Come Hungry, Leave Ignited

Bringing the spirit of service from fine dining into a learning environment

Note: “Educator” in this essay is defined broadly, ranging from teachers in classrooms and facilitator of a course or a workshop. That also means “student” refers to anyone who’s an audience of the educator.

I recently had one of the best dining experiences at Lazy Bear. I went in expecting great food but ok hospitality with the COVID19 guidelines. I left the dinner warmly ignited — my favorite state to be in. All I wanted to do is channel the positive energy I’ve received to those around me and into things I do and make. It’s a result of feeling deeply connected with the thoughtfulness behind a creation — a successful manifestation of the spirit of service. 

While this successful manifestation is often found in the hospitality industry, I can’t help but wonder how we can bring it to a learning environment, especially after the challenges to feel engaged that students have faced throughout the lockdown. Through carefully analyzing different fine dining experiences, I extracted four key ingredients that can be mixed and matched to cook up a warmly ignited experience in a learning environment.

First is contagious passion. The delicacy in the fine-dining that we know today originated from Marie Antoine Carême’s strong passion for architecture, expressed through the culinary skills he developed in the kitchen. 

Marie Antoine Carême (source)

Today, we see chefs around the world pour their hearts and souls into each bite they put before their diners. Craving to be transported to a different world through those bites, diners are willing to pay what could usually buy them at least 10 meals. In education, educators’ ability to communicate their passion can play a huge role in students’ learning experiences. Like diners, through the quality of the course materials and activities, students can tell if the experience is prepared with passion or just as a thing on their educator’s to-do list. Every material and activity (or if you would, touchpoint) is an opportunity for educators to express their passion for the topics they teach. When done well, students feel more connected to the educator and the topics. 

The second ingredient is a curated experience. In fine-dining, chefs and their teams curate experiences through experimenting with different food-drink pairings, sequencing of the dishes, the tableware that’s used, the story behind each one, and how everything’s weaved together as a complete experience. In education, curation happens through thoughtful content-activity pairings, sequencing of the content, selecting the prop to enhance the essence of the content, and connecting the content to relevant modern world stories. With great curation, students can better approach learning as a journey to indulge rather than as something they need to check off of their lists.  

Anyone who’s taken a class in a lecture hall with no window would know how sad and hard it is to stay engaged. An immersive environment is, thus, the third ingredient to create a warmly ignited experience. What type of environment will best enable the audience to immerse themselves in the content? This is where chefs and their teams bring in interior experts and partner with artists to liven the physical environment around the meals they create. One memorable experience that nailed this is the Omakase experience at Sushi Sho. The dining experience was made extra personal thanks to the half-decagon table. It gives enough space for the chefs to access the ingredients and cook while facing the diners so both parties stay connected throughout the experience. Unlike a half-circle or a straight sushi bar, the half-decagon corners provide a subtle but enough room for each party of two to enjoy their personal space while still able to see other parties and feel more like a part of the bigger group if desired.

Sushi Sho (source)

In a classroom, educators can experiment with different setups of tables and chairs, lighting, and the position of the props or leverage nearby areas like parks. For example, for a history class about Anne Frank, instead of showing slides in front of a classroom, educators could together with students, set the space up mimicking a museum exhibition or modeling it after Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam. Making the environment more immersive is a powerful lever to bring students along with the stories and make the experience memorable.

Lastly, every fine-dining experience has some sort of a personalized cherry-on-top. Without it, the experience is already quite complete. With it, people can’t help but talk about it over and over again. My boyfriend and I went to Lazy Bear for his birthday. Not only did they print his name in their menu book but they also made sure everybody who came to interact with us knew so they can say “happy birthday” to him. These little thoughtful acts made him (and also, if not more, myself) feel belong in the space. An example of a cherry on top I applied as a facilitator in a learning environment is writing physical personalized cards to welcome our workshop guests. The cards helped make them feel safe in the space we created, which was the environment we intended to create. Going above and beyond to personalize the experience isn’t only limited to an in-person learning experience. Iman Usman, a co-founder and the CPO of Ruangguru, recently shared his experience as a student where the instructor memorized all of the students’ names and their backgrounds and even thought through how each person could potentially contribute to the discussion. These little details, after all, are what make any shared experience special. 

Iman Usman’s Instagram story

Integrating all four elements into a classroom experience might not be possible right away, especially for educators who on top of teaching, have to juggle between different administrative tasks and other initiatives like research. But like any meaningful change, it takes time and starts with baby steps — and I hope this could be one of the cookbooks you refer to when nourishing the hungry minds in your classroom. 

Consider supporting anti-Asian hate initiatives

On a more personal note, like many, it’s been a heavy couple of weeks. I had to de-prioritize some side projects to give myself the mental space to process the situation and reflect on what I can do as an individual to support the AAPI community, the very one I’m a part of.

If you haven’t already, please join me to support the anti-Asian hate initiatives and check out Gabrielle Widjaja’s We Are Still Here, a beautiful digital scrapbook highlighting Asian resilience.

Follow along

I started this newsletter to create a space to explore creative education practices, celebrate the love for learning, express hope for our education systems to advance in a more accessible and human way. You being a part of it means a ton ❤️

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