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.