Do School Better Season 2

Back to School: The First Week

By September 5, 2016 No Comments

Episode  – 


Alison: Ready. Doris.

Doris: Oh my god. Are you tired yet?

Alison: I’m exhausted.

Doris: Is it time for winter break? Is the semester over yet?

Alison: It feels like it’s already been a month and here we are one week into the first week of school.

Doris: I know. It’s really tiring, isn’t it?

Alison: I know. Well, I know the beginning of this course, as well, is really intense because of the experience the students have to go through early on. You call it de-schooling, that’s happening early here. But this week really coming back and remembering where these students are when they first join us… Of course I remember, at the end of the semester where they get to…

Doris: I know. You were surprised, like, “Wait. Don’t they know this already?”

Alison: Right. I’m forgetting how we have to really start back at the basics.

Doris: And it’s hard. With de-schooling, you forget. And it’s kinda like having a puppy. It’s a good thing they’re so cute, or you would never have one. It’s a good thing that you end the last year when the students are, at the end of the semester, so incredibly, awesomely having just a great time with all of it. And that you forget how brutal de-schooling is.

Alison: Well, let’s dive into it. Let’s talk a bit more about what’s gone on in the past week. I especially wanna focus a bit on Friday. And the work that goes on early in this experience for the students, I know, is…at this point you’ve been doing this for 20 years. I mean, really, this method that you’ve developed has been throughout your whole career, but this is now…I don’t even know how many times you’ve run this course in this way, but there’s some patterns that emerge in the first week. And I came into Friday with a sense of what we were going to do, but I’d love to get our heads back there. Where were you coming into Friday, recognizing where the students were in their growth and what we needed to do?

Doris: Well, it was funny because you and Tim, at the end of Friday, when the kids left and you just…

Alison: Yeah. We were exhausted.

Doris: What did you just do with those kids? Okay, just to put it in perspective. So, Tuesday was the first day of school. And they’ve absolutely no idea what this is about, what they’re gonna have to do, and they’ve never done things like this.

Alison: Yeah. No business background, no entrepreneurial background.

Doris: Nothing. No. And we’re not trying to squeeze an MBA into a semester. And Wednesday, and we don’t have ’em all day every day, people think we have, we don’t, like not even close. So, Wednesday we…Tuesday we tell ’em some basic things about the class and I do some other stuff with ’em, and then Wednesday we took them to their first business challenge. Put ’em on a bus. They have no idea where they were gonna go, and they go meet Evan from Peaceful Fruits, who has a fruit snack made purely out of three fruits, fruit leather, and they learn about the açai berries and farmers, and they learn about his mission of doing well and doing good. And they see him, they learn everything, and they’re given their challenge. And by the way, I mean, how great is that, what he’s doing?

Alison: To be honest, I was pretty impressed how articulately he described his work to these students who…

Doris: Wonderful. He did a great job.

Alison: He did a great job. But to explain a social enterprise in such a way where he has a layered level of social impact built into this business from the people in the Amazon that he’s working with, the açai farmers you mentioned, to the people with disabilities that are packaging the goods and creating jobs for them.

Doris: Ten of them now, as he’s scaling. He’s employing.

Alison: While trying to create more healthy fruit snacks in the general product market. I mean, it’s just pretty incredible that he was able to connect all of that for the students in a way that they were very engaged, they were really overwhelmed.

Doris: Right. They were overwhelmed. But he was great and he also, he’s a fabulous person, he’s incredibly talented, skilled, bright, has all of his stuff, and he chose to do this. Anyways, so we take them in to Day 2, and they’re given their challenge which is, how can Peaceful Fruits and Evan win the U.S. market? What should he do next to win the market? And he worded it that way and then added, how did he word it? What’s the right message for the right ears?

Alison: Right.

Doris: Right? Okay. If you put yourself back into being a 16 or a 17-year-old who’s been in school, and still is in school and has no experience with it, they leave very, very, very passionate about Evan, about Peaceful Fruits, about the mission, and having absolutely no idea what to do next. Right?

Alison: Right. And looking at us wide eyed. Like, “Great.”

Doris: Like, “What’s the answer, and give me the recipe, and…”

Alison: Right. “What are my directions? How do I help him?”

Doris: Right. So this is the second day of class, and over time we’ve learned some things. When we say we’ve developed a bunch of systems, so, over time I’ve developed a bunch of systems. And in particular, what are the systems you set up curricularly, instructional practices, assignments, the whole bit, for the first experience they’re ever having with a learning stuff by working on a real problem. Okay? A real-world problem that doesn’t have an answer in the back of the book. And then there are other systems we develop that carry on throughout the whole semester. But as you’ve seen in this entrepreneurship class and in the classes that the educators we’ve trained do, a lot of these basic methodologies and foundational skills they have to learn in the first challenge so that they have those in their tool kit.

