How to Generate Successful Coffee Discussions

In my last blog, I referred to the next step in the superintendent-led initiative to provide Ohio’s citizens with a stronger voice in shaping the statewide education policy affecting them and their local schools.  That step is to begin meeting this fall with local residents and discussing frankly and openly the impact of the education reform movement.  Rather than holding town hall meetings and other large-scale events where the discussions can be easily hijacked by a handful of outspoken individuals, the initial conversations about education reform should be informal and intimate.  The most powerful venue for this kind of productive conversation is the small group discussion (or coffee) where someone hosts people they know in their homes. Here are some tips on how to generate successful coffee discussions:

  • The key to reaching a coffee discussion goal is to assign the job to a team of two or three reliable people who always do what they say they will do.
  • To get started quickly, the coffee team coordinators should host their own coffees.  This will enable them to see firsthand the value of the coffee discussions and make it easier to coach others who are hosting coffees.
  • A typical strategy for identifying coffee discussion hosts begins by mailing a board-signed letter with an enclosed postage-paid reply card to all school district residents and inviting them to host or attend a coffee discussion.  Then follow up by asking each school board member to be responsible for scheduling two coffees, asking building principals to obtain commitments to host coffees from two or three parents or other people they know, asking members of strategic planning committee, tax campaign committee, business advisory council and other school-related groups to host coffees, meeting with school district PTA’s, PTO’s and booster groups and asking them to identify 4-6 of their members to host coffees and meeting with certified and classified leadership groups and asking them to help identify school employees to host coffees.
  • Who should be the presenters at these coffees?  Typically, the presenters include teams of two people – including the superintendent, board member or other administrator and a teacher.  The teacher is the key to holding a successful coffee discussion.
  • What are the responsibilities of the coffee host or hostess?  It is to get 10-12 people to attend the coffee and provide refreshments.
  • How many people should be invited?  As a rule of thumb, invite about 15 people with the understanding that 10-12 will show up.
  • How should they be invited?  The only way to assure that people will show up is to make a personal phone call to the prospective coffee guest, receive a commitment from the guest that he or she will attend the coffee and send a follow up note to the guest confirming the time, date, location and his or her commitment to attend the coffee.
  • The format of each coffee includes a thank you to the host or hostess followed by self-introductions from the guests and a brief overview of the topic to be discussed.  Avoid utilizing PowerPoint presentations. Each coffee discussion will last from 1½ to two hours.



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