The ‘why’ of student workshops
by Nicole Dyson, Founder & CEO, Future Anything
This year we’ve had the joy of working with thousands of students from schools all around Australia running our one, two, and four-day student workshop programs.
As we hurtle towards the end of 2021, I’ve begun reflecting on the ‘why’ of student workshops. As many who know me know, I’m passionate about curriculum-embedded opportunities for young people. In many ways, the risk in any facilitated program is that when the fun, friendly expert leaves the school, so does the expertise.
So, aside from relieving teachers for a day in an alternative program, why run them?
Here are my four ‘whys’.
Sometimes the best professional learning is simply watching other educators in action.
The nuance in great teaching and learning is evident in watching practitioners in action. There are subtle differences in the way each educator approaches holding a room, checking for understanding, building and simmering energy, generating high expectations, and leading learning. There’s also the mechanics that underpin each subject expert inflow. The ‘how’ of teaching specific content in an engaging, clear, and purposeful way.
I remember feeling like the windows to observing practice in others’ classrooms closed at the same moment I received my degree.
As a prac teacher, I was invited into classrooms and I’d sponge something new from every lesson I observed.
But, as a fully-fledged and qualified teacher, cultivating my own pedagogical flavour sometimes felt like a very lonely and isolated journey of floundering in things I thought I should know how to do.
A well-executed workshop program should provide capacity-building not only for the students in the room, but also for the educators that are supporting them.
We all do what we do because someone, somewhere along the line inspired us in a way that made us question who we are now, and who we could be in our future.
Inviting external voices into our schools invites new perspectives, insights, and inspiration for our young people.
In a high-school environment, our antique approach to lesson structures and school calendars often disables engagement and a sense of accomplishment.
We start and stop learning so often that young people are rarely immersed in an experience.
And, as the culmination of a learning experience is often so far from the inciting incident that kickstarts the learning journey, motivation can wane.
The culmination of Future Anything’s school entrepreneurship programs is always a pitch. These range from a 60-second ‘elevator pitch’ for Flare, our one-day entrepreneurship workshop, to a three-minute multimodal presentation at the conclusion of Ignite, our four-day immersive entrepreneurship workshop.
The pitch becomes an immediate and tangible outcome from a learning experience.
This particular outcome is, in my opinion, one of the most critical for young people to master. We know that one of the key capabilities that young people need to navigate in the ‘future of work’ is communication.
The reality is that a flash CV will get you an interview, but the ability to speak confidently and build connections will get you the job.
We know that most young people fear public speaking more than they fear failing.
We also know that they get better by doing.
For us, the best part of our entrepreneurship workshops is watching students’ expressions as they sit down from delivering their pitch. There’s a certain degree of wonder in that moment, a realisation that despite the odds and the self-doubt; “I actually did that.”
These micro-moments of challenge where young people stretch beyond their own perceptions of their potential to achieve a sense of accomplishment is the true essence of learning.
Finally, the best workshops act as amplifiers for our curriculum.
In this way, it may act as a provocation at the beginning of a unit of work, or perhaps act as an action-based experience to solidify a piece of learning.
Rather than simply learning about Harmony Week, let’s run a one-day workshop where students design their own school-based initiatives that promote harmony in their school community.
Rather than learn about (cyber) bullying for National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence, let’s task teams of students with designing their own innovative products or services that address the problem of bullying and violence.
Rather than give students leadership badges without a well-articulated portfolio of actions and responsibilities, let’s use entrepreneurial pedagogy as the vehicle for student leaders to dig deeper into their school culture and needs, before ideating, prototyping, and pitching their own portfolio of leadership ventures for the coming year.
So, there are my ‘whys’ of student workshops.
Let’s not bolt-on workshops- let’s bolt-in.
As we begin to emerge from the fog of marking, reporting, and Year 12 graduations, let’s allow ourselves the space and time to re-imagine the education we want to provide for our students in 2022 in a purposeful way, striving for enriching experiences that provide capacity building, new perspectives, and challenging opportunities to feel a genuine sense of accomplishment.
Future Anything offers a portfolio of student entrepreneurship workshops that all culminate in young people showcasing and pitching their own innovative, scalable and sustainable business solutions.
Using our Entrepreneur’s Odyssey, over one, two, or five we take your young people from looking inward at personal passions and lived experiences, igniting their entrepreneurial mindset to analyse problems and ideate, then prototype, impactful solutions.
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About the author: Nicole Dyson
As a teacher in the USA, UK and Australia as well as a Head of Department and Head of Year at some of Queensland’s top-performing public schools, Nicole has repeatedly led the design and implementation of whole-school changes to support future ready learning; placing young people at the forefront of co-designing contextually relevant learning experiences.