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July 8, 2009

A great dinner leads to thoughts about accountability

by Chris Lindholm

Yes, I admit right out of the shoots, that my mind was not where it was supposed to be…  Sitting in the gorgeous dining room at Burntside Lodge in Ely, MN for a romantic anniversary dinner with my wife, I couldn't stop from thinking about the incredible serving staff attending to us and how the resort management maintained such a "high bar" of performance.  Evidence of the normal principal's sick obsession with improving education, I began to think (and of course discuss with my all too forgiving wife) about how this standard is communicated and maintained – and if their formula has application to running a public school.  The dinner was spectacular (which I gather is par for the course) and I was allowed a few moments to make some observations about how the room seemed to operate:  

  • One woman seems to "run the show."  She greets every guest at the entrance, introduces them to the menu, and gauges their level of comfort with the routines of the restaurant. 
  • This person who ran the show earned the title "Mother Hen" between my wife and me.  This was due to her constant attention to every table and employee in the dining room.  If she perceived that "something was not right," she was quick to get a staff member onto this situation immediately. 
  • Mother Hen's sense of what was going right and what was not was accurate all of the time. 
  • The serving staff seemed focused on impressing Mother Hen by impressing the guests – and eliminating the need for Mother Hen to have anything to attend to.

So how does this apply to learning and public education?  How can we make sure that students and the community feel that their needs are attended to at the high standard set by Burntside Lodge?  How can principals equip staff to the level of not needing the attention of "mother hen?"  Is the sixth sense of Mother Hen learnable or simply a gift?  Is their a connection between earning fat tips with top notch performance and trying to get top notch performance from educators? 

While my thoughts were not nearly romantic enough for an anniversary dinner, I do believe the comparison is something to wrestle with…  How can the level of service delivered in public education be improved to the highest level - where top notch performance becomes the norm?  

And yes, I do recommend a stop for dinner at Burntside Lodge!! 




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