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My Kids’ School Eliminates Waste in Cafeteria

It’s that time of year again when I spend a day working at my kids’ school.  It is always a lot of fun to be with the kids in their classrooms and help with activities.  Every year I learn something new from a visual management perspective or from some other aspect of lean.  The school is not “using lean” but there are always elements of it around.

This year I noticed some small improvements that were great ways to element small amounts of waste that would add up over time.  One example was the placement of the silverware in the lunch line.  It used to be the first thing in the line so every kid would grab one of each piece of silverware before choosing their lunch and knowing what they would actually need for their lunch.  Now the silverware is the very last thing in the lunch line.  The kids can choose their food and then pick the appropriate utensils.  This eliminates the cleaning silverware that was never used, saving time in putting silverware away as well as possibly reducing the number of dishwasher cycles needed to clean the dishes.

A second small improvement I saw had to do with reducing food waste.  As part of the lunch, students get milk in cartons, yogurt cups or other food items that are packaged.  In years past, if the student didn’t want it they threw it in the trash.  At the same time, other students might want an extra milk or yogurt and would have to pay extra for it.

Now the school has the “share table”.  It is a small table where students that don’t want their milk carton or packaged food item can put it on the table for other students to eat.  If another student wants an extra milk they can ask to go to the “share table” and pick an item.  Less food in the trash and less cost to parents of kids who want a little extra.  What a great idea!

It is amazing at all the learning that I still get every year I go into my kids’ school.  We can learn ways to reduce waste and communicate visually anywhere.  We just have to keep our eyes and minds open.

More Learning from an Elementary School

Learning without fear of consequences is what lean thinkers expect from their environment.  At a traditional workplace, this does not happen a majority of the time.

When I spent time with my kids at their elementary school this was the foundation of how the school operated.  The school provided a very large learning zone.  The learning zone is the amount of room or flexibility a person has to try new things and learn without the fear of repercussions.  The larger the learning zone the more a person can stretch their ideas and try new things.


What impressed me about the school wasn’t the the learning zone for the academic part of learning but the size of the learning zone that is given for the behavioral aspects.  The librarian stuck out in my mind the most.  During the kids’ time in the library, she would gently correct the child if they weren’t following the rules.  At the end of their time in the library, the kids would line up and the librarian would then go through an exercise of evaluating their behavior.  She would give the kids a scale of 1 -5 and explain what each number meant for effort.  Then one-by-one she would ask each child to rate themselves.  The honestly that came from the kids was incredible.  Some saying they honestly gave a low effort  and rating themselves at a 1 or 2.

The librarian never criticized them.  She just asked if they would give a better effort next time and the kids always said yes.  She tracked the number the kids gave in a book to compare to each time to look for a pattern or trend.

The kids felt completely safe to be honest and by asking if they would give a better effort next time helped the kids become accountable for their behavior.

This does not mean they can do whatever they want.  This would be an infinite sized learning zone.  But the learning zone she provided was large enough for the kids to explore their own behavior during their time with her in the library.

When do we lose that learning zone?  When do we switch from learning being the most important to execution being the most important and forget all about learning?  How can we create safe learning zones at work as we ask people to change behaviors of a lean leader?


Learning is Frustrating

Last week Jamie Flinchbaugh posted a blog entitled “If you’re not frustrated, the you’re not working on the right problem”.  I even posted a comment about it.

The timing of this post was perfect.  A couple of nights later, I was working with my daughter on some reading homework.  There was one section of work that completely frustrated her because she couldn’t get the right answer easily.  So far, almost everything in school has come naturally for her.  She picks up and she gets it.  So when she has trouble with something and can’t get it after the first try she gets very frustrated and upset.

That is when I realized, her limits are being stretched for the first time in a very long while.  What was important was re-enforcing that it was alright to make mistakes.  When mistakes are made, we learn from them and our limits/knowledge expand.  We were trying to show her the goal wasn’t perfection, but learning.

When I have been learning something that stretches my limits I know it can be frustrating, but once I get over that proverbial hump, I feel great about the learning that has occurred.  Because of going through that frustration, the learning is internalized better and I don’t forget it.

This is another cultural aspect of lean that can’t been seen as easily as 5S or visual management or quick changeovers.  But if you see people getting frustrated with problem solving and learning then you are probably learning about the things that will make your organization much stronger.