Do You Have A Popsicle Hotline? School Culture and the Power of Moments

John Norlin · May 29, 2018


Out of the 356 hotels In Los Angeles California, one of the top 3 rated hotels on TripAdvisor is not the most expensive. Instead, the Magic Castle Hotel is on average half the price per night of the hotels that rank just above and below it on popular travel websites, yet it is a converted apartment complex from the 1950’s painted bright yellow. How would a hotel like this be ranked so highly out of all the different luxury and expensive hotels in this area you might ask? One main reason is the red popsicle hotline that is hanging poolside where any guest can pick it up, order their favorite flavor of popsicle, and within minutes an employee will come out with a silver platter and white gloves on to deliver your popsicle free of charge.

In their book The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath talk about “Defining Moments” and how people don’t remember every moment of their experience, but instead defining key moments. The four types of powerful moments that the Heath brothers identify are elevation moments that transcend ordinary experience, insight moments that rewire our understanding, moments of pride that accompany achievement, and moments of connection like graduations or weddings. It is the elevation type moment that the “Popsicle Hotline” is creating. A guest will remember this powerful moment that transcends an ordinary experience and not remember in the long run that the rooms were average and pool itself was nothing to call home about.

In education, I think we can learn a lot from the ideas Chip and Dan Heath have laid out in their book. Schools can intentionally break through the ordinary that is so common with school to create defining moments. Think about it: most students wake up, go to school, go home, do some homework, and go to bed and repeat the same process over and over again for thirteen years. If you are a relational teacher, you create elevation moments with your energy and intentional ways of connecting daily. But those “kid magnet” teachers are not enough for schools to rely on to create an amazing school climate and culture. What would happen if both school systems and classroom teachers intentionally built in elevation moments that transcended ordinary experiences throughout the year (especially during those natural low points)? Here are 3 ideas on how to create elevated moments in your school and classroom.

#1 - Monday Magic

Mondays are difficult for many people. Even a meta analysis in 2005 showed that sudden cardiac death in adults is markedly increased on Monday. For our students, they are coming off of a weekend that potentially has disrupted their weekly routine of sleep and school work and the idea of going back to school is not always exciting for all. Just knowing this can be powerful for a teacher or school. What is a way that you could elevate the ordinary experience on a Monday? Start at the main entrances of your school. Get some music playing and get admin, counselors, campus security, and student leaders greeting at the door. Pick random Mondays to hand things out that are inexpensive but cool. Teachers also could up their game on Mondays by not only greeting at their door, but also make something exciting to start the week. One teacher I know said they always remembered how their high school history teacher used to get so excited about the “quote of the week” and, although super cheesy, would pull students in because of how passionate he was about this event. The teacher would make a big deal about the quote, who got to read the quote, and how it was presented to the class with a music intro and lead-in introduction. What could you do to elevate Mondays?

#2 - Make the Ordinary Extraordinary

So much of what we do in education can become so ordinary that it loses its impact. Take 2-3 things that you do during the year and intentionally elevate them to move beyond the ordinary. One year in a staff training we were challenged to think about how we celebrate learning in our classroom. That next week I bought a Zildjian Gong and every time a student turned in a paper or assessment that they thought they learned something new and/or worked hard to learn, they would ring the “championship bell” (gentleness was a rule). This became a fun way to celebrate learning and move beyond the ordinary. My wife always raved about her high school teacher Mr. Hoseth who conducted something in his US History Class called “The New Deal Olympics” where he would teach the post-Great Depression era through an Olympic Games activity. This included a running of the torch through the school and team competitions that connected to their learning. She mentioned that it wasn’t just the idea of the Olympics, but it was the little things like the Chariots of Fire Soundtrack he played each day they came in, the Olympic Rings hanging in his classroom, and his overall passion and energy for the unit. Anyone can take a unit and spice it up a bit, but it is going the extra mile with the details and sacrificing your own pride to even be a little silly and over the top to create a memorable moment in your classroom that students will remember.

#3 - Create Community

Most schools have the normal activities that they do every year as a school. Assemblies, Food Drives, and Spirit Weeks are common ways of schools coming together as a community. These are great activities and I absolutely support them continuing, but what if we intentionally elevated our creating of community through an activity that wasn’t the norm. One activity that I was most proud of as a former activities director and student leadership teacher was the annual Community Dinner. The Community Dinner was an event that students planned, fundraised, and implemented. It was a free holiday community dinner that welcomed the mayor, people experiencing homelessness, families from the community, and students from the school. The students knew they didn’t want it to be a soup kitchen experience, so they decorated it like it was homecoming. They got performers to come throughout the evening, had a craft area for kids, and even a gift give away for the young ones who came. There were presents stacked ten feet high! The best part was that students served from start to finish. They greeted people at the door and seated them, served them their food and drinks, and even shared a piece of pie with them at the end of the dinner. Two things always stood out to me after this event: First was the number of kids who said it was “life changing.” Second was the number of students who got involved and served who did not participate in any other school activity all year long. True community was on display and it was the students who created it. People support what they help to create. What could you do to help students create community at your school?

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The change of thinking that the Chip and Dan Heath bring in their book is that you don’t have to get every moment perfect. Instead, be more intentional with a few key moments throughout the year that create defining memorable moments. This is huge because this is doable and with everything else going on at such a frantic pace in education and in life, it needs to be doable for it to actually happen. As another year closes, what could you do to intentionally elevate the school experience for your students next year? Who knows, maybe they will be talking about your influence years later, and how you took the ordinary and made it extraordinary.

About the book: The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, written by Chip and Dan Heath is an incredible book that looks at how we can create powerful experiences in life by being intentional and thoughtful in the planning of experiences. This book would be a great read for any school professional this summer break, not only for guidance in the classroom, but in your personal life as well.


John Norlin

John Norlin is a Co-Founder of CharacterStrong, a Servant Leadership trainer, and motivational speaker. He was Washington Advisor of the Year, taught 5 leadership classes per semester for 10 years at Sumner High School, and was a Program Administrator for the Whole Child for five years.