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Learning to Lead by Letting Go

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5c472cf2b4ea4 Jayla S. (Yorkville), Eve V. (Indian Creek), Eli T. (Sandwich), and Chaske R. (Yorkville)

Jayla S. (Yorkville), Eve V. (Indian Creek), Eli T. (Sandwich), and Chaske R. (Yorkville)

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5c472cf2b4ea4 Joseph G. (Yorkville)

Joseph G. (Yorkville)

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5c472cf2b4ea4 Joseph G. (Yorkville)

Joseph G. (Yorkville)

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5c472cf2b4ea4 Chaske R. (Yorkville)

Chaske R. (Yorkville)

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5c472cf2b4ea4 Chole M. (Plano), Sean F. (Sandwich)

Chole M. (Plano), Sean F. (Sandwich)

Sometimes being a chef in a professional kitchen resembles what I imagine the role of a drill sergeant to feel like. We often times shout instructions and give our orders. Most of your day is spent with your kitchen crew, so tight bonds are formed. There is no time for talking back in a busy kitchen; the job requires respect for authority and discipline in your craft. This chain of command can be what makes or breaks a kitchen team. It can be the difference between the success or failure of a restaurant. A chef is asked to keep control of their kitchen at all times, under all circumstances.


Learning to let go of this approach as I have transitioned from a chef to a culinary instructor has been a journey. Allowing my students to take control of the class and kitchen has been a challenge. It required me to rethink how I mentor and coach, and to allow students to become the classroom leaders.


“They have challenged themselves and their teammates to improve...”


This semester I have asked students to truly take over our classroom business. They are responsible for setting budgets, ordering food, planning menus, choosing teams, creating prep lists and all food production. This demands that they work together as a team to achieve their common goals. Giving over this much control was admittedly a little scary, but it has proven to be well worth the risk.


A few weeks time, a couple of bumps in the road, and some bruised egos have led to more student growth than sometimes occurs in an entire year. I have watched second-year students step into leadership roles without being told to do so. They have challenged themselves and their teammates to improve and write down goals for accountability. First-year students have started to take ownership of their classroom business and are showing great growth in employability skills - not just culinary knowledge. They are asking for help when they need it and supporting each other. This growth and change has been student-driven and has resulted in an improved classroom culture.


I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year will hold. There still might be some drill sergeant style orders being given, but fewer and fewer of them are coming from me:)


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