PD Through A Café Culture

In my senior year of college , I regularly retreated to my advisor’s office late in the afternoon to review new ideas that came to me for my thesis.  As we delved into late 19th century Spanish literature and it’s relation to Spain during this period, we often talked about how Spanish intellectuals gathered from all over the country in the geographically central city of Madrid to discuss ideas for how they would build the country’s new republic.  My advisor would talk about how they spent hours of the day in official meetings debating what would constitute the infrastructure behind the new state.  Despite days of organized negotiations, my college advisor talked about how the Spanish “café culture” provided the true progress towards building a new democracy. What is the Spanish café culture? In Spain, breaking for an hour with friends to have a coffee after lunch is common practice. Instead of grabbing a cup of coffee and running, Spaniards will sit and chat with friends. In the late 1800’s, intellectuals supposedly gathered with comrades and engrossed in informal debate in between official meetings. My advisor insisted that this informal debate yielded the vast majority of progress towards creating new policy.  Through creating relationships, both personal and professional, and shaking off the aura of work that often clings onto official meeting environments, the Spaniards may have created the framework for a democracy. I admit that I haven’t reviewed this history and I am reciting this story from the memories of times spent with my advisor. That said, the potential for a “café culture” for spreading ideas is intriguing.

Now, how does this relate to professional development for educators? I feel that some of the most productive PD moments come from this kind of informal gathering of intellectuals. The central question for other teachers: Does your school have a café culture?  This culture doesn’t have to literally include coffee, however, it should include a regular informal meeting of teachers/administers where pedagogical debates occur and people share their ideas?  If so, how does the “café culture” work at your school? If your school does not leave enough time for informal idea sharing, why do you think that’s the case? Do you see this method as an important way for teachers to develop their skills?

(I have been thinking about this for a while and was inspired to write today after reading an article from the Harvard Business Review titled “Spreading Critical Behaviors Virally” by Jon R. Katzenbach and Zia Khan.)

3 thoughts on “PD Through A Café Culture

  1. I think cafe culture is exactly what is missing in so much of the mandatory professional development that is provided for teachers. Many of the initiatives that we are asked to focus on are brought in to meet the demands of accreditation or state testing. As a result, nearly 100% of the time set aside for collaboration comes with an assigned agenda that must be attended to. Even lunch isn’t really a time to touch base with colleagues since we eat at different times. The essential question is how do we move toward a model of professional development that includes time for cafe culture? In education (as in many fields) there seems to be an increasing need to document and measure what is being done to improve. If the results aren’t measurable, the work isn’t valued. Sitting with colleagues and talking and debating isn’t really a measurable activity, nor should it be. Businesses like Google encourage play and time to relax within an intense creative atmosphere. They trust that their employees are working productively and expect great things. It’s when we ‘ve found time outside of school to have creative discussions and make our own cafe culture – often using Twitter or Skype – that I’ve had some of the most productive conversations and debates.

  2. I agree. A cafe culture is so important to building working relationships. Over the years I’ve found that the people I’m most likely to collaborate with are the ones who I frequently spend time with outside of scheduled meeting times — eating lunch on half days, playing golf after school, hanging around at conferences, having over to dinner, and lately, chatting back and forth on Twitter.

    And, it’s not so much that we constantly discuss curriculum and pedagogy (though inevitably that happens), but that we build trust with and respect for each other. That is what allows conversations and debates to be productive, creative, and meaningful.

  3. That is a brilliant idea. In fact, forming creative ideas and good discussions or debates are associated with similar rituals in many different cultures. The French writers and artists used to gather in cafes to discuss opinions or share ideas. This is also very common in middle eastern culture as well with the tea houses. I think the idea has good merits and deserves a chance in every school.

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