Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Chick Fil A Classroom

A few weeks ago, my family and good friends of ours went to Chick-Fil A.  If you ever ate a meal there, you are used to the smiling faces who stop by your table to see if they can refill your drink (more like a restaurant than a fast food joint), and of course, the obligatory "My pleasure" whenever you say, "Thank you" for their service.

After eating our meal, our kids played in the indoor playground while we sat around and talked.  Since it was our anniversary the next day, I bought everyone a milkshake (yeah, I know, I live on the edge) and toasted my beautiful wife on our soon to be anniversary day.

A young lady Chick-Fil A employee came over and said, "Sorry to eavesdrop but I hope you guys have a wonderful anniversary tomorrow."

After thanking her for the kind words, I exclaimed, "I love this place."

One of my best friend's son got married this summer and my daughter was the flower girl.  At the rehearsal dinner that night, I sat near a young lady in college, a business major focusing on marketing.  Somehow her part-time job at Chick-Fil A came up so I began asking her questions.  Specifically, how does Chick-Fil A display a consistent high degree of courtesy to their customers, not just in one locale, but in any location you visit (I had mentioned it didn't matter what state we were in, NJ, PA, MD, WV, FL, or SC, my family had similar experiences in all Chick-Fil A-s).  Most fast food restaurants focus on quick food at a cheap price.  Chick-Fil-A food is good, but what makes it a place to "write home about" (or a least a blog) is the detail it places on customer service.

She said that Chick-Fil A puts a heavy emphasis on customer service.  Interviews are extensive for a fast food restaurant.  They want to make sure they have employees that place the customer needs first.  Candidates spend time in a classroom setting before ever stepping in behind the counter to deal with customers.  Quick, cheap, good food doesn't mean anything if the customer doesn't feel welcomed.

Based on my experience and my discussion, here is what I learned and how it relates to the classroom.

1) Customer First

In our classrooms, what is our emphasis?  If it isn't the good and care of our students, then it doesn't matter how well we present our material.  The latest technology doesn't mean anything if the student doesn't feel welcomed in your classroom.  A great unit goes to waste if the student believes you are more concerned with the content of your lessons than on them.

You don't teach content or technology.  You teach young people.

2) Know Who You Are

The famous ad campaign for Chick-Fil A is a cow holding the sign "Eat More Chickn".  And they do fast food chicken well.  There isn't much deviation.  If you see a new menu item, it isn't going to be a beef, fish, or pork product, its going to be chicken.  As a young teacher, I didnt know what I wanted to be and looked to be like teachers I admired. I tried to be the tough teacher, the fun teacher, the teacher-friend, the aloof teacher, the erudite teacher, and in the end, I didnt do any of them well.

I finally decided to just be me, and do me well.

3) Enhance the Experience

Chick-Fil A will deliver your food to your table instead of making you wait upfront and this allows you to spend more time with your family.  They come by to fill up your drink.  A manager makes their way around to see if all is well.  And of course the 7 foot cow could come around offering high fives at any time.  Very different than a trip to McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, etc.

How do we enhance the classroom experience for our students?  It doesn't have to be in ground breaking ways.  Some ideas.  Give high fives to your students as the enter or leave, give out a "student of the week", allow them to have the class stuffed animal on their desk if they are having a rough day.

The more a student wants to be in your class, 
the more they will be engaged in your class.

4) Listen to Your Customers

Chick-Fil A's tracks well any complaint or compliment to the location and time it occurred so they know what manager and employees were on duty at the time so they know how best to remediate or congratulate the team.  How well do we listen to our students?  Do we supply a mechanism in our classroom for your student to share their opinions (be it a formal survey or informal discussion).

Overcome the insecurity of hearing negatives about you. 
Practice what you preach.
Just as your corrections improves your students, 
their voice can improve you as well.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Be Bold Be Excellent

Dear Katie,

Who did you replace as a teacher?  A beloved teacher or one that did not have many fans.  In my career, I have had the opportunity to replace one of each.

In my first position, I replaced a teacher that did not have a lot of fans.  I discovered this from a friend who attended the school and whose brother was one of my first students.  My friend shared this nugget of truth,

"The students are going to love you for the first 4 months because you are not her, after that, they are going to base everything in the classroom on you." 

And he was right.  Everything I tried was golden.  Students enthusiastically became involved in every simulation or project I proposed.  Classroom management was easy (at least for what it could be for a first year teacher).

And then...the fall.

My biggest mistake was that I took for granted this gift rather than using it to build structure, organization, and boundaries in my classroom.  From January on I struggled controlling my classroom.  Students began questioning what I was doing in my classroom.  My authority was challenged daily. Basically, I experienced everything a first year teacher typically does, just a bit delayed.  If you find yourself replacing the teacher who had few fans, don't skate the first few months thinking the season of adulation had anything to do with you.  Work as hard as any first year teacher in establishing routines and commanding respect, because with all seasons, it will come to an end.

In my second position, I replaced a beloved and highly honored teacher.  In fact, on a visitation the day before school, a parent said to me

"I'm sure you're a good teacher, but we would much rather have (old teacher's name) be our daughter's teacher.  No offense"

One advantage I had in the second situation is that I had seven years of teaching history under my belt.  The other advantage was that the old teacher was still in the district, and the reason he was a beloved teacher was because he was one of the nicest men I have ever met.  He would encourage me by providing feedback and advice on my classroom.

If you find yourself in this situation see if the previous teacher would like to stay in correspondence with you.  (If they choose not to, or find it an annoyance, drop it).  Ask teachers who worked with the old teacher what their strengths and weaknesses were.  Maintain some traditions of the old classroom.  Remember, there was a reason why that teacher was beloved and highly respected.  Don't think you can come in as a maverick and change everything. Many students who had older siblings that had the old teacher (and more importantly their parents) will appreciate the nod you are giving the former teacher and will establish a level of comfort for them.

However you ARE NOT that beloved teacher.  You need to make a mark of your own.  For me, it was developing a Presidential Election Game and Project for the 2000 U.S. Presidential election.  It even spurred a reporter from the local newspaper to contact me to discuss what we were doing in class.  At the end of the year, the parent from above apologized for what she said and even went as far as thanking me for a wonderful year.

Very similarly to the teacher with not a lot of fans, eventually you are going to step out of the shadows of the beloved teacher and be judged on your merits.
  So be BOLD and be EXCELLENT!