I love coffee shops. I don’t even like coffee that much, and yet, I love coffee shops. Everything about a coffee shop is designed to encourage possibility. As I walk through, I notice wide varieties of people at work. Some alone and contemplating, others in collaborative discussions. These discussions could be about anything. I can’t help but wonder if the next big business is being germinated at the very tables I’m walking past. More likely, conversations are about daily life, expectant children, and the latest streaming shows, but that’s not the point. What’s important is the opportunity. The chance to discuss anything from the mundane to the revolutionary, all within a few feet of each other.

We should strive for that same sense of potential in our classrooms. They should be places where curiosity percolates and possibility is the house blend. Here are just a few characteristics of a coffee shop that you can incorporate into your own classroom.

Give Choice a Chance

In every coffee shop there’s what I call the sugar station. This is where I can put my five packets of sugar into my tea and destroy the torn white paper evidence without judgment. Others may pour cream or sprinkle cinnamon, but the true ingredient is choice. Construct stations of choice in your classroom. Give students the opportunity to select books, activities, projects, etc. Identify what needs to be learned. Keep that fixed but open everything else.

For Example: You are teaching cause and effect…let students choose whether to study this via literature, science, art, history, etc. You are teaching about civics and debate; let students choose a topic they care about and create a podcast with accurate facts.

Let the Energy Flow

Most coffee shops don’t have a stage. If they do, it’s purposefully used to bestow an artistic gift on the patrons. One that will leave a memory to inspire their daily labors. Although there is no stage in most classrooms, the teacher’s role is often that of the director. The teacher bears the burden of controlling all the energy in the room, guiding the learning process of their students. Instead, try to mimic the flow of the coffee shop. Make students as responsible for the transfer of information as you are. Use your stage sparingly and purposefully.

For Example: Set up stations for each of them to learn elements of the lesson and then present their findings to the classroom. Whether it’s growing seeds in Martian regolith or examining the use of electricity in the classroom, you provide the meaningful connection to their material.

Use Your Superpower

My absolute favorite thing about coffee shops is that they are all a little different. Each has a distinct aesthetic that reflects the style of its owner. One coffee shop I know has a chicken theme. There are photos, paintings, and sculptures of chickens everywhere. I don’t have an affinity for chickens, but I enjoy it because I feel the owner is sharing something special about themselves. We often focus on designing our classroom, so they’ll appeal to students. That’s important and admirable, but they must also be authentic. You want students to come into your room and know that it’s a place you take pride in personally. Share a piece of yourself with them.

For Example: Imagine your classroom as your own personal coffee shop. How would you decorate it? Don’t be afraid to make it happen. Don’t be afraid to stand out!

What about you? How do you visualize a productive classroom?