Summer of Learning 2017: predictable personalization – thoughts on The @Starbucks Experience book

Summer of Learning 2017: predictable personalization – thoughts on The @Starbucks Experience book

I have been a Starbucks fan for quite awhile (fair disclosure: with family in Seattle I do have #westcoastbias on my sports teams and my coffee) – so I was thrilled when my oldest girl became a barista last year. My mom found a book (10 years old) at a thrift store: The Starbucks Experience by Joseph Michelli which had some interesting insights into the company that I felt resonated with education…..especially when Canadian coffee company Tim Hortons started advertising its “perfectly simple latte” – my first thoughts were: a one size fits all approach. 

And one-size-fits-all approaches can be found  all around education: while class novel, same textbook, single lecture, common PE strip, etc etc. I’ve been promoting “collaboratively personalizing learning journeys”……essentially focusing on having predictability in what’s happening & going to happen, but allow for choice to occur along the way. The ongoing joke has been about ordering a “quad, two-pump vanilla, one-quarter pumps sugar-free hazelnut, ristretto latte, with one-quarter soy, one half non-fat, one-quarter organic milk, extra hot, with three ice cubes and whip”. <– sure this is an extreme, but…..shouldn’t we be going to extreme measures for the learners who need it? Because it’s true that most people stick to the menu (for me: flat white, iced Americano [different flavour than regular Americano], the new nitro coffee and I love exploring the varieties at Clover bars) but it’s fun to personalize sometimes – especially when a favourite drip coffee isn’t pre-made (love Komodo Dragon and Yukon and miss Gazebo blends). So the students who need voice-to-text instead of a pen and paper…..or need sensory breaks…..or quieter/louder spaces…can all be personalized for their enjoyment. I noticed that even the Tim Hortons “simple latte” commercial changed a bit admitting that they could add flavours like vanilla and hazelnut……wonder if they’ll end up offering extra shots of espresso….or types of milk…..because one size doesn’t fit all. 

But to the book specifically. A neat review of why Starbucks does things the way they do – a lot of emphasis on team where baristas can influence the culture – much as principals and teachers need to work together to create a positive (student-learning focused) environment where leadership is shared. The book starts off with some key principles:
Five ways of being:

1. Be welcoming

2. Be genuine 

3. Be considerate

4. Be knowledgeable 

5. Be involved

These are all key parts to establishing relationships which lead to positive interactions. 

Key starting point: names. As Carnegie recognized: a name may be the individuals most valuable possession. I try to acknowledge this by checking in with how people want to be called knowing that things can change over a break (when Jon-Jon just wanted to be called Jon) and knowing some full names (and many nick names) are not appreciated. The name IS your brand identity and should be treated valuably (even though spelling mistakes happen)

Acknowledge uniqueness. No classroom should look exactly the same as no teachers are the same. Likewise for our students – no single template will work for all. 

And replace “Starbucks” with school and some ideas are just…..good ideas!

And as the author states in his conclusion, no business or barista (or school/principal/teacher/support staff) is perfect all the time – there are negative stories and moments, but the goal is to be the ideal perception…..I think we want to do this in schools as well -be ‘the place’ where students want to be….where they want to learn….where families feel connected to. Starbucks talks about being the “third place” – right after home and work…..can’t schools also be a “third place” (especially in rural communities) where families want to be? 

It’s sometimes interesting to read non-education books and get some ideas and inspiration that may positively impact the upcoming school year! My take aways included: personalization still matters; Being a place where people want to be is good; Mistakes can be fixed….by anyone; Listening matters; Sometimes new things go right the first time, sometimes different lessons are learned; Ambiance (music lighting seating) can be important; There are opportunities to create your own experience….seize them. 

Now I’ve got to go pick up my barista as her shift is about to end…..maybe I’ll do a mobile order on my way….. ☕️ 

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Summer of Learning 2017 – behaviours….is the ‘what’ or ‘why’ more important (aka do you support paddling)

Summer of Learning 2017 – behaviours….is the what or why more important (aka do you support paddling)


Here’s the article that got me thinking:



It got me thinking because it gets to the tough decision in education. Do we just focus on the behaviour and modify it (this is faster as they will learn that behaviour x = physical pain [and even isolation/removal of recess/detention/etc can cause pain]) or do we take the time (which is a limited resource already) to find out the “why” behind the behaviour to provide support to create authentic change.



