The Correlation Between Craft Brewing and the Craft of Teaching


A recent post up on Fast Company by Shawn Parr recently caught my eye as I skimmed through the headlines:

How Sam Adams Founder Jim Koch Is Helping Entrepreneurs Brew The American Dream

It caught my eye firstly because Sam Adams beer just so happens to be one of my perennial favorites, and secondly, because I strangely find some of the ideas from entrepreneurial activities to be transferable to education reform (perhaps not so strange: disrupting the monopolies of ed publishing companies is an important movement currently taking place in the field. Furthermore, teaching itself is arguably akin to managing a business).
As I read Jim Koch’s insights and wisdom from his extensive work in craft brewing, I was not disappointed. In fact, I found his insight quite tangibly applicable to the craft of teaching. Here’s how:

When you start a business, you have to do everything and it’s important to focus on the activities that provide the best return on time invested. Yes, our bookkeeping was a mess in our first year, but I decided that if we failed, the IRS wouldn’t care about us, and if we succeeded, we would be able to afford lawyers and accountants to straighten things out.  So we focused on the things that did matter: making great beer and working hard to sell it.

I can’t tell you how many times as a newer teacher, I’ve grown incredibly agitated by things like endlessly accumulating piles of papers on and inside of my desk and closet. But Koch’s point here — to focus on the things that truly matter — is critical to a beginning classroom teacher. How often do we focus our energy and time on bulletin boards, door displays, or the formatting of our lesson plans? These things are inconsequential in the long run. What’s important is making great lessons and working hard to deliver them. And as a teacher in a high needs school, I can’t tell you how much time and money is wasted on things that won’t provide much return on the investment.

We empower and challenge our brewers to find new beers, new ways to brew, and unique ingredients. I enjoy pushing boundaries with extreme beers, interesting ingredients, as well as the brewing and aging processes. It’s my life’s work, to elevate people’s thinking about beer and push the boundaries of traditional brewing to offer beer lovers an inspired drinking experience. . . 

We experiment, we have fun, and often the outcome is a truly great beer.

This empowerment for risk-taking, fun, and innovation is key to fostering great teachers and dynamic and positive learning environments. Empower and challenge our teacher leaders, o ye principals and district leaders and policymakers, and the outcome shall be truly great schools.

And to this day, I taste a sample from every batch of Boston Lager and meet every Sam Adams employee. You’ll never see me on Undercover Boss, because at some point during the year, I work directly with just about everyone in the company. . .

. . . I make decisions based on the beer, not the bottom line.

Koch would make a great superintendent of a school district. The majority of communication and accountability feedback right now in public school systems is driven by compliance based regulations from afar, all determined by the bottom line of test scores. This form of accountability does little to nurture positive professional learning communities, and is in fact detrimental to learning environments. But real, face-to-face accountability from leaders who are deeply immersed and steeped in the everyday practice of education is invaluable to developing quality schools. Our district leaders and state leaders should be visiting schools daily, stepping foot in classrooms, talking to students, talking to teachers, talking to principals. There is no other form of accountability, no checklist, no policy, no regulation or law that will change the culture of schools otherwise.

My main goal is to help fellow entrepreneurs get a leg up. Our commitment to the community goes beyond the walls of our brewery. Brewing the American Dream is intended to support business owners by providing them with the ingredients to become financially independent and see their American dreams come true. Our goal with the craft brewing component is to support small business owners in our industry who are facing the same hurdles around starting or expanding their nano- or microbreweries that I faced when I started brewing Samuel Adams.

Wait, what? Koch is actively giving money to other craft brewers to establish their own businesses? Isn’t that counter to the success of his own business? Well, no. Koch recognizes something that businessmen and reform leaders still immersed in the industrial model fail to comprehend: healthy, stable relationships within a given ecosystem are developed through collaboration and interdependence. Businesses benefit from cooperation and collaboration with other businesses. Schools benefit from cooperation and collaboration amongst their teachers and between other schools. But right now, teachers in many schools are competing with one another in negative environments notable most for closed doors, gossip, and backstabbing rather than open doors, professional conversations, and collaboration. And this is traceable directly to the impact of accountability based upon high stakes value-added models.

The interview contains more great insights within it, such as Koch’s thoughts on microfinance, and is well worth perusing. Here’s to craft brewing, and here’s to the craft of teaching.

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