The Best of Both Worlds: 5 Ideas for Teachers and Adult Trainers
Taking part in SSE’s Scale Up programme has been great for me. SSE’s approach has been carefully developed: it involves self-discovery, peer support and a lot of learning from failure. My wife jokes that it’s like Alcoholics Anonymous, but for social entrepreneurs (‘Hi, I’m Tom and I have a work problem…’). As a teacher, I can’t help but think how different it is to what generally takes place in schools.
While we spend plenty of time in the early years focussing on a child’s social skills and emotional development, this generally ebbs away as they reach secondary school. Too often, our school system prioritises exam results to the exclusion of almost everything else. Yet when employers are asked what they want, they are looking for well-rounded individuals. They want to employ staff with strong communication and social skills, a positive work ethic, and the ability to apply their knowledge – of maths or IT, for example – in practice. Furthermore, this is the kind of training that adults typically get sent on – courses on leadership, customer service or presentation skills.
Why not in school?
So, why don’t we try to cultivate these skills and qualities from a younger age? At Enabling Enterprise, we work with over 140 schools that are trying to. These forward-thinking teachers want their students to succeed in real life and work, not just in school. With our support, teachers help their students work in teams to run year-long projects – for example, publishing a yearbook, developing a community campaign, or starting a small business. Each step of the way their students are guided, but they are expected to lead the project themselves and work effectively together.
The results are fantastic. Last week, I accompanied a group of Year 5 children to Hamleys toy shop, one of Enabling Enterprise’s fifty business partners. The children presented their final designs for an environmentally friendly toy to Hamleys staff and confidently explained how they’d developed their ideas, argued and resolved differences as a team, and ultimately brought their products to fruition.
When the newspapers and employers decry that ‘our schools are churning out the unemployable’, I think it’s unlikely they will count these children among them in the future. These schools are cultivating in their students the types of higher-level skills, experiences and aspirations that will stand them in great stead for the future.
In many ways, the learning journey that Enabling Enterprise takes children on is not so different from the one SSE takes adults on. So, what are some of the lessons that each could take from the other?
(1) Purposeful, applied learning
At SSE, we discuss real-world problems that our organisations are facing. This makes our appetite for learning and trying out new solutions much greater. As a rookie teacher, I quickly came to realise that teaching 15 year olds about invoices out of a textbook was boring – it was much more relevant for them to get to grips with once I’d got them to set up their own trading companies. Vast swathes of the school curriculum could be better taught in an applied way, we just have to think creatively.
(2) Social Interaction
Having a peer group or a team to work with is entirely different to individual study – and much more like the real world of work. With people to challenge you, as well as support you, it’s far more likely that you’ll arrive at the right answer. Conversely, a recent New York Times article reported that a lack of social interaction was one of the main reasons that online courses have such high drop-out rates. Great teachers look to strike a fairly sociable balance.
(3) Learning from failure
Something that teachers could take from the adult learning environment is the emphasis on learning from failure. At SSE, I learnt the most from other entrepreneurs who were willing to talk about the mistakes they’d made and what they’d do differently in the future. Other companies have similar approaches. Teach First encourages teachers to learn from each other’s mistakes; while the Michel Thomas foreign language tapes are unusual for having three voices – a teacher and two students who make various mistakes which the teacher gently corrects.
Meanwhile, adult trainers could learn a lot from classroom teachers about picking up the pace. It’s not just children whose attention spans are getting shorter. Effective teachers structure lessons so that they are highly interactive and don’t involve extended periods of just listening.
(5) Higher expectations
Finally, as teachers, we need to believe in our students’ ability to organise themselves and take responsibility for themselves. No adult trainer would start with an assumption that some of their class weren’t capable of doing this. Yet, it is a common fear among teachers and it affects the approach that we take to teaching. Enabling Enterprise’s programmes aim to dispel this in the first 30 minutes. It’s surprising how often even the most disengaged students will get up on their feet when faced with a competitive bridge-building challenge with the opportunity to beat their classmates. If we can make more of school fun, it can and does inspire students to get their act together.
Tom Ravenscroft is founder and managing director of Enabling Enterprise, a not-for-profit organisation that brings the world of work into the classroom. Tom participated in the School for Social Entrepreneurs ‘Scale up’ programme in 2012-13.