Fresh from the Washington Canvas Conference at Tacoma Community College, my husband John and I went out to dinner at the nearby Duke's Restaurant. This is a very popular waterfront spot known for its great chowder and seafood food - and its fantastic happy hour menu, always a big selling point for us. I had been part of 3 presentations at the conference, and was feeling delighted that the pressure was over, that the sessions had been good, and to have made some great new connections as well as reconnecting with others that inspire me. Bring on the happy hour!
Our 30-ish waiter came and bent down on one knee by the table to talk to us. I noticed right away his focus; his first mission was to connect. It felt like we knew him - he connected as a person; none of that rote, memorized stuff. He introduced himself as Wade, and explained some menu items as we looked over the huge menu- so many decisions to make. He could tell we would need time. "No hurry - just let me know when you are ready," he said. As he turned to leave, he said, "It's Wade. My friends in college used to call me "Wade-a-Minute".
Now, I usually can't remember someone's name for more than 5 seconds after they turn away. But he had given me a mnemonic. Wait a Minute. Mr. Wade-a-Minute.
When he brought our drinks, we chatted a bit more. He looked at my peacock scarf and said, "Peacock; my spirit animal." I looked at him quizzically. "They laugh like humans, and I love to laugh," he explained. "How do you know its your spirit animal?" I asked. "I took the spirit animal test," he said. As soon as he left the table, I looked it up online on my phone.
As we enjoyed our (first) drinks, I took the short spirit animal quiz. In the past, a lot of people at our institution have taken the Strength Finder Quiz, and they have cards posted near their desks or on their doors, with things such as: Achiever. Empathy. Positivity. It has always bothered me that they are not grammatically parallel terms. They also seem to be no more "real" than the horoscope...although you can get that for free, whereas this one costs money. So I was happy to take the quiz....and delighted with the results.
When Mr. Wade-a-Minute came back to the table, I told him: "I'm a butterfly. Powerful transformer." He grinned - a bit surprised that (someone so old as myself?) had taken the quiz. He had engaged me with a new idea, and I had tried something new. My husband John thought it was a perfect description, but rather than take the quiz himself, wanted to concentrate on his new drink, which Mr You-Know-Who had recommended.
As we enjoyed our meal, I watched Wade move around the section. He knelt at each table and gave them his full attention, nodding, listening, recommending. He made sure that each of his tables had his undivided attention when he was there, then he was up and running; putting in orders, bringing food and drinks, moving with efficiency and intent.
It dawned on me that he was putting into action many ideas that were highlighted at the conference. He knows how to connect and meet his audience where they are, he is not the sage on the stage, but the guide on the side, and I had learned something new. He brought the personal into the setting to build a little community at each very diverse table, with diverse needs and attitudes. He guided the whole experience, and we left with a feeling of wanting to go back, not because of the food, but because of Mr. Wade-a-Minute.
I think we all have this power in our hands, if we just connect with intent, listen to our students' needs, and step back and guide their experience.