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This is how I guide and teach young entrepreneurs

I have used the JA Company Program to teach entrepreneurship for many years at Tampere Vocational College. In this text, I would like to share some of my thoughts and experiences from the teacher’s point of view and the adaptations I have made in my teachings.

Years 1-2: The start was scary but freeing

In the first years, I felt annoyed at some of the students not taking initiative and doing work for their own companies without someone telling them to do so. I noticed that most of the students waited for me to give them instructions on how to progress and what to do. Well, you can’t blame them; this is how they have done in school for 12 years. I took some steps backwards and gave them halfway finished work. For example: Answer these four questions and formulate a business idea based on that. Then ask someone outside the class how to improve on the idea. Return to the class and make a better version of the idea. After being able to connect this type of theoretical work to practice, in five weeks the students began to open up to the idea that these things have to be taken care of in the real world. Little by little, I began to learn how to make the assignments more open. This way I did not have to plan so thoroughly before each lesson, but was able to make the students connect their newly learned knowledge to their own JA Companies. This was very freeing.

Years 3-5: A clear path of learning in mind

I knew as a teacher what the students were required to learn during the school year according to the curriculum: Finnish, English, mathematics, sales skills, office tasks, profitability calculations, and, entrepreneurial work attitude and teamwork. At the start of the course, I gave the students a copy of the curriculum and said that your task is to select assignments from here and perform them on your JA Companies. Unfortunately, I was not surprised when nearly everyone quit doing the assigned work and started goofing around. I conversed with the students, and the there seemed to be a problem of understanding; they either did not understand the terms (analyze the competitive environment) or why something needed to be done (financial planning). I solved the problem by making a task list that was as clear as possible from where each student got to pick a task every lesson. The student saw from this learning path what they were supposed to do during the course and the school year. I tried coming up with tasks that require combining different subjects and going in depth. If the required level was not met by the assignment I instructed my students to go back and more detail until the level was sufficient.

Example 1 Make your own business card in both Finnish and English. (Information technology, languages, using office tools). I asked for help from our English teacher.

Example 2 Contact the customer first by e-mail and then by phone. (Searching for information, office tools, sales skills, Finnish, entrepreneurial attitude, problem solving)

Example 3 Give every member of your team a quantified sales goal for the next month. (Financial planning, teamwork, entrepreneurial attitude).

Years 6-8: ”I don’t know, but let’s find out together.”

Student: How could we order mobile phone power banks from China?

Teacher: I don’t know, but you should check first to see if it is.

Student: Ok.

(30 minutes later) Student: We found instructions on an online forum on how to do it.

Teacher: Hmmm… maybe it isn’t such a good idea to make on order based on that. You should visit the Customs’ website and call them to ask how to import them. I can check too. When you find out, we can share the information with the other JA Companies.

Teacher: *Try a small test batch at first. If it goes well, then it’s time to sell. If there are problems, we can learn from them and tell everyone else how to do it better.

During my teaching career this epiphany that I can say” I don’t know” has been one of my best moments. When you give the freedom to conduct research, explore new ideas, and choose their own interests to the students the teacher cannot know beforehand what will happen at each lesson and all the things they will learn themself! The teacher’s job in this case is to ensure that every student completes the tasks outlined in the curriculum at least at the minimum level.

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JA Company Program students selling their products at a Tampere Vocational College Christmas Market.

Years 9-10: With individual and continuous evaluation, one can guide and help everyone in finding their strengths.

The best thing about the JA Company program is letting the students execute their own visions. When someone has themself drawn the plans of a birdhouse on paper, built it from wood, and sold it at an outdoor market, then the learning has much variety and the learned details stick better.

At the end, I noticed that I myself concentrate on starting the next task and a continuous upkeep of the activities, but when I asked: “What did you learn today?” the answer was many times “I don’t know.” In other words, the students weren’t able to think about what they had learned, even though in my eyes as a teacher it was crystal clear.

I began to experiment with different kinds of assessment methods. I made myself an Excel-file with every student and required skill. I filled in plus signs and every now and then asked each student to discuss their plusses. These conversations were very eye opening for both sides. The next step was to give the student some responsibility, so I made a paper “skills pass”. The pass had every skill and five empty bubbles next to each skill. The student could fill in a bubble after completing the corresponding task. If the student wanted more than one bubble filled for a task, they needed to demonstrate that they had learned something new. Later on I developed an online tool for this.

I noticed that now that the assessment criteria had been put into a clear format, the students’ attention was focused on them and that guided their work a lot. When I focused the evaluation on teamworking skills, the students were often discussing how someone was as a part of a team. They also brought forth problems that they were facing and attempted to solve them on their own, although my help was needed much of the time. Many of them had not been in the situation that they needed to cooperate with someone who they normally don’t get along with.

In addition, displaying the learning results visually and in real time turned out to be a good idea because only after doing so, did most of the students realize that they were learning. One student noticed that even though he did not know how to write in Finnish, you can still learn, and he can still deliver a good sales pitch. Many noticed that a team member may not be very good a t talking to customers, but is good in accounting. This lead to realizing what it meant for a good team to have a representation of all the necessary skills.

To End it all

I have grown as a teacher throughout the years using the JA Company Program. I strongly recommend it for every teacher and student regardless of grade level!

Lessons:

  1. For many students it takes time before they learn to “learn on their own” without someone telling them what to do.
  2. If the students know what is the next step, they are more likely to take initiative.
  3. Life seldom has answers ready for everything, so finding a solution or solving these problems is a task that must bravely be done. Even the teacher doesn’t know everything
  4. It is important to think about what I have learned and what I need to learn next. A good team consists of many skills.

Kimmo_kumpulainenKimmo Kumpulainen
JA Company Program Teacher
Tampere Vocational School and
Ylöjärvi Upper Secondary School

Translation by Hermanni Toivo

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