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What's In Your Vending Machine?

I love when I stumble on an idea to support my coaching when I am least expecting it. I was in an airport waiting for a flight that had been delayed….and delayed again. It was around 2am and I was fighting to get the beverage I just paid for out of the vending machine. As I stood there, tired, hungry and thirsty, I wished the vending machine could give me what I really wanted: a good night’s sleep, a warm blanket and a quick flight home to see my family. I smiled as I finally retrieved my beverage, thinking of the fun I could have with a magical vending machine that could grant me the self-care and inspiration I needed (I was a bit sleep deprived, but just go with it).

I waited for my plane and quickly sketched out an idea that I knew might bring a smile to teachers’ faces: a vending machine for educators. Once I was back home, I created an outline of a vending machine on large chart paper and gave teachers a pile of sticky notes. I shared my airport experience and asked them to think about their own lives and what they wished the vending machine could give them at this point in the school year to made their days a bit more productive and a bit more enjoyable. They jotted their ideas down and stuck them onto our makeshift vending machine. Some ideas were grand, like changes to the school day, and others were small, like more time for collaboration and a new set of markers. We generated a lively conversation about what we need to do the work we do and how we can ensure that we get it, taking time to honor what we need to best serve students.

I shared the idea with other literacy coaches who eagerly gave it a try. Shelley Fenton, a literacy coach in upstate New York, decided to create a digital vending machine with her teachers. Teachers added their own items using Google Slides to create a collaborative product. Not only did it generate a productive conversation, but it gave Shelley the information she needed to support her teachers as they moved forward in their learning.

Why not give this a try? By asking teachers what they want and need to feel successful, we are ensuring their voices are heard and valued. Use the information to start an honest conversation about what teachers need to fuel their work and take that information to heart, using it to plan for upcoming professional learning experiences. You might even keep the vending machine visible for teachers and ask for their help in bringing the vending machine to life: donating supplies where supplies are needed, responding to a request for mentor text ideas, surprising a colleague with a favorite treat or simply offering to brainstorm together to solve teaching challenges.  These simple acts can transform the culture of a school.

Interested in more ideas like this? Take a look at my Coach's Playbook for Teacher Learning!


  1. Thanks Stephanie for sharing your creative idea. Seems like an engaging way to encourage teachers to ask for what they need and reflect on their school culture.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond, Matt. I would love to know if you try it with your teachers and how they responded!


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