Can a latte change behavior? Mnemonically speaking, yes

Two men sitting at a desk working in a notebook and books

I just finished reading The Power of Habit. I liked the reference to the need for grit which has been talked about in several posts over the past year, and of course the neurobiological research about how our brains work and how habits are cemented into our routine. It’s a good read with a cup of something warm on a snowy day.

One section in the book dealt with habits of organizations. I liked learning about the marketing of Pepsodent and retailers’ research about our shopping habits, but this particular piece of information really got me thinking. As part of the Starbucks training program for employees, they are taught the LATTE method: Listen to the customer, Acknowledge their complaint, Take action by solving the problem, Thank them, and then Explain why it occurred. Great mnemonic!

It has potential for parenting (although, for my teens, please wait until I get my cup of coffee, THEN we can talk about this!), and it has potential in teaching. More and more I encounter students — in the classroom and online — whose anger is quite evident. Sometimes it appears “out of nowhere,” and other times I anticipated the negativity. It’s hard not to take it personally sometimes, especially when you as the educator know how hard you have worked on your course materials, how much time you’ve spent preparing and grading, and just how much time it takes to read and reply to all those emails. Yet the student thinks nothing of blaming YOU the educator for his/her missing a test/losing points/not understanding the material. What can we do?

I think we can use the latte method: we can listen to the student and acknowledge that they are frustrated, for sure. Then help them find ways to solve the problem: locate the course resources, find the tutor center, read your textbook, improve time management skills, etc. They did reach out to you, so thank them for communicating. Of course, we do want them to understand that behaviors need to change. My first discussion post this spring in my online trig course is, “What do you think you need to do to be successful in this course?” Let’s give them some examples of the right behaviors and practices; provide some resources and direction. Bad habits won’t change overnight, but there is a lot of research that supports changing our habits. For some students, it may take a crisis. For others, it may be something as simplistic as you suggesting they really need to use a planner.

You might argue that it’s not your job to focus on the “soft skills.” And, it’s not like we all don’t have enough to do already. However, it is part of what we do, whether we realize it or not. We all need to work on changing some bad habits, learning new emotional intelligence skills, and challenging ourselves with new ideas. So, maybe I am a little bit more like my students than I realize. Sure, they think I have it all “figured out,” but I know that sometimes I need myself or a colleague to say, it’s latte time. Let’s stop and reflect on that situation that just happened or that event that just “set you off…” so it doesn’t happen again.
For some reason, I keep thinking about coffee now….   


About the Author
Diane Hollister

Diane Hollister

Diane Hollister has been teaching college courses since 1992. In June 2015, she resigned from her full-time position at Reading Area Community College in Reading, Pennsylvania, where all the math courses have undergone some level of redesign. She still teaches online there and now is part of Pearson’s Efficacy team, helping instructors to implement programs and strategies that bolster student success.

She is intrigued by neurobiological research and learning theory, and she was quick to adopt adaptive learning as a new tool in her courses. Not only does she strive to help her students succeed, but Diane enjoys the collaboration with her peers. She has taught a variety of courses and loves learning how new technology and resources can help students be more successful.

Read more of her articles about math, ICTCM, and quantitative reasoning.