How can we make a good Business Studies Program great?
This was the question we asked ourselves two years ago. Teachers and students and partners in our community were asked this question. Answers were debated in different forums. We studied other programs in schools where students were achieving outstanding results. What we were to teach was defined in our national curriculum, but how? How could we build learning opportunities for our students that would result in “great” learning and “great” results? We quickly realized we needed to define “great”.
Together we authored this vision as our definition of what “great” would look like at our school:
In a dynamic and creative learning environment, with competent teachers who act as coaches and the school’s extensive network, students in our Economy program, grounded in their own passion, drive their learning through varied working methods focused on process as much as product. Upon graduation, students will, individually as well as in teams, have had authentic and relevant experiences characterized by challenges and risk taking which will result in successful projects.
Then, we began to brainstorm, prioritize and plan. We decided to focus on three relationships: student to student; student to teacher(s); and student to community.
Groups are a natural forum for students to learn.
Using students as resources for each other means that they can achieve better results faster. This sounded so easy when we started. However, the efficiency and effectiveness of a group depend on the structure and relationships in the group. We quickly realized that we had to invest time in helping students understand themselves as learners and what strengths and weaknesses they can bring to the group. In addition, we committed to invest time into helping structure group work carefully, mediating conflicts and identifying viable assessment methods of how to encourage individual and group learning. Since our start, we have shifted more and more time away from academic training of concepts to developing meaningful relationships in the group and reflection about that development.
Reorganize our teaching environment
We also recognized that if we were going to redesign the learning situation for students, we needed to reorganize our teaching environment. We shifted from one teacher to one class to a team-teaching approach. We also reassigned time in our schedule so that 2 teachers worked with 60 students for a full school day every week. This realignment of resources made it possible to use a multitude of methods: teacher-led presentation, seminar groups, group work, study trips and guest lecturers. By always being two teachers, formative assessment was easily accomplished through continual observation and conversation. After each week, the teacher team could discuss their observations about where students were and what they needed to do next.
Each student is assigned a mentor company.
No matter how hard we tried to redesign our learning environment, we felt constrained by the classroom walls. We were convinced that we needed to build tight and sustainable connections with our community to ensure a “real and relevant” relationship between our students and the word around them. Our school had just celebrated our 20th anniversary and we realized we had nearly twenty years of graduates who had accomplished “great” results after attending our school. Many of our graduates were entrepreneurs and business leaders. So, we set out to connect every student to a mentor company. Each student is assigned a mentor company where they can test the theories and ideas studied in class. For example, if students are studying CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) in class, the examination assignment is to investigate how does CSR work in my mentor company. The sustainable part of this mentorship is that students follow the same company for two years; they build a relationship with their mentor company. Then, in the end of their 3rd year, students devote their diploma project to investigating, researching, analyzing and creating a project for their company. This is their way of giving back to the relationship and investment from the mentor company. How did we find all of these mentor companies? We reached out to our alumni and parent network.
These were our first steps. Now in our 2nd year, we are considering what are the next steps? We have visited other programs to learn from best practices. We are in the process of expanding our “team” of teachers to include not only business teachers but also core teachers to ensure a comprehensive approach to understanding. We are also thinking about how and when and where can digital learning benefit the students the most.
Our students are repeatedly earning top recognition in the regional and national UF competitions. But, have we reached our vision? Have we created our “great” program? We are not there yet, but we are certainly on our way …