Talking with another educator, her husband noted that her case load (working with at risk youth) has decreased its caseload because….


  • when people ask me why I think “we are seeing more mental wellness issues in school than ever before”…….
  • my belief is that it’s because they’re staying in school…..whereas in previous years many of “those” students would be disconnected from schools.
  • I know when I look back at my elementary school photos (thanks to those on Facebook who kept theirs!) I see many faces there that I didn’t at the start of secondary school….and even fewer (half) on the graduation stage.



But it’s not easy. I like taking inspiration from @tweetsomemoore and her push for true inclusion (and her great book: – because when we treat students as individuals….we value them and provide relevance and meaning to their Learning. Not paddling them into compliance.



It’s why when dealing with “behaviours” we need to remember that the “behaviours” we don’t like are there for a reason: to distract from the real reason…..wanting “you” to react to the symptoms, not the cause.  Time is the number one tool.  Relationships are essential (need to establish trust and confidence). And if mental wellness is involved, there is no one easy set of rules that can be followed……



The challenge is on: how can you help establish identifying “why” the behaviours are the way they are? Can you ignore the “what” that is happening (this can be very uncomfortable – can you ignore being called a @*#!*$#&@! ?) and not be distracted by those unwanted behaviours?



There are some strategies that are “easier”…..or at least appear easier (like paddling) but they don’t make an authentic change – just a change in temporary behaviour to avoid physical punishment (a poster I like: character is what you do when people aren’t watching). Choose the approach that will have the biggest positive impact on the learners you work with. Every. Time.

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Summer of Learning 2017 – an incomplete thought on what “has” to be learned/taught

Summer of Learning 2017 – an incomplete thought on what “has” to be learned/taught

Recently I read a great blog article about thematic learning and what could be done if we erased subjects…..what would need to be taught:

So…..some of my thoughts (aka questions I’ll ask my kids when they want ‘quiz time’ – as long as there is also family trivia linked in…such as who flushed their phone away…?)

Basic sight words. Understanding “how words are made” (aka not spelling lists) and access to a thesaurus. Then differentiate based on themes being explored. My take: gotta know the sight words to enable further spelling rules and be able to play with words via poetry!

Adding. Subtracting. Understating multiplication and division, but access to a 100s chart. Then focus on authentic (hands on) problem solving that enforces why the topic is being explored. Speaking of math….math misery

My take: I’ve seen (encouraged) teachers who have shifted away from a logarithmic approach and focused on using similar approaches that have been successful in reading & writing…..and “surprisingly” when math isn’t worksheet after textbook after memorization drill, they start to identify math as a favourite subject…..

Regional facts. Capitals & territories of nation. then G20 then by continent for an intro – would love it if animatics were up to date: also the structure of government – I still know many who think in Canada we cast a vote for our prime minister- but as a constitutional monarchy we vote for a party representative…..and it’s interesting to see what happens when students start having hands-on roles on school & local governance systems!

Nation & continental “main features” (again start regional and then branch out) to know main mountains rivers and lakes and major forms (prairies, Canadian Shield, seaways, etc!)

Why are these important:

I’m seriously thinking of using these to explore history – why were these posters produced, what do they tell us about the way things were (because the good ol’ days….weren’t – heck a look into & debate about the origins of sports team names can be very eye opening)

Explore a second language…..or explore a local First Nations dialect. Then explore the cultures that have been and now are in the area. 

Time zones. Because it’s important to know then for tv choices, podcasts, live streams and #chats

Self Regulation. I know that people say that it’s because we live in a world of unlimited choices and access to all the information that we have an increase of mental wellness issues such as anxiety….I argue that it’s always been there, we are just doing a better job keeping those students attached to school and focusing on the “why” the behaviour is, not simply consequences for students ‘breaking rules’ – because isolation (detention) shaming (making an example of one) etc don’t work – but using physical pain to “teach a lesson” is definitely ‘easier’ (but historically ruling by fear = revolution)

And via a tweet, I received a good reminder of what we don’t want….to punish for want of a pencil:

And in my discussions around using eportfolios instead of transcripts and facing the key question: what would the universities say? well, MIT has some thoughts:

And one of the banes of my educational experience: cursive (I used to tease that my classroom was where cursive came to die)
An article just was released that “coding is the new cursive”

But learning can be (as I like to say) collaboratively personalized. Coding is great for many, but not all (and definitely not always who you assume) much as poetry is great….and algebra is beautiful….pointillism vs realism debates……but not for all… size doesn’t (never has) fit all.  Provide support wherever you can: Don’t rush learning to make an artificial deadline to “report on learning”. As I have practiced and preached: quality over quantity.
Time to meet the needs of the learners, not the wants of a gradebook. 

