Leadership and the Lovable Toaster.

Let me ask you a quick question:  When was the last time that you heard teachers grumble about toasters?

Never, right?  Everyone digs their toasters.

In fact, I don’t think I know anyone that has turned their backs on toasters.  Toaster-love is a universal truth.



Here’s why that matters:   While they clearly love their toasters, many teachers are all-too-ready to turn their backs on school change efforts.

Pitch a new digital tool and skeptics start squawking immediately.  Suggest a new instructional practice and SOMEONE will point out a million reasons it’s bound to fail.  Propose a school-wide strategy for reaching more kids and you are likely to be quelling a break-room rebellion before the day is out.

If we could figure out just what it is about toasters that makes them so darn lovable, we MIGHT just be able to tailor school change efforts that are more likely to be embraced, too.

(And YES, I’m being serious.)





 Related Radical Reads:

Our Compulsive Obsession with the Impossible Sexy

Sustainable Change in Schools is Evolutionary

Make Like an Obstetrician and Deliver



  • Scott


    I love my toaster because it follows the KISS principal.  Keep It Simple Stupid. Before the toaster you had to heat up the stove, place the bread inbetween those toaster grates and watch it carefully so as not to burn it. I wasn’t very good at that during camping trips. The toaster takes something that usually ended up in a non-perfect state (burned) come out perfect almost everytime.  Great technology that we take on our camping trips now. I can’t say that is true about much of what is going on in the wheel of education lately. I watch teachers spend endless hours punching in reading data into their mClass iPads (not for student use) when a good teacher knows in about 5 minutes that Johnny can’t read at level and should maybe work on word recognition (flash cards.) Teachers had to go through hours of training on how to key in the data (NOT KISS.) The amount of man hours devoted to assigning interventions and determining where Johnny is on the pryamind of understanding is not really generating any Earth shattering results. Maybe because it not simple.

  • Rhonda Hill

    What about when you burn the toast?

    I love this analogy of #leadlikeatoaster, but what about when a teacher burns the toast?There is an underlying fear of change when it comes to practices in the classroom. We are comfortable with what we do and are tentative to dive into innovative practices for fear of doing something wrong. I use a toast analogy when I’m supporting teachers who are moving towards a more project based learning approach in their classrooms. It’s ok to burn the toast. You probably will burn the toast. Reflect on why you burned it. Take those lessons and apply the learning to your next project based learning experience. 

    • MelissaRasberry

      You nailed it, Rhonda!
      As I was reading through Bill’s (always entertaining *and* thought-provoking) post, I immediately thought of burnt toast. What’s the worst thing that will happen when you burn the toast? You’ll have to throw it away and start again. How often do we allow teachers and schools to do the same? Unfortunately, many folks can’t #leadlikeatoaster because they aren’t provided with the right tools or supports to do so. When you can’t select the bread, the number of slices you’re trying to toast, or the duration of the toasting process, you can easily burn out (no pun intended).

      So what’s the solution? How do we transform schools and systems for the optimal “toasting” conditions?

  • Brian Ridpath


    The real problem is that a new toaster does the same thing as the old toaster. It toasts. It produces exactly the same product as the old toaster. Toasted bread (light, just right, and burnt). The trick is, you have experience with the old toaster so you can make it do exactly what you want 99% of the time – the new toaster is not so kind and it requires many more failures (think the inlaws are coming over and you burned their toast). The only time a toaster should be changed is when you see that it is not working at all for its intended purpose.

    The nice thing about toasters is that everyone owns a different brand. Some people are really good at adjusting their digital readouts to produce golden brown toast and others just turn a dial or push a button and get the same results. Heck, some people like and are quite adept at just putting their bread on a stove top pan and toasting it.

    I personally think, without lengthening this cute little analogy, that teaching techniques and tools can be overrated in our current educational system. We should trust the teacher with their “best practices” and allow them to find their way and develop their experience to help their students turn out just right. The tough part is people(students and teachers) are a bit more difficult to get golden brown so it takes lots of different techniques applied by different teachers to “toast” ’em up just right.

  • billferriter

    I LOVE Radical Nation

    Can I just say that I love you, Radical Nation! 

    Not only are you playing along with my crazy #toasternotions, you’re coming up with GREAT metaphors that I wouldn’t have ever considered. 

    Thank you for being brilliant and for challenging my thinking. 

    I’m going to keep quiet here in the idea department.  I have a bunch of opinions and ideas about how toasters can inspire my leadership, but I don’t want to squelch anyone’s thinking by pushing my own thoughts into the conversation.

    Rock on,



  • lisa domeier de suarez

    Bill do you have a camera to my kitchen?


    I just got a new toaster delivered to me yesterday and then I read this post….spooky. I like your thinking and I think it points to our fear and laziness as human beings. I hear this narrative all the time “Change is good for everyone except for me!”. It takes courage to “live in perpetual beta” as i challenged #sd36learn educators in an IGNITE session I did in October. This means that we are not afraid to model risk taking to our peers and to our students. I presented images yesterday to a group of #sd36lean Teacher Librarians from a trip I just got back from where I was working with Teacher Librarians in the Yukon. I was sick all Spring Break and I didn’t have time to create a keynote presentation. I scrolled through my photos and shared images and talked about the stellar educators that I met in the Yukon who are transforming their libraries to learning commons. Did the sky fall in because I did not have a polished Keynote? No.