Alison: And it’s not that you’re teaching them those methodologies or giving them those tools before they receive the challenge. They have the challenge by the time they realize, “Wow. We need some tools to solve this.”

Doris: Which is, by the way, it’s super important because the whole point is that they’re learning by doing, and the reason they’re learning by doing is that they need to do. And so they figure out, “Ooh, I need to learn this to be able to do this.”

Alison: For Evan’s challenge.

Doris: For Evan’s challenge. So, we start by, they’ve got a problem that matters to them, which is Evan and his business, and scaling it so that he can, you know, do good…

Alison: Create more jobs and…yeah.

Doris: All this stuff and they’re totally jazzed. Three weeks later they’re going to present their solutions to Evan, and they have to be well-researched and evidence-based, and they know nothing. And they have no skills, and they have no anything to be able to figure it out. And that’s why we have them. I get asked many times, I love that you brought that up, I get asked so much, “Well, what do you do to prepare them?” And my answer is always, “Well, if I did a bunch of stuff to prepare them, that’s what regular school would look like.” The reality is, second day they’re thrown in and they care, and therefore they’re gonna learn a lot of stuff because they need to use it. And we have tons of evidence now that in order to learn something and be able to use it other contexts, you have to apply it and then you have to reflect on it. So, that’s the kinda method, the model that we use.

Anyway, so, we know the basics that they need to learn early on. We know they need to learn Lean Launchpad, which is scientific method for today. Customer development. So we assign Udacity, and they learn it along the way and they realize as they’re experiencing the first challenge, “Oh, I need that.” It gives them language. It gives them a methodology for having a guess, testing it. Massive and foundational. We need to give them some design thinking kinds of tools. So, we do workshops and teach them how to interview, build an archetype, all of this stuff a lot of teachers are using. And it’s fabulous.

Alison: Empathy mapping, all of that.

Doris: All that stuff. We teach them some, you know, Rogers’ curve of innovation, etc. The other thing that we teach them early, and there are several items like this, but one of the things they need to learn ASAP is they really need to get conversant with the business model campus. They’re not gonna learn it well. They’re teenagers, they’ve never done…but they need to be conversant. And just watching videos about it or reading about it isn’t gonna cut it. And so what we did on Friday was, there’s certain things. We change a lot. We do a lot of different things as things happen. There’s certain things we do every single time, and a lot of those show up in the first three, four weeks.

Friday was the BMC day. So, what we do is I say to the students to find a business that you’re into. That’s it. It could be Nike, and there’s pretty much one Nike every time. Right? It could be the bakery store down the street. It can be whatever you want, just one you’re into. We’re sending you the PDF from Alex Osterwalder’s “Business Model Generation” that describes the BMC and all the blocks, you know? Customer segment, value, prop, channels, key resources, key activity, all that stuff. It defines them, gives you…etc. I even mention, “By the way, you can look online. There’s tons of stuff on the Business Model Canvas, etc. And what you’re gonna do tomorrow, on Friday in our case, is you’re going to have your first experience presenting to the class, by presenting your business using Post-it notes and placing them on the BMC. One or three items per block, and you’re gonna tell the story of the business, three minutes, using the Business Model Canvas.”

And by the way, there are also videos online, tons of them. Tons of people do this. You know, they do this at incubators. Alex Osterwalder and his…

Alison: Team.

Doris: …workshops does it, and has adults do it. It’s not like our idea to do this. But the reason that it’s really crucial in this course early on is, many of them are very afraid of presenting. So it gets that done and over early. We’re gonna give them feedback. Well, I should say what I tell them beforehand. I say, “By the way, you’re gonna do this tomorrow. You’re all gonna be presenting your business in three minutes using Post-its.” And they get a look of total fear on their face. And I say, “Of course you don’t know what the Business Model Canvas is. And of course you have no idea, and you have no experience, and you’ve never done it before. And no, we’re not lecturing on it,” right? We’re not spending three hours lecturing on the Business Model Canvas, giving…

