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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

An Unlikely Lesson in School Communications

A few months ago, I found myself awake at 4am in Toronto. The night cut short by jet lag, I looked online for a breakfast experience nearby that would set me up for the day.

I don’t recall now what I searched for, but I stumbled upon a place called Rooster Coffeehouse on Broadview Ave… and I’ve been meaning to write about this place ever since.

Yes, we went there later that morning when the rest of the city started to wake up and the coffee was excellent, but the reason why this coffee shop stood out from the other 1679 establishments in Toronto was entirely down to a few lines that I’d read on their website in the early hours of that cold Fall morning.

To give you a taste, here’s how the story starts:

We launched Rooster Coffeehouse in 2009, Dec 21. The first day of winter on what was a sleepy little stretch of Broadview. I personally remember being terrified to turn that sign to OPEN. My partner Dave had to nudge me along...he said kindly, “Lets just unlock the door.... if someone comes in, we will make them a coffee.”

With a turn of the latch, it began.

Since those Fall days back in October, I’ve had this page open on my browser because I knew that there was something to learn here; a lesson, perhaps, on how the stories we tell have this incredible ability to inspire, engage, and connect. I’ve never met Shawn, Dave, and Jay, co-founders of Rooster Coffeehouse, and likely never will. But somehow I still feel I’ve been a part of their story and had coffee in their home.

A photograph of a coffee shop

There is a wonderful line that captures what’s happening here in Yiannis Gabriel’s work, Storytelling in Organizations: Facts, Fictions, and Fantasies. “The relationship between facts and story is plastic,” he says, “Stories interpret events, infusing them with meaning through distortions, omissions, embellishments, and other devices, without, however, obliterating the facts.”

These days, we spend a lot of time talking about how to capture stories of learning in ways that move us beyond the mundane and one-dimensional world of fact. The guys at Rooster Coffeehouse nailed it and the more I think about why, the more I realise that it is all to do with their clarity of vision, the promise to deliver a quality product, and - perhaps most significantly - their willingness to communicate their vulnerability along the way.

Good schools will often be good at communicating their vision and tell a good story when it comes to delivering on their promises. But I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we started to express our institutional vulnerability a little more. Or as Brené Brown suggests in her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, maybe we should start “pay[ing] attention to the space between where we're actually standing and where we want to be.”

I might be wrong, but my guess is that parents would feel more a part of the story of our schools if we told stories like this, rather than naively pretending that we nailed it every time.

Photo by K8 on Unsplash.


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