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Summer of Learning 2017 – reading, writing and math (?) for summer fun

Summer of Learning 2017 – reading, writing and math (?) for summer fun

I’ve seen it frequently as summer approaches: read for fun. Sign out extra library books. Get a library card. Summer reading programs.
Write stories. Journal about what you did for the summer? Create a play!
Math? Whew – free for a couple months – but gosh darn it, we always seem to have students “lose” math skills over the summer…especially because memorization drills (flash cards) stop….

“Rest is Rust”
“If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it”
So….we need to find ways (and language) to encourage math as something that can be done “because it’s beautiful” (or something like that as one of my math influencers Trevor Calkins has said)

and when people say we need to get “back to basics – the way ‘we’ learned as kids” I always like asking what made math their favourite subject as a child…….not so many say they ‘liked’ math – yes there are outliers, but more like myself and others “fell back in love with math” later….when it was fun….and beautiful. “Fun” needs to be more than memorizing as many numbers in Pi as you can (thought there is a joy in that for some!) and it isn’t just doing logarithm worksheets/workbooks because
“Drill to Kill” (the love of the subject)

Play games and talk about the math involved (patterns, adding subtracting multiplying and dividing, geometry etc)

card games

computer games


But it’s why I love following math geeks like @alicekeeler f’r instance:
And why I did some rethinking thanks to a throwaway line from Dr Who to design some Recreational Mathematics

Because I’ve had some great math students…except during test time…..and I’m less and less sure how much that matters. And I have a son who won’t fill in worksheets because of the repetition – and when we asked why he didn’t do a 9×2 questions and he responded that he did….and pointed to 3×6 and said it’s all about 3s…..I couldn’t argue that he didn’t know what he was talking about….

Math. It should be fun. It should be differentiated. It should be beautiful. But in the same way that not everyone reads or writes the same as we adapt around interests and build on successes…..why don’t we scaffold similarly in math? Tuesday doing odd questions and Wednesday even questions is no longer in vogue…..and when I’ve seen math done “different” than workbook for all and “fun for some” it’s been amazing to see the mindset shift….and for many, math becoming a “favourite subject” (until they move to a more traditional class approach)….

So start exploring how to keep kids doing math over the summer wrrks without focusing on flash cards and worksheets….emphasize the “Recreational” part that can be done with math… deep into Pi can you remember….and why do those numbers enable Pi to be….Pi?

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Summer of Learning 2017 – Thinking about quitting isn’t quitting

Hearing an interview with Robert O’Neil about SEAL training, he admitted to thinking about quitting. Every day. But it’s not the same as quitting. The advice he got was “don’t quit now. It’s all emotions. Just quit tomorrow.”

It paralleled my reading of Howard Sterns autobiography (and he was interviewing O’Neil) when he was fired from

WNBC for “creative differences” and his agent came in with champagne to celebrate the change and opportunities that would come next.

It also reminded me of going through 2-a-day training camps for football at UBC where there would be those times….moments really (usually connected to “extra conditioning” and some “chewing out”) that would lead to those moments where ‘quitting’ seemed like a great idea……but slowing Dow the thinking/deciding process to allow TIME to have an impact (and usually lead to a better – non-emotional/impulsive response). 

So, as professional change is at the forefront of my mind, it’s a reassuring reminder that change does not equal quitting; and being mindful of the decisions being considered have many layers (like an onion – Shrek). And sometimes it leads to opportunities that wouldn’t be available if you were complacent and not looking for them and considering that sometimes the word “quit” doesn’t mean what you may think it does!

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Summer of Learning 2017 – interviews

Summer of Learning 2017 – interviews



There are more interviews going on this summer than ever before (at least in our province). The readjustments coming out of the Supreme Court ruling on BC Schools has led to a great range of positions – in classrooms and specialty positions and PVPs.


