The Concierge Continuum: Finding Personalized Learning at a Different Kind of Desk

Eric Chagala (Ed.D. Educational Leadership) is the founding principal of the Vista Innovation & Design Academy (VIDA). Eric believes that all kids need a place to matter, that schools have souls and those souls need to be nurtured, and that our actions say what we believe about kids.


concierge continuum
Dr. Eric Chagala at his school, Vista Innovation and Design Academy (VIDA).

Traveling is one of my favorite things to do. I enjoy the adventures of a new journey – both the joys, stresses, memories and the learning that happens every time I venture out into something new.

On a recent journey, I stopped at the Concierge’s Desk to get advice on local eats. I was visiting New York City, and I was overwhelmed with the quantity of Yelp reviews, travel website suggestions, and other “noise” that was creating inner stress for where I should eat.

While standing in line, I listened to the Concierge help a couple that was in town for the first time. They only had one night free in their trip, and they were desperate to see a “terrific” show.

Here’s what happened:

Customized Service

The Concierge took the time to ask questions about the couple’s preferences. Did they want a musical, did they want more of a traditional play, did they know that there are a number of uniquely spirited “Off Broadway” productions that may be enjoyable.

The couple left, with tickets in hand, with clear directions about how to get to the theatre, and even a recommendation for a coffee/gelato shop for after the show that will give a 10-percent discount by showing the ticket stubs from the show! Wow!

What I Didn’t Know I Wanted

Next, was my turn. I love the theatre, but that wasn’t my concern at the time. I wanted the real story on where I should get some good food. I mentioned a few “celebrity chef” and “tourist joint” places that I had heard about. And on my own, I would have just gone to one.

But the Concierge looked at me and said, “Those are good choices, but you only have so much time in New York, you should really get something authentic. Do you like Italian food?” I do, and I left with a suggestion for a great “Mom & Pop” restaurant out of Times Square, where the locals ate.

I left the Concierge’s Desk with exactly what I wanted, even though it was unexpected, and with reservations made for me. I also had detailed directions of which subways would get me there in about 20 minutes. I was off on my journey for the night!

Going the Extra Mile

As I was wrapping up the conversation with the Concierge, a woman had stepped up next to me to a second Concierge. She had just gotten to the hotel after a long flight with weather delays, she had checked in, gone to her room, and realized she didn’t pack a toothbrush.

She came to the Concierge’s Desk for help on where the nearest convenience store was. The Concierge, not only gave her explicit directions and explained that it was a 5 minute walk down the block, but he reached under his desk and pulled out a travel-sized toothbrush and toothpaste. He said, “Here, this will take care of you for now, how about you just stop at the convenience store on your way back into the hotel.”

What I realized in this moment is that the role of a Concierge is to meet the specific needs of individuals, for wherever they are at in their journey, because all travelers are on a continuum of need. The similarities of the travelers is that they are all away from home, they are all seeking temporary residence in the hotel, and each of them is on a journey. The role of the Concierge is to be empathetic, to listen, and to hear for and act on the things that a person doesn’t say as much as what they do say.

The suggestion for an Off Broadway Show, the tip about ticket stubs getting 10-percent at a coffee/gelato shop close to the theatre. Providing tickets in hand for the show and detailed directions to get there. For myself, directing me away from what was known to something authentic, providing directions, and reservations being handled. Then lastly the woman without a toothbrush. All she wanted was directions to a convenience store, but the Concierge knew he could do better than sending her back out into the city after a long day of travel.

Drawing A Personalized Learning Parallel

Each of us who came to this desk in the short span of time were on a journey. We were at different points in the journey, and we had different needs and interests at that time. The Concierge’s job is to be human-centered, lead with his ear, and meet the stated needs of the users at the desk, as well as listen deeply to understand some unstated needs. Everyone who comes to a Concierge’s Desk is on a continuum in their journey. A Concierge is in a human-centered profession.

This makes me think about being a school leader in an era of drastic change and even uncertainty. There is much said about “leading innovation,” building culture, and change leadership. I also hear a lot of people talk about how they are “servant leaders,” which roots back to work by Robert Greenleaf in 1970.

As we lead in an era of uncertainty and change, this idea of the Concierge Continuum is useful for me to conceptualize theory to action. Good practice establishes that we use a theory of action when building more innovative, more personalized, or more creative learning experiences for students. But it is the theory to action that gets things done. We spend too much time “talking” and too much time sharing theories to explain behavior. Let’s be more biased towards action. Let’s be more human-centered, and let’s DO!

And to effectively do so, I contend that we need to work like a concierge, where we intentionally take the time to recognize that everyone on our team will always be at a different level of implementation – they exist on a continuum in their journey. Our job as a leader is to listen, to be mindful, and find out where each person lies, and what needs exist that we can meet, to help them advance up the continuum – towards progress of our intended outcomes.

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