    So how can we spread fearlessness? We need to model it, mentor it, and train for it. We need to walk towards the danger as Micheal Fullan says. 

    Skies will not fall and we will be better educators for it. 

    I need to go make some toast.






  • Zachary Champagne

    The real reason we love our toasters

    The real reason we love our toasters is that they do the work for us! We put the toast in, most likely walk away and finish getting ready, and then we come back and there it is…breakfast. Perfect – albeit very boring – every time.

    I know this probably debunks the theory, but quite frankly that is what many educators want in reform. Walk away and keep doing the same old thing and then come back and our students are “perfect.”

    Unfortunately, we all know change is MUCH messier than that. However, it’s like making your own breakfast from scratch – you know pancakes, eggs, bacon, french toast, etc. While the work involved in that is great…we take much greater pride in the outcome. But when we mess it up, it can be really frustrating…and guess what. We end up just making toast instead. This seems eerily like reforming our practice.  When we work hard at it and our students succeed, we feel great. But when things don’t turn out perfect on the first try…we go back and make toast.


  • BillIvey

    “Whatever happened to predictability?”

    I love my toaster because it is small and cheap and absolutely reliably predictable.I know, when I drop my sliced bread rounds into it, that several minutes later they will be just exactly the right amount of “on the verge of hot” and lightly browned. I know the one on the left will pop up sufficiently for me to be able to edge it out carefully with my thumb and forefinger, and the one on the right will only emerge as I tease it out cautiously and tenuously with a fork.

    I also love my hand blender. I didn’t think I would. I had existed perfectly well without it for decades, I already owned a Cuisinart, and I really didn’t want something else to have to clean after I was finished cooking. But then I found a butternut squash, onion, and apple soup recipe that is utterly delicious, especially when hand-blended, and I’ve never looked back.


    <sings> “When you’re lost out there and you’re all alone; a light is waiting to carry you home.” </sings>

  • AnneJolly

    I don’t have toaster love any more

    I’m really mad at my toaster.  It was with me for years . . . through thick and thin.  I used that toaster through the years with 3 growing boys (now men). It was dependable. I knew what the toast would be like when I set it to each number.  I knew how long it would take to toast the bread so I could plan how much I could do while the bread was toasting. 

    Two weeks ago I toasted some bread and nothing happened. Nothing popped up. No heat. No nothing.  For no apparent reason it just stopped.  

    Now I have a new toaster. I haven’t had time to fall in love with it yet.  It isn’t like my old toaster. I haven’t figured out its quirks yet, or how long it takes to accomplish its purpose.

    To tell the truth , it’s kinda like the classes of students I taught. As the year went on and I got to know them, I learned their quirks, how long it would take for them to do things, what I could expect of them, how they would behave when I turned the knob up a notch. I came to love them.

    Then they would just go away – and the next year I’d have a whole new crop.  I’d have to go through the same process – who are you? What will you do? What happens when I turn the knob up to “6?” And we got to know each other, work through the quirks, and I’d come to love them as well.

    Hopefully I can “connect” with this toaster soon. 

  • misstori


    There is a certain chemistry to breadmaking that will influence how it toasts, regardless of the method used for browning.  My favorite is sourdough, but it’s tougher to toast than Pepperidge Farm cinammon raisin. 

  • JohnVisel

    Survival Mechanism

    Toaster loving is a survival mechanism that humans have used since the dawn of humans.  Our brains make a bigger deal out of someting that is potentially bad, over something that is neutral or good. 


    Schools can be very xenophobic places.  The type of personality that is attracted to the profession by and large contains the Myers-Briggs letters S (sensing) and J (judging).  These attributes come together to equal someone who is steadfastly bound to tradition.  80% of teachers have these two letters in their type.  A great book on this is Please Understand Me by Kiersey and Bates.

    The future depends on teacher leaders being courageous. 

    It’s easy to think poorly of a leader who refuses to change. It’s easy to dog out an educational leader who makes certain changes that we disagree with.    It’s probably a harder reality to be leader, and put up with the political ramifications of your choices, even if they’re good for student learning. 

    Many of us had grand plans to save the world when we were in college teacher prep programs.  We were going to innovate.  We were going to push the envelope.  We were going to be trailblazers.  But then we grew up, and reality tempered our entrepreneurial spirit.  The energy to make it through twelve hour work days took something out of us. The creative spark grew into more a practical spark, and came to fruition in the form of strong, high quality lessons for students.  But our personality style changed along the way.  We learned to put up with things we disagreed with.  Complacency became a survival mechanism.

    I can empathize with the dreamers.  I can empathize with the naysayers.  We’ve been one some time or other. No one of us has a perfect record when it comes to which bandwagon he jumped on. Demonizing something as a first step to understanding it is some people’s modus operandi. We all like to get our feet wet before jumping in.  If one wants change, he has to be persistent enough to get people over the hump of demonizing.