Alison: Customer segments, channels…

Doris: Right. Defining them all for you. Giving you examples of how to do this. We understand that. So, we’re gonna have you do it tomorrow and, because you’re in high school, because you have no experience, because you have no clue about the Business Model Canvas and have never used it before, the first people who raise their hand and volunteer to do it are probably gonna be horrible. They’re gonna be horrible. And why are they gonna be horrible? And somebody says, “Because they’ve never done it before, and we’ve never done it, and we don’t know what it…” And I said, “Exactly. And what’s gonna happen is that we’re gonna give you feedback. And the first ones are gonna be the worst, and we’re gonna give especially a lot of feedback to those people. And the rest of you are gonna be in the room. Let me ask you something. What do you think?” and it’s gonna be in some random order by volunteer. “Do you think the fifth person is gonna be better than the first person?” Everybody nods their head, “Absolutely, yes it is.” “Okay, what about the eighth person? What about the 15th? Oh, yeah okay. Why are they gonna be better? Well, because they’ll watch the first people, and they’ll hear what you say and they’ll learn from it. So, what happens in that?” And so, that’s what we do to start.

So, they go through and, sure enough, they get better and better and better, and we give less and less feedback. And the whole things actually, the first one, and the second one, and the third one, maybe, even though they’re supposed to be 3 minutes each, maybe combined it’s 20 minutes. But then, the rest go really fast. And if you don’t have time to do all of ’em in a period, it doesn’t even matter because once you get past the first three or four, the rest will do theirs later. No big deal. It can be two weeks later, depending on how much time you have in your class. Of course they should all get their turn.

Let’s talk for a minute about what just that does. They, first of all, learn that, “I can learn this stuff. I can go in with my stickies…” and the first people, they’re 16 and 17. What they put in as a channel or a key activity, they have no idea, right?

Alison: Right.

Doris: I mean, do you remember the early ones, what they say is a cost structure?

Alison: Right. Oh, always. Yeah. They’re very confused with the left side versus the right side of the canvas, how the relationships between the blocks work, they have stickies in the wrong blocks.

Doris: Right. But because of the way we’ve set it up before, they come in, so they’re teenagers, which are the most… Being a teenager is probably the most insecure state, right? And oversensitive and the thing they all say, almost every one of them says, except the kid who’s in debate, on the first day they say the thing they’re most afraid about is presenting.

Alison: Presenting. Absolutely.

Doris: And so they do it. They realize that the feedback someone’s getting, if it’s critical, is actually a learning experience. It’s not personal. They don’t turn bright red in the face like a teenager normally would. The first day of class I set up… Do you remember where they…

Alison: Oh, the role play that you did?

Doris: Yeah.

Alison: Oh, yeah. Let’s talk about that. Actually, that was great set-up for what then happened on Friday’s BMC feedback.

Doris: Yeah. So, the first day of class. Now, it’s first day of class. We don’t have a lot of time, and there’s a whole lot to say because things…and then I always do this on the first day. Maybe do it a little differently, but the role play was, “Okay. Alison, Tim, Doris, and Fiona, we all work together. We all work together and we actually like each other. We do a lot of stuff together. And I put each of you, Alison, Tim, and Fiona,” physically, I use students and I put them in their own office. And I say, “Let’s say this happens. Doris goes into Alison one day,” and I walk in and I say, “Oh my gosh, I have such a great idea. I’m so excited. I wanna tell you my idea. Blah, blah, blah. Here’s my idea.” What do you say back?

Alison: “Oh, sounds great, Doris.”

Doris: “That’s awesome, Doris.”

Alison: “Good for you.”

Doris: “That’s awesome.” Right. And I leave and I’m all excited because Alison thinks I have a great idea, and I’m so excited about my idea. In the meantime, Alison is thinking, “Okay, that is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.” And Alison goes over to Tim, and what do you do with Tim?

Alison: I talk to Tim about how that idea is going nowhere, that…

Doris: Her idea’s so stupid. You like me, so you’re not necessarily saying…I’m being kind to myself. You’re not saying, “Doris is stupid, maybe.” But you’re saying, “That idea is so stupid. I can’t believe she came up with that,” and then you guys have a great time analyzing and diagnosing all the different ways in which that was a stupid idea. And then I turn to the kids and I say, “Did Alison, who actually is my friend and likes me, did she have my back? I was excited and she made me feel good. Did she have my back?” And they all, every time, say “No.” And I say, “Why didn’t she have my back?” And they get into this whole…they start reflecting on the fact that, to have my back…

Alison: Means to give you some honest feedback in that moment.