Not sure if it was coincidence or serendipity that Mindshift had an article come out on questions for future ready educators:


I like these types of questions because they align positively with my own view of the future of education (collaboratively personalizing the learning journey). But there are still some root questions that base almost any interview….and need to:


  1. who are you – this isn’t just about you liking to climb rocks and drink interesting beverages….it’s about who you are in this realm that is more than just a job – who are you as an educator? there is no right/wrong answer. As the overarching theme I keep seeing in the interviewing process continues to be: are you the right fit at the right time for the right position <– I am self aware that I can do the job, but even I ask myself if I am the right person at the right time for the position being talked about.
  2. why? this ranges from why this job to why teaching to why now? Again, no right answer – and sometimes honesty helps….I’ve been told “it’s a job to get me a contract in the greater district” and I’ve been told “I’ve wanted to be in this school since I was a student”. This has led me to hire people who had just gone on maternity leave, because they were the right fit….when they were able to return.
  3. what? I want to know what you have done as well as what you want to do …… next. Some will want to focus on doing a great job in the classroom, some will want to reach beyond the classroom walls (and some beyond the school  boundaries). During the interview I hope to get to know what the pathway of the educator is going to be (and sometimes this has led to me phoning a colleague because of a connection that was made)
  4. how? how the educator works is extremely personal. You can’t be the teacher who inspired you, you can only be yourself. But I like to try to understand how an educator thinks and how they want to act. This can be the trickiest because the traditional interview is a very artificial way of measuring this….


If anything this traditional method is almost too artificial. I have been lucky enough to be able to bring teacher-candidates into the classroom as a TOC to see how they fit with the class and the school…..but this is a rarity. But I’ve also read that frequently a decision for “fit” is made within the first few minutes. I’m also hyperaware of how nerve-wracking interviews can be (and in the case in BC right now, many veteran teachers are now getting ready for their first interviews in many years because of the opportunities to move around their district – or move to another district).


So….my reminders:


breathe. take some time. use wait time – it works in the classroom and can work in the interview setting to ensure that you are about to answer the question in the best way possible.


be ready. think about the key themes of education and why you wanted (and still want) to be an educator who makes a difference.


prepare. think about some responses to common questions (and when answering behavioural questions, remember to have an answer that has a personal connection AND share what the resolution was based on what you did) that can be found either by a google search, or links from my earlier blog on interviews:

that are:

Qs with As:
Qs with some opinions:

Big list of Qs:



My bias: I like giving (and getting!) questions in advance – My own work with self regulation means that I know I want to get thoughtful responses to my questions, not just speedy answers (same approach I take with times tables and spelling) though I also sprinkle in some ‘surprise’ questions as well….but usually talking about answers provided to the questions provided the day before take me into deeper understanding of who the educator is that we are talking with.


Interviews aren’t easy. Lots of over-thinking happens. Comparisons occur. Finding the right fit is not a perfect science. But it’s always good to be aware that the anxiousness to do the ‘right hire’ is felt on all sides of the room!

and for fun(?)

Image result for teacher interview comic



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Day 185 (of 185) the end.  If I learned anything from comics, is it ever The End?

Day 185 (of 185) the end. If I learned anything from comics, is it ever The End?

We made it. 
It’s over. 
All comments I heard while helping grads sign-in to the arena hosting their ceremony. Happy that “the end” of learning/the year arrived. 
But even when we said “goodbye” go superman (in many comic issues, most famously against doomsday, but also in battles with Mr Myxplyx and others) but he always returned…..
And even popular cartoonists endured beyond their original creations. Bloom County became Outland became Opus became Bloom County. Doonesbury has been cancelled and re-issued as often as Howard Stern (with similar statements from one editor as to why it was on the way out and another why they were celebrating the start of a new partnership). 

I’ve seen Robins die (batman) only to return….actually that can be said about many characters. So, much like “the end of June” it’s not really an “end of learning” just a distraction to interrupt the traditional calendar schedule.  But even television has changed the way they have viewed “seasons” – perhaps it’s time for a closer look by educators to see some different approaches to a “school calendar” (sounds like a Summer of Learning topic!)

So, two of my favourite cartoonists (modern philosophers) and how they approached “an end”

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