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UTeach Alumna: Five Restaurant Rules that Improve Student Engagement


Math teacher Ariel Taylor pictures herself as a restaurant hostess when entering the classroom. The UTeach Austin alumna has seen student engagement increase with “The Restaurant Classroom Model,” which she highlights in her book, Party of Four Please! 

At a recent gathering of UTeach STEM alumni in Austin, Taylor shared five rules for using the model in classrooms.

RULE 1: Set the Tone

If a restaurant hostess has a bad attitude, you’re not going to eat there. Teachers can set the tone by standing at their doors to welcome students to the classroom and say, “Today is going to be a great day.” This simple act can be the difference between a positive learning experience and a discipline referral.

RULE 2: Allow for Flexibility

"Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be bent out of shape." Sometimes students aren’t having a good day and they don’t want to work in a group. When you enter a restaurant, you’re asked if you want a booth or table. You have a choice. If teachers allow students to make choices, then everyone has a better experience.


RULE 3: Choices Make a Difference

One element of quality design is choice. Teachers can help students make choices in a guided way so they know how to make those decisions on their own. Think about different ways choice can be incorporated in the classroom. It’s not just a lesson plan. What are other ways to provide choice? When going to a restaurant, they don't only serve one thing. Even with barbecue, there's a choice between chicken and ribs.

RULE 4: Be Knowledgeable

You may say to a waiter, “I’m not sure what I'm going to have today. Would you suggest the chicken fried steak?” and he says, “I haven’t really had it.” Then you ask about the broccoli soup, and the waiter says, “Oh. I didn’t know that was there.” An incompetent waiter makes you not want to be there. In the classroom, teachers not only need to know their content, but they also should know the content that came before their class and the content that comes after because it's important to meet students where they are now.  

RULE 5: Be Mobile

Proximity matters. When teachers move around the room, students are engaged and listening. If it’s a good restaurant, they have multiple patrons. Waiters walk around and make sure you have everything you need to enjoy the meal.

With almost a decade of teaching experience, Ariel Taylor’s roles have included high school math teacher, secondary math specialist and college math instructor. She currently is working as an assistant professor of practice at UTeach Austin. A native of Wharton, Texas, Taylor has presented at schools and conferences around the world. She has a doctorate of education from the University of Houston and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Texas at Austin.

Learn more about the UTeach program here