Doris: Yeah. And then I say, “Did what just happened here, do you see this? Do you see that happen in your day-to-day at school?” And all of them vigorously shake their heads. And I say, “You see it all the time, don’t you? Where there’s a conversation between two people, or one person and a group, and that person or that group gives that person great feedback until they walk away. And then the trashing starts.” And they’re high school kids, so they go, “Yeah. Yeah, we see that all the time.” And I say, “Okay. So, on Friday, you’re gonna do your BMCs, you’re gonna give presentation, and here’s a question. You’re gonna give presentation about something you don’t know about at all, and you’ve never presented on it, you have no clue, you have no reason to have a clue. Do you want us instructors to just say, ‘Oh, that was wonderful,’ and give you a grade quietly, separately, but just say, ‘That’s wonderful,’ or do you want us to give you honest feedback?” And they say, “No, we want you to give us honest feedback.” And I say, “Okay, and it’s gonna be hard because it’s your first time. But that sets the stage for this class where they’re gonna present every week, and we’re gonna be giving them feedback, honest feedback.

Alison: One that was interesting even on Friday after, I think we got through maybe five or so by that point, that we said, “Who wants to go next?” And all of a sudden, the chain starts to happen, “Well, I wanna go. I’ll go after so and so. I’ll go after him. I’ll go after her.” And I had to laugh that, once we broke that open and they realized that they could withstand that feedback, they could learn from that, they were all interested in then going to get their own feedback. And truly, I mean, that activity is outstanding so early on in the course because like you say, they get out of their comfort zone by having to present when they’re super fearful of that. They have to deal with what it means to have constructive criticism or feedback given to them early. And I also love just as we’re getting to know these students, it’s a real insight into who they are simply by the businesses they choose and what they choose to highlight. You know, some people will pick a family business. Others will choose some big global conglomerate, and some will choose something down the street and it just gives a little insight into what they care about, what their interests are. And I’ve found that super helpful as a teacher to be involved in that activity early and help them understand what it means to be in this class.

Doris: I agree. And then, think about the other things that wrap into that one activity, and we could talk about all the rest of what we did on Friday, but just that one activity. So, there’s only one book required for them to read coming into the class. Just one. And it’s “Mindset” by Carol Dweck. And it’s the idea, and I always say, “So what’s the big idea about ‘Mindset’?” And different people say different things. And then eventually someone says, “That if you work hard at something you can get better.” And I say, “Bingo. That’s it. That’s the point.” And that’s the framing of this entire class. So, what happens in this one BMC exercise, and the other thing we haven’t talked about is that as they present their businesses and they get the wrong thing in the wrong category, we’re able to talk about what variable and fixed costs are. Like, “Well, what do you think is variable cost? What do you think is a fixed cost? Oh, what is a channel? What does distribution mean? What does it mean to be a multisided market?”

So, there’s all of this stuff that comes in. What does it mean to be strategic? They eventually, and this is a great exercise to understand what matters most. Yeah. So, if you’re putting 5, 8, 10 items in value proposition for a business, okay, and there are features… So, there’s so much learning that happens. So, when we reflect afterwards with the students, and remember this is…school started Tuesday. You’re not with them all day every day. And Wednesday they go see the business. Thursday we had a teeny, like, one block and had them, I always have them…

Alison: Break down the challenge, think through the…

Doris: Yeah. And I say, “Coming right out of meeting Evan and seeing the business, if you were to create the outline now of what you want to present in three weeks, do it now.” So that they can work backwards from there and it gives them a frame for the whole thing, a structure. So then it’s just the fourth day we do this BMC. And afterwards, when I say, “Okay, so what did you learn from doing that?” So now we’re in the reflection part. They learn, first of all, by experiencing it, that getting authentic, real feedback, they actually realize, “Oh, instead of not wanting it and being afraid of it, I want it.” And we’ve seen they crave it over the course of the course. They learn that they can learn stuff by applying it and using it. They learn a lot of real stuff that they’re gonna have to know.

Alison: Content.

Doris: Content, knowledge that they’ll know. It’s so funny, people talk about soft skills. I think I’ve mentioned this before. I’m starting to become allergic to that terminology because it suggests that something like communicating…

Alison: Effectively.

Doris: Yeah. That that’s a soft skill, it’s a nice to have. That’s really what the connotation, right? The implication. It’s a nice thing but it’s not hard, it’s not like a hard skill like being able to use a drill, okay, or being able to differentiate an equation or whatever. And what also these guys start learning really early on is that you can take on learning these soft skills as an academic subject. It’s just as academic, and therefore not personal, to learn to present well, to learn to communicate well, to learn to collaborate well, how to be a good team member. That very first BMC exercise is when we start setting the stage for a completely different, not only model for academic learning, but mindset about what academic learning’s even about.

Doris Korda

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