Have you ever eaten at a restaurant? Of course you have. Whether it was a sit-down context where you are given the black napkin or the white napkin depending on your garments, or a drive through quick grab to eat in the car, take home…you get my question, and we have all experienced it.
We all eat at restaurants.
How many of you order exactly what is on the menu? No substitutions, no questions about the ingredients, no leave this off. It’s very likely that few of us order exactly what is on the menu. Even Starbucks customers tweak their drinks with milk substitutions, sugar content and temperature of the drink. (Did you even know you could order extra-hot or kid friendly temperature?)
What do we do when the order is wrong?
We send it back.
If we are ordering to go, we often don’t have the option of sending it back because we are typically a mile away when we realize the no pickle chicken sandwich actually has a pickle on it. Or when we take a swig of what we think is the refreshing coke we order only to learn it is diet coke, our face blanches, but what do we do? What do we do then?
We complain. We mutter that we didn’t get what we asked for. But we are sort of stuck.
Do you see the parallels to classroom learning? We don’t give kiddoes a chance to ask for substitutes. We don’t give our learners the option of more or less. We obviously control those things for them. Everyone is going to get this menu item today. If you don’t like it? Or it doesn’t taste good to you? I’m sorry. It’s what is on offer.
Consider creating a context for learners in which they can ask and do ask for what they want and need in the classroom. Of course teachers will continue to frame the menu, but what if we fostered a classroom where learners could say, “I need more problem solving.” Or, “Can I not have so much literacy today, I’m full.” Or, “I’m ready for a little bit of journaling.” Or even, “I’m ready to try this since you’re not offering that—even though I don’t like it.”
What if our daily focus in our classrooms was on customer service? We certainly sometimes have little control over the menu, the standards of learning. But we do have control over the delivery, the customer service side of it. After all, the menu says chef salad, but one can always have the dressing on the side, right? Notice the pleasantries that restaurant workers exchange with you and how apologetic they can be when the order is wrong. I feel bad sometimes with the content I am required to teach, all I can do is put on a smile and make it the best experience it could possibly be! (As an aside, it is typically not the person at the cash register who got the order wrong, though they are the recipient of the furrowed brow and the opened sandwich being handed back to them. Just as it typically is not the classroom teacher who makes the broader decisions that frustrate the learning cycle in a classroom.)
“Welcome to Moes” is shouted every time someone walks into that establishment. “My pleasure!” ends every response to a statement and a question at Chik-fil-A. These phrases become a bit of a joke among mass consumers, but I think there is something to them. Some of us avoid particular restaurants because they don’t serve Coke products. When we forget and order the coke and the waitress says, “I’m sorry, is Pepsi okay?” The emotion we feel is hard to encapsulate in words but it is likely frustration and disappointment and is usually followed by an internal conversation “Surely more people in the world drink Coke over Pepsi? Why do they serve Pepsi…” or “ Why don’t they just give us a choice?”
I think restaurants strive to give the best experience to their customers. From seating to service to food choice to timeliness in a drive through. Eating in establishments is differentiated, right? They have customer service surveys at your table to rate your visit. They offer coupons if you complete an online survey. When an order is wrong, the manager typically goes above and beyond to make it right for you. Restaurants thrive on instant feedback to make the experience the best it can be.
Our classrooms are lacking customer service. When do we get feedback about what we are delivering to our kiddoes? Sure, we use tickets out the door and informal formative assessments, but those aren’t measuring their experiences. Those are measuring their cognition. What if we shifted our feedback and started to ask kids, “How are we doing?”
Arby’s does one of the neatest things that begs instant feedback. If you’ve never been to an Arby’s you have to go. There isn’t anything spectacular about their menu. It’s different by the nature of what they serve—and the curly fries are yummy—but the restaurants don’t look typically innovative, the service is fine, but nothing unique. However, Arby’s has a bell. It’s reminiscent of a last call bell in a pub or a dinner bell you might find mounted on the porch of an antebellum home. It’s a mounted by the exit. Customers can ring it when they have had a good experience during their visit.
When I go to Arby’s? I look for a reason to ring the bell. Maybe the sandwich tasted fresh. Maybe I had the longest curly fry I’d ever seen. Maybe the employees carried my tray to my table. Maybe it was just a smooth transaction. I don’t look for the things that are going wrong, I look for the celebrations, so I can ring the bell! I want to be able to give positive, immediate feedback on the experience.
Our classrooms need bells mounted on the wall by the door. We need to be creating contexts in our classrooms where learners want to ring the bell. We want to ensure that we are getting feedback about their experiences. I would hope the employees at Arby’s would wonder why the bell isn’t being rung and reflect on what needs to change to achieve happy customers. If kids left the day without a bell ringing, we, too would use that as a point of reflection and then action.
What do you do in your classroom that is bell ringing worthy? It doesn’t have to be the end of a lesson. It doesn’t have to be the entire class. Maybe it’s that one individual learner who is inspired by a piece of text? Or maybe it’s the one learner who struggles with persistence and decided to do just a little bit more on a particular problem.
Or maybe, just maybe it’s you.