Set the bar.

When I was in my early 20’s (nothing makes you feel older than a phrase like that), I paid my bills by bartending.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had so much to learn about teaching from mixing martinis and recommending bottles of wines. I suppose it could be said that any line of work dealing with people will teach you something about helping them learn.

StylishLensT AT The Bar.
AT The Bar.


Get the tone right

A night out, like a lesson in, needs to have an intentional tone.  Don’t leave it to chance.  Take care of your classroom the way you would a dinner party.  Guests want to know that you’ve thought of them in advance.  The more we can do to make students feel welcome, the better.

give space, but be attentive

Know when to step in, and when to back off.  A great bartender anticipates when customers are ready for another round, and a great teacher anticipates when students need a moment of support.  Hovering in front of a customer is about as effective as hovering above a student: not at all.

Here’s the thing that you need to get comfortable with…the idea of getting kids to fail as part of the learning process…

From This TED:

While it is nice to recommend the occasional beverage, people like to try new things.  Students need to feel like they have control in the classroom as well.  Having a menu is the first step: giving the student ownership over that menu is another.

As an English teacher, I cannot underscore the importance of choice for my readers enough.  Parents often ask me to recommend texts for students.  Students need to choose their own books.  We all need to practice the fine art of making decisions for ourselves.

one room, many moods

You cannot make everyone happy all the time.  One lesson might be a huge win with one student, and a giant fail with another.  People have different preferences, and that is fine.  When it comes to building relationships, always think in Seth Godin’s ‘long run’ terms.

provide a unique service

You can’t do this if you are trying to mirror the teacher next door, or the bartender across the street.  While we can learn from one another, it is important too, to remember that variety is the spice of life.  Success does not have a single face.  When I first started bartending, I worried about not being quite as good as other bartenders on the team.  Whether or not you are ‘as good as’ someone else is irrelevant.  What does matter is whether or not your service is unique.  Are you offering a unique perspective?  Worry more about finding your voice, your approach, and your style, and less about mirroring someone else.

Feel the room

A busy bar means you and your fellow bartenders need to trust one another.  A school in October feels much the same.  Hold one another accountable, and trust that you are in this together.  A part of this means that yes, you do need to offer support, and be mindful of what is happening with your team.  Bartenders are great at knowing when and how to switch gears.  So much of that is steeped in nonverbal communication.  We have the same opportunities to pay attention to the things our colleagues are trying to say Monday to Friday.  Whether or not you choose to do something about it is key.  In Paula Guinto’s phenomenal Learning2 talk, she really brings this home:

Which experiences have taught you to be a better educator?


Thanks Flickr for:


AT The Bar.


Learning Lives Here.

Your classroom walls DO talk.  What will they say about the learning experiences you want to have together?

For those familiar with The Third Teacher Book, you’ve probably been toying around with redesign concepts for your learning space.  Maybe you’ve even taken to Twitter to follow #remakeclass.



The thing is, finding the motivation and means to redesign your classroom is daunting.  That is unless, you’ve met Paula Guinto.

Meet Paula the designer:

Paula, like David Jakes, reminds us of the importance of putting the ‘I’ in our school team (the biggest ‘I’ of them all, that is):

If you could identify the single most important factor that is missing in schools, what would it be?

For me, it’s an easy call.


I think schools can be imaginative, and have that capacity in their DNA, but its buried and hidden under the things that schools have to deal with in their current educational climate.  Has your school lost its imagination?

Christian Scheja Imagination
Christian Scheja


Read more from David Jakes here, his post makes this gif necessary.

If you school has indeed lost its imagination, put a team of your faculty together and attend the very next Learning2 you can. At this year’s L2 in Europe, I had a ridiculous number of invigorating chats with Paula.  Her extended session was meant to help educators remember that all teachers are teachers of design.  Check out her full deck for her session “From Heart to #Hashtag”  available in full here. 

With a mere eight weeks to go in my school year, I wanted to experiment with my own classroom design, and see what I could do with a (very) modest effort.  Knowing that most teachers will delay an attempt to remodel their environment due to lack of time, funds, or means, I wanted to see what I could do with a grand total of three hours, and the help from a few friends.

I present to you my remixed learning environment: #CLIMB:

For me, the metaphor is everything.  In this final leg of the journey, I want my learners to see themselves as mountaineers, traversing even higher heights.  Because I am moving schools at the end of this year, I’ve had a number of people ask me if I am ‘checking out yet.’  The short answer: no.  The slightly longer answer:  checking out is what you do with your groceries, not what you do with learning.  In the spirit of feeling passionate about learning to the very last week, I wanted the thematic statement of the learning environment to be a revamping of the famous sentiment by world renowned climber, George Mallory:

If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.”
George Mallory, Climbing Everest: The Complete Writings of George Mallory

that’s what the hashtag #CLIMB is all about.  So, how did I go about unpacking it?

Efrén Climb



Talk to someone you trust with your ideas.  If you don’t have someone, tweet to Paula, she’s so generous, I’ve seen her mentor so many people:


Try the concept out with your students. I wanted to test the waters for #CLIMB with my class, and so using this article on the ten most relevant ‘future ready skills,’ I let my students show me what ‘learning as mountaineering.’ looked like to them:

Step three:

The Noun Project.  YEEEEEEEEES.  A great go to in helping your students work with visual metaphors, and to help you ‘badgify’ learning.  This is also a great resource to help model that Creative Commons mindset.


Step four:

YOUR LIBRARY!  I asked our lovely librarian Sue, if she could help me curate a nice collection on mountaineering, and not only did she say ‘yes,’ but she had the books to me less than an hour later.  Libraries want to support the learning, so be sure to include them.  Thanks, Sue!

step five:

Recycle, reuse, remix. Know the hobbies of your faculty, and you know where to go for great design leveling up gear.  A massive thank you to both Brad and Andrew for lending me climbing rope, a helmet, and spare carabiners.  I love that designing a space for community is the direct result OF my community.  #CLIMB

Kamaljith K V Community.....
Kamaljith K V


Paula was right: you start from the heart

The lesson I learned in this quick classroom revamp is that classroom redesign is about loving what we do.  I love being an educator.  I want my students to know how I feel about our learning experiences in every way possible.  The classroom can be a conductor of joy.  When that’s your mission: to put a little more joy into your school community, people will help you.  That’s why Paula, Sue, Brad, Andrew (and of course Jennifer who helped me find Brad and Andrew) supported me:  appeal to an educator’s sense of joy, imagination, and passion, and people will lug in heavy climbing rope for you (even when they bike to work in the rain).

In honor of #TeacherAppreciationWeek, I’d like to wish Paula, Sue, Brad, Andrew and Jennifer a very, very happy week.  I hope they feel appreciated, because they are. Team #CLIMB, this one’s for you:







FLICKR, where would bloggers be without your Creative Commons bounty?

Christian Scheja