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The role of mentoring / coaching

Our year 7 SMART classes have just finished their very successful SMARTprentice project in which each form was split into two groups, and each of the 22 groups ran a small business for two weeks. All the profits will be donated to a charity of the groups choosing.

I’ll come back and fill in some blanks on the practicalities of this on another occasion, but one area that has been bugging me is the balance between ‘instructing them’ (an approach we are trying to move away from as much as possible) and letting them get on with it.

Let me explain. In a few cases groups were extremely successful, one group raising several hundred pounds. Most groups however hit problems, solved them as best they could and did ok, raising between £10 and £25. I have explained in several debriefs that this was fine, what we expected and that we would rather that people failed to an extent because they learn from their failures. Except I’ve been thinking about this, and wondering if we’ve missed a trick. You see, talking to the students many of them don’t seem have worked out what their failures were and I’m not convinced that if we repeated the project now many would do that much better. These are, after all, 11 and 12 year olds!

I can’t remember what planted this seed, but I think it might have been this Stephen Heppell video that I came across yesterday. I’m wondering if there might be a middle way. Each group works with an adult who acts as a critical friend, asking questions and prodding answers for possible holes. The final decisions would rest with the students, but this might get them to challenge their thinking at a time when it can make the most difference.

I’m working on the evaluation of the SMART programme for this year, and I think I might make that next year’s key idea for our new staff – be a critical friend.

Dave Stacey

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