Donna Irving is a Director at Stepping into Business, a social enterprise that offers businesses the opportunity to help inspire future generations of young entrepreneurs through an education programme in schools. Donna’s career spans accountancy, corporate education and developing programmes for adult learners in the business world, so she wanted to bring this experience into the classroom in a fun and innovative way.
“…As adults, we often try to all be the same, we measure ourselves against objectives which often don’t play to everyone’s strengths and then we wonder why people are struggling, not achieving or feeling stressed out. Kids are more ready to hand over responsibility to the one in their team who is really good at something, and to muck in and share a job when it’s clear more hands will make light work…”
Unlimited thinking: Being in rooms full of ‘we can’
It’s great to be in rooms full of ‘we can’ instead of ‘we can’t’, which happens so much in big business. Young children aren’t curtailed by health and safety, or risk management and that gives everyone a real buzz around possibilities instead of reasons to not do something.
Kids are unlimited in their thinking; one of the head teachers we worked with in Wales recently said his hardest job was curbing their enthusiasm for developing their businesses! All their ideas are wildly creative. They enjoy innovative thinking and look at it from a child’s eye view, seeing potential solutions and products for their own market.
We notice they do moderate their own ideas on practicalities, but this doesn’t devalue their innovation, Pet Hats for instance were not a great success in their pre commercial trials, so were adjusted to become more wearable ‘Bling Collars’!
Make mistakes and have another go
Children need support to learn in different ways to adults, but just the same as we feel fear of failure, they are only just learning that. It’s important to encourage that to be a positive experience so they can reflect on it and move on with lessons learnt.
We create a coaching environment when we are working with the children rather than delivering teaching in a traditional sense. Adults and children learn better when they’re able to make mistakes, and we all about that because it allows for deeper learning. We also encourage positive peer feedback with children, this helps build self-confidence and self-esteem, especially as children move into secondary school, as it’s important to know how to be positive for yourself and with others.
The children are honest, and it’s touching when they say what they really like about each other when previously they may not have been in a friendship group together. They develop behaviours that they as a group accept and will pick up one another if someone is being negative or unpleasant. Something we often don’t do as adults, we can have a fear of speaking out in hierarchical team structures.
We had another head teacher who recently told us she was amazed by a girl in her Year 6 class, who was usually quiet and withdrawn. As other groups around her at break played football and games, she approached her head teacher – which is a pretty big deal in itself as a 10 year old – and asked if she could talk to her about her business plan and share her ideas. She’d found something that she loved, she found she had a passion for her team and their idea, which was selling candyfloss at the school fair, perhaps a fail-safe idea, but she certainly knew her market and had a real drive for it to succeed.
It doesn’t have to be complicated, and not every child we work with will go from this experience to open their own businesses, but the skills around creativity, adaptability and problems solving will help them in whatever they choose to do. Not everyone is academic, or good at sport – they just need to see more possibilities to see what clicks for them.
Children dare to be different – adults should give it a try
As adults, we often try to all be the same, we measure ourselves against objectives which often don’t play to everyone’s strengths and then we wonder why people are struggling, not achieving or feeling stressed out. Kids are more ready to hand over responsibility to the one in their team who is really good at something, and to muck in and share a job when it’s clear more hands will make light work.
When we work with corporate business it’s a different sort of coaching, often to find out why people don’t want things to happen, why there is a fear of change rather than change being something that’s happening every minute of the day all around us.
I love the energy of children, we can learn a lot from them on bouncing back, and we need to help them learn how to keep that resilience as they grow.
Thirsty for more
The biggest difference I see when teaching adults v kids is you are constantly working to engage adults, get them to speak up in front of peers, ask questions, share ideas. They have build up a fear of looking “stupid in front of colleagues” or worried about “asking an obvious question”.
You don’t get this with the kids – they are not short of opinions, ideas and questions, they are thirsty for more … it’s so liberating and easy to facilitate. The hardest bit is curbing their enthusiasm in such a way we can progress with the day e.g., I find myself saying “OK, one last question”. I would love to be able to say those words in a corporate environment.
A great example of how different we children and adults are is the famous marshmallow challenge. You have a bunch of dried spaghetti and marshmallows and have to build the tallest structure. Undoubtedly the senior management team adults do worse. They spend ages thinking about their structure and meticulously build it only for it to fall apart at the end. Whereas the kids get stuck straight in build and fail, build and fail until they get it right. They are the winners.