Teach Like a Barista...Personalization Matters
Co-authored by Robert Harris and Thomas Martellone
While the following blog entry is not an endorsement of Starbucks over any of its competitors, nor is it a criticism of the current state of educational practice, Starbuck’s business model contains some simple suggestions for school improvement.
Every morning, multitudes of educators across America flock to their local Starbucks and frequently wait in long lines to pick up their favorite specialty coffee drink before the start of their school day. As a note, our individual coffee preferences just happen to be a grande Americano or a grande non-fat cappuccino respectively.
While waiting, it’s impressive to see how adept the baristas are at customizing each person’s drink no matter how complicated the order may be. From a consumer’s perspective, customers look forward to drinking top quality coffee that is worth the wait. They enjoy an environment that is welcoming with jazz or classical music playing in the background. They know that if they’re hungry or need coffee supplies, there are always additional items for purchase, and finally, they can sit comfortably at a table and take advantage of Starbuck’s free WiFi.
However, from our perspective as educational leaders, there are other valuable lessons we believe classroom educators can take away from the Starbuck’s experience. In the same way that Starbucks trains its baristas to personalize each customer’s coffee drinking experience, educators should be trained to personalize the learning experience for each and every student in their classrooms. Educators should be learning about their students’ individual needs through daily interactions with them; and based on these needs, should be tailoring and delivering personalized instruction for them. Collectively, educators spend countless hours interacting with students. Think about the power of knowing what each student’s needs are, and as a result, personalizing instruction to help them succeed - academically, socially, and emotionally.
In the same way Starbucks hopes to gain customer loyalty by offering a high quality, personalized experience; educators should create high quality, engaging, and personalized instruction so that students look forward to coming to school every day. An engaging classroom should have a ‘buzz’ in the air very similar to the atmosphere in a Starbucks. Students, like Starbucks customers, should be discussing the books they are reading, sharing their ideas and theories, and refining their understandings about the world they live in by posing and answering critical questions.
In the same way that Starbucks offers an array of additional items for sale, educators should provide students with curriculum extensions to support and personalize their learning experience. Finally, where Starbucks provides its customers with free access to the Internet, schools should be providing students with easily accessible, digitally rich classroom environments. While the most important factor in advancing student growth is still effective teaching; in the 21st century classroom, effective teaching also requires using the right digital tools to personalize instruction.
The next time you’re waiting in a long line at Starbucks, think about teaching like a barista. Is your student a “grande Americano” or a “non-fat grande cappuccino” drinker, and how will you personalize their learning experience?
Robert Harris is the current Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources in the Lexington Public Schools. Thomas Martellone is the current principal of Fiske Elementary School in Lexington.