I wrote this in 2008. Now I am preparing for Global Entrepreneurship Week 2014 I decided to republish it. Not much has changed other than that I am older.
Richard Lucas, September 2014
Richard Lucas July 2008
School visits to companies can be highly educational, or boring and a waste of time. When pupils (and maybe a teacher, and teaching assistants) visit a company, they are typically in an unfamiliar environment. When pupils visit museums, castles, zoos etc, they are going to places that are designed to deal with visitors, including children. Companies are seldom “set up” to deal with school visits. Visitors to companies are usually business partners: suppliers, clients or candidates for work. Both sides are out of their comfort zone. It’s likely to be unpredictable. School visits to companies are usually a rare occurrence. There are few set patterns and plenty of scope to take the initiative. This is as much of an opportunity as a danger, and this article is aimed at helping raise the chances of a successful outcome, based on 20 years of experience of school business links.
As with any project, it is worth asking simple questions about the objectives. The better they are defined the more likely it is that the visit will be a success. This article is not the place to define your objectives but here are some that we have focused on in projects I have been responsible for.
- Role models/motivation. If the organization/company being visited is being staffed or run by ex pupils of the school, there is clear potential for the children to understand that this could be them in a few years. School children often take a former pupil’s advice more seriously than either teachers or their parents.
- to show what a working environment looks like. For most of the children this was the first time in a completely new environment
- to show a business as a place where adults are friendly and open minded/ This can be necessary to challenge negative stereotypes of business people being greedy and unpleasant. This is not to say that all business people are admirable but clearly companies that are able and willing to host a school visit are likely to be more public spirited and interested in their local community than average. Giving school children direct experience of business people, is a good way of challenging stereotypes.
- to have the children as active participants not just observers during the viist. This is an obvious education point, that pupils will remember more if they have something to do.
- that the children to learn about commerce and then company. Depending on the age and education of the children
- Gender roles. If some of the managers in the company are female or in non typical gender roles, it is worth making sure that the pupils get to see this.
- to demonstrate that it is “never too early” to get children into the workplace, and to challenge Theory X thinking , promoting Mcgregorian Theory Y, that work can be satisfying fun and rewarding, when properly organised.
So, if you are a schools pupil, director, teacher or parent how can you find a company to visit?
There are many ways, and no one “right” approach. Essentially let as many people know that you have this goal as possible, and watch the offers roll in. Ask the pupils if they have any ideas, An announcement in the school newsletter, on the school web page, a survey of the parents of the class you are responsible for, a note to the Parent Teachers’ Association, contacting local organizations that might be able to help such as: the local chamber of commerce, Junior Achievement, Young Enterprise or Global Entrepreneurship Week. The general rule of communication “face to face is better than phone, phone is better than e-mail”. Assuming that this yields more than one offer, then it is important to review logistics (how are you going to get there and back, time out of school, permission from school authorities and parents), and the suitability of the type of company for the children. Issues of cost have to considered both in terms of getting there and back and also what is being given up from normal classroom activities.
Having at least one teacher who is prepared to go beyond their normal responsibilities is important. Schools always have some experience of organizing trips and visits. The same issues apply, and there will be some teachers with experience.
Compulsory or voluntary?
This issue needs to be addressed. My experience is that it is much better to work with a smaller group of school pupils who want to visit rather than a group who have been told that they “have” to come. It is very difficult to do workshops and events requiring participation if the children are not motivated, and it is not motivating for the company have to deal with kids who do not care about what is going on.
In the case of Poland’s Global Entrepreneurship Week project, if a company has decided to host visits, I would recommend that for the time that they are opening their doors they should be ready to have volunteers from more than one school who have chosen to be there.
Pre visit preparation
Once a company has been identified, there are simple steps that both school and company can take.
For the school
The school teacher should invite a staff member of the company to talk to the class (and possibly other classes) about what the company does, and how it makes its product/services (and profits – if it is a commercial organisation), or pays for itself (if not funded by clients). The company should send the most impressive person it can find, and this is a powerful way of getting the children interested in company
The children should go onto the company web site. This is an example of using the internet to gather information, and learning by doing in a practical context. A teacher can help steer the children to looking for simple Who? What? and how? type questions that the pupils have to answer.
Discuss what to expect. Making clear that a company is a working organization and that the children need to be both respectful and co-operative. This is one of the reasons I favour voluntary visits.
