever it is that feeds their habit, but the key is choice. Construct stations of choice in your classroom. Give students the opportunity to select books, activities, projects, etc. Identify what needs to be learned. Keep that fixed, but open up everything else.

For example: You are teaching cause and effect…let students choose whether to study this via literature, science, art, history, etc. You are teaching a specific book; let students choose how they demonstrate understanding through writing, podcast, art, etc. You are teaching photosynthesis, let students identify secondary sources that support their claims.

Let the Energy Flow
Most coffee shops don’t have a stage. If they do, it’s purposefully used to bestow an artistic gift to the patrons, one that will leave a memory to inspire their daily labors. Although there is no stage in most classrooms, the teacher’s role is often that of the sage on the stage. The teacher bears the burden of controlling all the energy in the room, disseminating information from her to the students. Instead, try to mimic the energy flow of the coffee shop. Make students as responsible for the transfer of information as you are. And use your stage sparingly and purposefully.

For example: Set up stations for each of them to learn elements of the lesson and then to present their learning to the rest of the class to complete the lesson. You provide the personal connection and clarification to connect the dots in a meaningful way.

Use Your Superpower
My absolute favorite thing about coffee shops is that they are all a little different. Each has a distinct aesthetic that reflects the style of its owner. One coffee shop I know of has a chicken theme. There are photos, paintings, and sculptures of chickens everywhere. I don’t particularly like or dislike chickens, but I feel special there because I feel like the owner is sharing something about himself with me. We often focus on designing our classroom so they’ll appeal to students. That’s important and admirable, but they must also be authentic. You want students to come into your room and know that it’s a place you take pride in personally and that they are special enough for you to share a piece of yourself with them.

For example: Imagine your classroom as your own personal coffee shop. How would you decorate it? Don’t be afraid to make it happen. Don’t be afraid to stand out, to be different, or to be yourself. You are the only you on the planet. That is your superpower. Love it. And let your students see it.