I love having people over to my house. My motto with any get-together is: the more the merrier. In fact, Thanksgiving is now my favorite holiday simply because it is the holiday our family gets to host. My house is wonderful, nothing fancy nor overly big, and when you put 25+ people in the main living area, which includes our kitchen, it’s definitely cozy. I’m usually concerned about having enough food (though it never fails that there is usually enough for a second party) and the clean up is obnoxious (especially when scrubbing multiple NESCO roasters), but the conversation, laughter, and vibrancy of the atmosphere…well, it just doesn’t get any better! When it comes to gatherings, people generally come for the food, the kitchen is where the food is prepared, and, subsequently, where the magic lies.
A few weeks ago, I hosted a meet ‘n’ greet in the office for my staff because I am new to the building, and I wanted everyone to have an opportunity to meet me in person before we begin working together. I picked up coffee, juice, breakfast pastries*, and some fruit. I brought a folding table into the office, complete with school-colored plastic table cloths, to display the smorgasbord. There’s a counter that spans across the entire main office, that actually resembles a kitchen island. The area outside of that counter is probably about as big as a large modern kitchen (watch HGTV or This Old House and you’ll know what I mean), so when 2/3 to 3/4 of the staff showed up, there was an awesome buzz in the air, the room was loud, filled with laughter, and absolutely alive.
The variety of conversation was all over the board: sharing about summer trips, to-do lists for spouses or kids, and of course, when talking to me, the standard tell me about yourself small talk (which I am good at and know is necessary, but hate). The atmosphere, though entirely professional, felt more like a home than a workplace, and I realized that is what I want every day at school to feel like for every staff member and student. So as I think about the experiences I have had in my kitchen at home and that atmosphere of the summer meet and greet, I propose that classrooms and schools become a kitchen for learning using these guidelines:
- Plan for the right amount of food (content) for the guests (students). Time guidelines for kids attention spans with direct instruction generally don’t go higher than 12-15 minutes at a time (for high school seniors)!
- When prepping and executing the plans, use the right utensil for the right job. You can’t cut a steak with a drawer full of spoons nor can you engage kids with cookie-cutter instruction and packets of worksheets.
- Make sure relationships are built so guests (teachers and students) don’t just feel like they belong to a community, but KNOW they are the community.
- If guests are learning, don’t mind the noise or the mess. Time is a premium and if the room is in a groove, just go with it. Plus, you can clean things up later and someone stays behind to help.
- Make learning exciting, fun, and full of stories that are not just entertaining, but contain lessons that impact students lives. This is where the authenticity is.
- Along those lines, make sure there is content and experiences that have meaning and can be connected to outside the classroom. Application is key – again making learning authentic.
- Like tasting a good dessert, everyone should leave wanting more, and salivating at the thought of what can be eaten (learned) next for “the unfed mind devours itself” (Gore Vidal).
Part of why I went into the education was because I was inspired by my high school choir director, Greg Carpenter, and the way he was able to create community, loyalty, and draw out meaning from the music for his students. One day, while discussing the meaning of a song, he posed the question, “How do you celebrate life?” The meaning behind this question (and the song) was pseudo carpe diem (Oh Captain, my captain!), and the notion of appreciating every moment we have together. After 16 years, I still think about that question and now often ask myself: How can we celebrate school? Celebrate the work we do with kids? Celebrate the opportunities we have to connect and collaborate with the educators we see every day or on social media? How can celebrate each day in our classrooms and school like a we would in a warm, inviting kitchen surrounded by others?
*For the record I bought 4 dozen donuts and after 3 hours and 25+ people, had 33 left. Enough for another party!