I Want a Grande With a Shot of Collaboration

Few weeks ago I attended a “Education Symposium” at Dekalb Office. The conversations of the day focused on learning spaces. The first session focused mostly on libraries and that afternoon more toward schools and classrooms. One thing that was brought over and over was the idea of areas in schools with a coffee shop atmosphere. Some schools were even putting coffee shops in their libraries.

As these conversations were happening I kept thinking about a book I read months ago. The book, “Hedy’s Folly” was about an Austrian actress/inventor who built radio guidance systems for torpedoes  for the US during WWII. (If you need a brilliant woman hero, this book is worth the read.)  Anyway the book has really nothing to do with schools and coffee shops, but the first chapter focused on pre-Holocaust Vienna. According to some history (which has been debated – why I took a few weeks to finish this post, I wanted to research this), from the late 1800’s until the war, Vienna was a breeding ground for new ideas. Vienna during this time had a “cafe society” where neighborhoods had central cafes where people would gather and discuss ideas. Since the country was a monarchy politics were not as often discussed or debated (which came later unfortunately) but instead art, psychology, theater, music, and literature. If you ever see the amazing architectural of Vienna it was usually built after the turn of the century. Many novelist, physicist, composers, and even Sigmund Freud himself were in Vienna during this time.  The area was ethnically diverse – the newspaper was published in 10 languages – yet the people found a common place to have conversations. Of course from this came museums, theaters, universities, bookstores, etc, but it all started with this common place for conversation and collaboration.

Austria Cafe
Family outside a Austrian Cafe

So back to schools. Yesterday (which is what prompted me to finish my research on this), I saw a tweet from Josh Stumpenhorst  asking what the ideal classroom would look like. After I and another teacher responded, he said “I want my classroom to look like a coffee shop.” There is that coffee shop idea again. A place where conversation, comfort, and collaboration can flourish. If a city of 2 million people who speak multiple language can be a birthplace of some of the most extraordinary ideas of its time, imagine what can take place in a school of just a few hundred students. Add in whiteboards and technology to jot information on and there is no telling what students can come up with.

I know this would not work in all schools with all students. I do know that if this culture is taught it can become easier and easier to cultivate. I do wonder how behavior would factor in this.

I read an essay that said in Vienna and other European cafes at the turn of the century  “more than coffee was served” and I believe that maybe as schools we need to start serving something more. Something more than just facts and information.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Christine says:

    I actually discussed this with my 3rd graders about a month ago. Obviously, we wouldn’t be having coffee, but we talked about what it would be like to have a classroom with couches and small tables with a few chairs. They were intrigued…even at their young age. We collaborate a lot. I just tell them to “find a spot” for their group. Sometimes it is at tables, but more often than not, they just grab a clipboard and a pillow or carpet square and find a spot around the room or in the hallway. I love it!

  2. Jackie Crawford says:

    Great and very interesting post! I am a grade school teacher as well and sometimes find myself racking my brain trying to think of ways to engage my students in ways that I haven’t before, all the while making what we’re learning fun. This is an intriguing concept that I may explore. I just read a great book you might find helpful, it’s called “Teach Like A PIRATE” by Dave Burgess. You can check him out and get the book right from the website http://daveburgess.com/. Thanks for the post!

  3. vmbaxter says:

    This is extremely interesting! I love the concept of having our students live in a classroom with fluid conversation and the feel/activity of a coffee shop. I think behavior could be a factor, however it is just another style of behavior management that would come into play. Have you tried this in your classroom? How is it different than what you were doing? I would love ideas!

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