Home' Teacher : February 2010 Contents THE REFLECTIVE PRINCIPLE 67
Cathedrals are imposing structures, places
where we go to worship, sit in organised
rows, facing symbols that remind us of the
official dogma to be followed. Staffed by
a group of people among whom there is a
strict hierarchy of function and status, from
the bishop down, they're places where we
behave in prescribed ways, eyes front.
Cafés are different. Instead of having to
go to the cathedral, the chances are that the
café will come looking for you, establish-
ing itself in a place that's convenient to you,
even spilling out onto the street. After all,
a café proprietor wants you to enjoy being
in her café.
If a café has a hierarchy, it's usually
imperceptible. The best cafés are those in
which staff members are least visible, there
only when you need them, the emphasis
being on the café community. These are the
places where we meet friends and work col-
leagues, and extend our people networks.
They are convivial places where we relax
and feel free to share views and explore
ideas. If some official dogma or decree from
a cathedral were to make its way into the
café environment it would find itself ques-
tioned, met with a healthy scepticism and
maybe even wry humour.
Effective schools today have little in com-
mon with a cathedral. Rather, they operate
with a café-like structure and culture. Sure,
cafés lack the authority and official doctrine
of cathedrals, and deliberately so, but they
still have power and that power lies in the
chaotic intimacies of an open system. Some
leaders might fear the storytelling, the new
and heretical ideas that can emerge in such
a collaborative and collegial environment,
or the lack of structure. Imagine a bishop
trying to guide choices from an approved
menu. The fact is, though, that it's a café
-like environment that gives a school power
by encouraging flexibility and ingenuity.
This can keep the school on track and ensure
that members of staff are empowered to get
things done. Richard Hames, the author of
The Five Literacies of Global Leadership,
argues that clever leaders encourage a café
culture to form, encouraging people to swap
information and resolve issues. 'Far from
being a waste of. . .time and resources, it is
learning that can be shared and then applied
to enhance capability,' writes Hames. As
he puts it, the 'disorderly informality of the
café is responsible for 80 per cent of the
organisation's results . . . at least!'
Stories about success and failure are
important elements in a café culture. They're
also an informal means of professional
development. Often it can be a story, rather
than a directive or how-to prescription, that
informs and encourages a colleague. We can
be open to stories, but sometimes closed
when we attend lectures or briefings full of
directives and instructions. Of cou rse, indi-
viduals need to filter stories to identify what
is meaningful and useful, but that filtering
activity stimulates the mind.
Café networks are how we can extend
our knowledge and skills through relation-
ships. We're increasingly valuing those
interconnected networks of relationships
that nurture us and our schools. It's from
such networks that we extract intelligence
that can be synthesised and used differently
in our own settings. New knowledge is what
stimulates innovation in our schools.
Because café-like schools are attuned to
what is happening in the day-to-day life of
the place, they play an important role in the
interpretation of events and the translation
of ideas across the school, and thereby can
support the change process.
So how can we build a café-like school?
Can we just rearrange some of the pews
around some small tables and get a cap-
puccino machine into the cathedral? Is that
In a word, no. There's plenty more we
need to do differently to create a café cul-
ture. To begin with, leaders need to stop
thinking they're bishops, to let go of the
idea of leading from on high. Instead, they
need to establish feedback mechanisms and
foster interdependence between members of
staff, encouraging informal communication,
sharing and the distribution of leadership.
This is not a pie-in-the-sky idea, it's
a pastry-in-a-café, and it's easy to place
your first order. Start by abandoning staff-
dominated school assemblies and replace
them with student-devised and student-
led experiences. Recognise students when
they're teaching teachers and teachers when
they're learning from students. Let students
choose from, or even write, their own menu
for learning, so they can choose what to
learn, how and when. More radically, start
thinking of your school as a place that
comes to your students, somewhere that's
convenient to them, in ways that are attrac-
tive to them, using technology that is famil-
iar to them.
Cafés are in! T
Hames, R. D. (2007). The Five Literacies
of Global Leadership: What authentic
leaders know and you need to find out.
San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.
David Loader is an educ ation consultant
and Associate Professor in the Faculty of
Education at the Unive rsity of Melbourne.
His latest book is Jousting for the New
Generation: Challenges to contemporary
schooling, published by ACER Press.
DAVID LOADER GOES FOR A DECAF MACCHIATO AND A SOY-GLAZED MAHI MAHI WITH
CILANTRO PESTO SHRIMP -- HE'S IN A SCHOOL WITH A CAFÉ CULTURE.
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