Sunday, December 2, 2012

What Educators Can Learn From Gordon Ramsay

What can we learn from Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares?

Watching the BBC America version of Kitchen Nightmares one morning, I asked myself, “Why do I watch this show?”

I don’t watch a lot of television and I don’t like most reality shows, but for some reason I’m drawn to Kitchen Nightmares.

Then it hit me; Gordon Ramsay is in essence a teacher with high expectations. He expects and accepts nothing but the best from everyone.

After a brief conversation with the restaurateurs, Ramsay sits down for a meal—one that he will undoubtedly rip to pieces. This initial meal serves as a pre-assessment, enabling him to accurately assess the kitchen’s strengths and weaknesses.

After eating, Ramsay interviews the staff, soliciting feedback on the restaurant’s strengths and weaknesses. Their frankness and honesty often brings the owners to tears, but the information gleaned from the process enables Ramsay to further pinpoint what he needs to teach.

Most every episode includes a kitchen inspection that invariably reveals a disgusting and unsatisfactory kitchen. He emphasizes the importance of organization and cleanliness; much like a teacher who teaches, emphasizes and models organization. 

Within the first 30 minutes of the show, Ramsay has accurately assessed the wait staff, the cooking, the management and the infrastructure. As a teacher, he can’t just go to each restaurant with a uniform blueprint for success. Each restaurant is unique. Instead, Ramsay differentiates based on each restaurant’s needs. Like a teacher, he must meet the restaurant where they are and progress from there.

After the initial assessment, Ramsay tailors his instruction to meet the restaurant’s needs. Often, one of the first things he does is simplify the menu. Much like teachers who narrow their instruction to ensure mastery of key material (depth over breadth), Ramsay takes a multiple page menu and whittles it down to one page to ensure the kitchen can get each meal perfect.

Like great teachers, Ramsay insists on the restaurant’s best. He implores chefs not to serve anything that does not meet minimum standards. When a chef says, “The rest of the meals [for a table] were being sent out. We needed to send it out too.” Ramsay goes off.

His message: only serve your best, accept nothing less. Do your best or don’t do it at all.  Redo the meal until you get it right.

This message resonates with teachers. We cannot accept anything but our students’ best efforts. If we focus only on performance, that is getting the meal/assignment done, the restaurant or teacher is cheating its customers or students.  On the other hand, restaurants and teachers with a mastery orientation constantly seek to improve their competence. Restaurants and classrooms with a mastery orientation will constantly improve because people will believe they have control over their learning.  

Ramsay maintains high standards and strives for perfection. As educators, we must do the same.

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