The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

Starbucks, lessons for educators

Some of my holiday weekend was spent reading Onward by Howard Schultz, about the resurgence of Starbucks over the past several years. While the book is about a company that serves coffee, there were many lessons that I took away that would benefit schools. In times such as these, where the economy is down, and so much negative attention is focused on schools from the public, I found this book to be particularly topical. Among the important lessons:

Remember your core mission:
When Howard Schultz returned as ceo (Starbucks does not capitalize any job titles), he called on all their partners (another company term) to again focus on coffee and customer service. Reworking breakfast sandwiches to eliminate the smell of cheese in stores, retraining baristas to pour a perfect espresso, and continuing to search for the best possible beans to develop the Pike’s Place roast were all tasks taken on to preserve one of the core purposes of the organization. As the economy began to struggle, it was focusing on these principles that allowed for tough decisions, such as closing stores, to take place.
Lesson for educators: Learning is our core purpose. We must focus on superior classroom practices and instruction, as well as on interventions for kids who struggle and for kids who achieve at rates faster than their peers.

Innovate based on your core mission:
All of the new ideas pursued under Schultz’s leadership connected to the mission of Starbucks, superior coffee, strong customer relationships, or a commitment to strong communities. Pike’s Place, VIA roast, new Espresso training for Baristas, a rewards program, and an initiative to reward people for voting were all tied to their core mission.
Lesson for educators: We must pursue new ideas, but those concepts must further our overall purpose statement. Too often, schools chase the “next big thing” without taking the time to consider whether or not a new program will further it’s purpose.

Provide a chance for customers to offer feedback:
By developing a website where suggestions could be sent, Starbucks made an effort to hear from those they are working with. While some suggestions that go against their core purpose were not accepted, ideas from customers were considered.
Lesson for educators: We must make an effort to hear from parents and students to get feedback about what we are doing that works, and what does not. Sites such as surveymonkey make getting this information to analyze efficient.

Relationships are key:
Whether it is colleagues working together, or a barista making an effort to know a customer’s name and favorite drink, people are at the center of what Starbucks does. As Schultz put it in the book, “behind every person, there is a story.”
Lesson for educators: We must collaborate with our colleagues, and keep students and their needs central to our focus.

Locations must be inviting:
Starbucks is a place for people to gather. From college students, to families, to book clubs, each location must be comfortable and create an environment where people can feel comfortable.
Lesson for educators: Our classrooms must be places where people can be comfortable and productive, regardless of their gender or interests.

While someone browsing at the local bookstore may look at the shelf and see a book about coffee, the lessons Howard Schultz writes about transcend one industry and are applicable to educators. As we go through tough times, we must focus on our core purpose and innovate only based on our mission, continuous learning for each individual. As our school leadership team begins to plan for next year, many of the principles covered in Onward will shape our thinking about how to proceed. In times such as these, we need to simplify our business model and deliver quality core instruction and customer service. This professionalism will advocate for our profession, something desperately needed in these times.


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2 thoughts on “Starbucks, lessons for educators

  1. Pingback: Leaders of Learning « The Principal's Principles

  2. Adeyemo Samson on said:

    I love your work. I am a Master student of Educational Management in University of Ilorin, Nigeria, writing research project on this topic, ‘Principal’s Administrative Experience, School Tone and Students Academic Performance.’ Please, I need your help in getting material especially on the first two variables- PAE and ST? Thank you sir.

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