Voodoo Doughnuts: How to create a buzzworthy class


Teaching | Thursday, September 1, 2016

Voodoo Doughnuts: How to create a buzzworthy class

People flock to Voodoo Doughnut from all over the world. Here's what we can learn from them about teaching in the classroom. (Image by Matt Miller)

People flock to Voodoo Doughnut from all over the world. Here’s what we can learn from them about teaching in the classroom. (Image by Matt Miller)

After a presentation in Portland, Oregon, in May, I was waiting to board a plane to head back home. Everyone was crowded into the boarding area with their luggage, food and other items.

One person stood out to me, though.

She was holding this pink box.

So, what’s the natural thing to do to satisfy this curiosity? Go up to her and ask her about her box?

Nope. I walked by her and peered at it out of the corner of my eye. (Like a creeper. I know.)

She was carrying doughnuts. But not any doughnuts. These were Voodoo doughnuts. They’re a big deal in Oregon (where there are three stores) and Denver and Austin, Texas (where there’s one each).

Tell me more!

I had to know more about this place. The pink box caught my eye, and the interesting name had me hooked. I did some digging and found some unique information about this place:

I got to visit Portland again in August, so you can probably guess what I did.

Who wouldn't want to buy doughnuts from a place like this? (The Cubs fan in me was happy to see the Arrieta jersey in Portland.) (Photo by Matt Miller)

Who wouldn’t want to buy doughnuts from a place like this? (The Cubs fan in me was happy to see the Arrieta jersey in Portland.) #beardnets (Photo by Matt Miller)

Finished my presentation. Headed right in to Portland. Found Voodoo Doughnut.

I bought a dozen assorted doughnuts. Some were traditional (yeast and cake doughnuts, chocolate and caramel frosting). Others were wackier (with Oreos, Butterfinger, M&Ms, etc. … we did get a Froot Loop one).

I ate one (maple bacon, with two strips of bacon on top!) and brought the rest back home to Indiana for my family. I flew 2,000 miles and walked through three airports with a pink box of doughnuts. (After a while, a dozen doughnuts get heavy.) (I know … you have no sympathy for me because I’m complaining about the weight of doughnuts, for goodness sake.)

You have no idea how many people stared down my pink box in those airports, and they started about a half dozen conversations with strangers. (One guy asked if they were for sale. I said, “I’d be in big trouble if I didn’t follow through for my family. They’d be pretty expensive.”)

Classroom Voodoo

Our classes can be a haven for imagination, fascination and stimulation. Be brave and try something awesome.

Our classes can be a haven for imagination, fascination and stimulation. Be brave and try something awesome.

The doughnuts were good, but they weren’t that good. In fact, the co-founder even said, “I mean it’s wonderful but it’s just fried doughnut! We haven’t really invented anything.”

Why did I go out of my way to buy doughnuts in Portland, Oregon?

Voodoo is on to something, and I know we can bring some of that mojo to the classroom.

(Disclaimer: I don’t like voodoo itself. Don’t believe in it. Wouldn’t have named my own doughnut shop “Voodoo Doughnut.” Don’t believe in practicing voodoo on students. OK, I feel better now. Moving on …)

1. Grab their attention. I never would have found Voodoo Doughnut had I not seen that pink box in the airport. Retailers know that packaging gets customers’ attention. We can use that too.

  • How can we “package” a lesson in a creative way? What do we give students that could be packaged creatively?

2. It’s all in the name. As I mentioned, I never would have picked “Voodoo Doughnut” for my own doughnut shop. But you can’t deny that it stands out more than “Joe’s Doughnut Shop.”

  • What can we name a lesson or activity that will get kids pumped up about it? Can we let them help us name certain parts of the class?

3. Embrace the non-traditional. There are cake and yeast doughnuts everywhere. Chocolate and caramel in every store. But Dubble Bubble bubble gum on doughnuts? That’s not for everyone. But by trying to reach everyone, sometimes you reach no one. People love to embrace uniqueness.

  • What twist can we put on a lesson or school activity that’s different? How can we make a class so unique that students have to take notice?

4. Tempt the taste buds. People don’t go to Voodoo Doughnut only because they’re unique. Their doughnuts are delicious. There’s one everlasting truth in education — kids love to eat.

  • How can we tie something delicious into our lessons? Can students make something delicious on their own to bring in (if they want to)?

5. Make class buzzworthy. There’s hype around Voodoo Doughnut. They’re not on social media just because they have their own Instagram and Facebook accounts. People love sharing photos of the place. They feel like they have to tell others.

  • What visually stimulating (or simply shareable) moments can we create in class? Can we let students take pictures on their phone to share with others?

6. Set the scene. The Voodoo Doughnut shop wasn’t just a place to buy doughnuts. It was a spectacle. Stained glass. Crazy chandelier. Chalk art menu board. The works.

  • What new piece of classroom decor can spark students’ attention and become a conversation piece? Is there anything students can create to add to the experience?

Yep, there’s something to this Voodoo Doughnut thing. Another way I can tell: my pink box is empty, but it’s still in my kitchen. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to throw it away yet.

Our classes can be a haven for imagination, fascination and stimulation. Be brave and try something awesome.

[reminder]What else can we do to create a buzzworthy classroom? What have you done? What would you like to do? What have you seen others do?[/reminder]

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  • […] Voodoo Donuts- How to Create a Buzzworthy Class– Matt Miller discusses the importance of buzz in the classroom. While many of us grew up in a time where the teacher taught and we listened (and presumably) learned. While I don’t think it is feasible to make every lesson buzzworthy, I think it is powerful when our students are excited about coming to our class, because they don’t know what will be coming up. […]

  • New Teacher says:

    I’m a new high school physics teacher; and, have put my brain through the wringer trying to come up with different ways to make my class an experience, the room to have a great atmosphere, and to be the teacher and class that will be remembered for all of the right reasons.
    This post speaks to my soul. It is exactly what I want for my students; but, I feel that I come up short. I would really appreciate any ideas, opinions, advice, and just plain help in all areas. Please help me. Shower me with ideas and anything that you think would help me, or point me in the right direction. Thank you all, in advance, for your valuable input.

  • Great article! In my class, rather than simply doing a”Timed Writing”, we “Write Like Jedis”. I wear the Jedi robe, I have lighted pens, and we do a Jedi Pledge before we “Ecribe como un Jedi”. The kids love it and actually look forward to this assessment. As I stand outside of my class, greeting students in my Jedi robe with my light saber, the news carries quickly and they come in excited and ready for it.
    We also use AR and VR. When they see me in the hall greeting everyone with my VR glasses on, they know they’re in for a treat!

  • Patti Borus says:

    I want to step out of the comfort zone that is traditional desk or table seating and try flexible seating in my classroom. Can the students assist in the process? Definitely! I plan to ask for ideas on how to arrange and re-decorate. I can ask if any of my student’s families are in the process of a living room remodel? Would they like to donate a couch, chair, giant pillows or a floor lamp?

    If anyone has already tried the flexible seating, please comment on “how” you allow (or restrict) students’ choices of where to sit.

  • Michelle says:

    I incorporated a papaya into a class lesson and couldn’t believe the response. Best of all, no one knew the fruit was a papaya, so that was a whole guessing game in itself. Once I cut it in half they were amazed at the seeds and everyone wanted to take a photo. They all got a piece to eat and some of them, of course, wanted to try the seeds. Throughout the show-and-tell and cutting I had their undivided attention as this simple fruit was pretty amazing to them.

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