Change is still hard. And change isn’t the easy, linear process we came to expect – or crave – when the factory mindset was at its height. You have to get new rhythms started, and then you have to sustain them … and sometimes you discover the team, place, and time aren’t quite aligned with what you want to do. That’s as true on the grand scale of building a joyful learning community as on the mundane level of making your morning coffee.
Several years ago, when cup-at-a-time coffee makers were new , I purchased one of the early Senseo machines. (They cost a lot less back then!) I was the only coffee drinker in the house, and it just made sense to have a way to make one cup at a time. My venerable Chemex (the six-cup model with the wooden collar) didn’t seem to mind being demoted from daily to occasional use. And as for the automatic-drip machine we’d used as an emergency backup? It moved out to the storage shed, where it remains today. Time was ripe, it seemed, for a new rhythm of morning coffee.
(Let’s not even talk about the “automatic grind and brew” system which did neither task well.)
But after several years, Senseo pods got harder to find. Eventually, having demoted the Senseo machine from daily to occasional use, I returned to the trusty Chemex. We got the change started, but it was harder to sustain than I’d expected.
Then, last spring, a friend gave me one of the Braun Tassimo one-cup brewers. I brought it home, and it sat unused on the counter for months. “I’ll think about it,” I said to myself, “and I’ll start using it when I enter the Next Phase of life.” I thought that meant “when I stop working in factory-model schools.”
But then this new school year started, with all its amazing insights and changes. And I realized that the factory-paradigm in my heart – the most important one all along – was breaking down. And then the Local Powers at school purchased a small Keurig brewer and started supplying coffee for it – a dramatic change from the old automatic-drip machine which now sits, forlorn and neglected, on the counter in the faculty workroom, its carafe used to refill the Keurig’s reservoir.
A few days ago, I used up the last of the “normal” coffee at home, and I realized there was just one lonely Chemex filter in the box. “Perhaps,” I said to myself, “the time is right for me to try out my New Thing at home, too.” And thanks to a remarkable sale on the “T-discs” at a favorite local grocery store, I had a delicious, singly-brewed cup of rich, strong coffee Sunday afternoon, right before I sat down to draft this post, and another this morning as I revised.
Yes, teachers love their coffee, but I think these coffee-maker stories symbolize the transition from factory-model teaching to personal learning. In a school fully committed to the factory-paradigm, a factory-style approach to coffee just makes sense. There might possibly be two pots – a big one for “regular,” a smaller for decaf – but coffee is coffee. If you don’t like what’s provided for you, that’s too bad; you don’t have to drink it.
As with coffee, of course, so with teaching students. Factory-schools assume one right way, from which you deviate to your peril and their great inconvenience. WIth some reluctance, accommodations and modifications are made for students with relevant labels … but a factory-school assumes that most of its students, most of the time, will drink what’s provided for them and like it. Or else.
That’s why that Keurig in the faculty workroom is such a powerful symbo! All of a sudden, there are lots of choices, from hot tea to French vanilla, from decaf to extra-bold. And instead of sitting there all day, it’s ready when you are. Our Local Powers are providing a wide assortment of K-cups, but folks who want something different can bring their own … and colleagues with Keurigs, who got sampler packages filled with flavors that didn’t appeal to them, are bringing those in and sharing them. From factory-sameness and factory-isolation to the stirrings of a joyful coffee (and tea) community, all it’s taken is a few small physical changes … and an enormous change in the team and the time. The physical place hasn’t changed that much, but the emotional space is totally different.
I bet you can see why I find metaphorical significance in these coffee stories now.
As we work to build joyful learning communities, the journey won’t always be linear or trouble-free. I was ready, in some ways, to make the switch from factory-style to personal coffee – and learning – when I bought that first Senseo, but the technology wasn’t ready. And no matter how much you want – or feel ready – to build a joyful learning community, the environment and participants need to be ready, too. Rushing in too soon – trying to build a community for, not with participants – leads to painful messes; I remember the giant flood on the counter from a now-former Senseo or the coffee explosion that ended the life of that “automatic grind and brew” device.
But just as those coffee failures were important, seemingly unsuccessful attempts at joyful community are, too. Without my struggles in years past, I can’t imagine achieving the current successes; without the Senseo, the Melitta One-to-One, and the “automatic grind and brew,” where would Keurig and Tassimo systems be?
New rhythms take time to start, and they take time and effort to sustain. In every class, we’ll be working this week to sustain and strengthen the new rhythms we’ve put in place. I’m pleased to see how much faster we’ve been progressing than our counterparts last year – and not just faster, but also better and deeper, with no one as yet feeling left behind or excluded.
I wonder what new discoveries, new insights, new forms of joyful community are brewing today! And I wonder what new coffee stories – and other stories – await.