Pre visit preparation by the company
There needs to be at least one member of staff to co-ordinate the visit, agree with management what is going to happe, plan things with the school, and inform to the rest of the company. That member of staff should be a volunteer, and request for other volunteers to help them. If this is the case, then it is important to communicate about how undisruptive this is for the company. It is not that easy for people to take ‘time off normal work. Schools and volunteers should not assume that overworked staff working to tight deadlines can do too much (even if they want to). Most professional companies face the same issues.
A visit by the teacher to the company before the visit with school children itself is desirable if possible, both to review the premises and agree the activities planned for the visit. A “walk round” is a good idea as teachers will note things that members of company staff might not see (dangerous stairs, access to toilets) and staff might be aware of issues that are note visible to teachers.
Accountability/responsibility – Both school and company should make clear who is responsible for what happens during the day.
Get the big picture and the details clear
It isn’t complicated but needs to be thought through. Are meeting rooms, and a projector reserved?. What is going to happen, when, in what order?
Welcoming arrangements. The receptionists area were prepared for a influx of school pupils. We put up notices on the front door and the meeting room to make them feel welcome.
Company presentation The way the company presents itself to normal partners may not be suitable. Basic information – what do we do, how do we make our money, what our our revenues, how wide are the salary ranges, how to get a job, will probably be of interest to some people.
Tour of the premises Make a tour as un-disruptive as possible. In each room the children visited one person was prepared to talk for 1-2 minutes about what happened in that room. We split the children into two groups so that it wasn’t too many in one room at one time.
Games and workshops
These can work if pupils are committed. Breaking them into up into teams who have think of “reasons to come to our school” is a good marketing exercise, which encourages discussion about what features and benefits a school has and develops communication skills both within the team and in front of the rest of the group
Departure/End of visit We took various photos during the visit, and ended with photos in front of the company front door which is a natural and suitable end
Doing a survey (Annex 2) of what the parents of the children do, and whether a visit either by parents to school or school to parent company would be possible.
For staff team building a short meeting afterwards to thank those involved is a good idea for team building
Put photos of the children on a company web site so that they can go back to the web site and see themselves there
post visit homework project where school children are discussing their visit and what they learned
Communication and appreciation. a thank you card or letter is important. Pupils need to understand the fact that those who choose to host a visit are making an commitment that deserves to be appreciated
Annex 1 Post visit summary thank you letter from School Teacher to PMR
First of all, I would like to thank everybody involved in organising the Nursery visit at PMR. Trips like that, where the kids meet and interact with other people as well as learn about different places are not only a great experience for that age group, but also they meet a lot of the educational objectives for all learning areas in the British curriculum for 3 and 4 year olds (Knowledge and Understanding of the World, Communication, Language and Literacy, Mathematical Development, Creative Development, Physical Development, Personal, Social and Emotional Development).
Let me list just a couple of them:
– Finding out about past and present events in their own life and in those of others;
– Identifying the use of everyday technology;
– Sustaining attentive listening and responding to what they hear and see by relevant comments, questions and actions;
– Capturing experience using various materials, tools, imaginative- and role-play, movement, etc.;
– Forming good relationships with peers and adults;
– Developing confidence to try new activities, initiate ideas and speak in a group of people;
– Understanding that there are codes of behaviour for groups of people;
It worth mentioning that the educational benefits as the ones above, are meant to be ‘hidden’ and delivered to the kids in activities taking various, but as attractive as possible a form and I am sure we have achieved that!
Thank you again on behalf of the kids and myself.
Annex 2 Parent Survey used by children in this project
Next week the Nursery children will start learning about grown-ups, the places they work at, their jobs, occupations, etc. In relation to this, we would like to find out what their Parents do jobwise.
Together with Year 5 we have prepared a short questionnaire, which you will find below. Please fill it in or help your child to complete it and bring it back to school on Monday 5th May 2008.
Of course the survey is not obligatory we would, however, greatly appreciate your cooperation.
Also, if anyone would be interested in coming to school and talking about her/his job to the kids, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Should you have any questions, please ask.
Nursery and Year 5 Teachers
The child’s name:………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Would it be possible for the children to visit above company/organisation? Yes/No
Would it be possible for the children to visit above company/organisation? Yes/No