Top Tips for Engaging with Schools – You Won’t Believe #7

Bored Kids2For school pupils, it can often seem impossible to know exactly what your options are, especially as careers advice is not consistent between schools. Schools are motivated and targeted to meet certain levels of education which is absolutely essential, but the 15 hours they set aside every year for employability skills, confidence building and career aspirations could benefit from your help.

Working together helps to educate young people in the real world, identify talent and offer a different perspective to the advice pupils receive from within the curriculum.

If you’re not working with schools today, I encourage you to do so. Future jobseekers and the future employment market will be all the better for it. In construction particularly, the more we can do, the better. But where to start?

Many schools are unlikely to approach employers directly, so it’s good to take a proactive approach. Here are my top tips on how to work with schools:

1. Be Clear Why You Want To Do It

Working with schools is not just good for the children; there are also a number of benefits for you and your own organisation:

  • Working with young people can be fun and rewarding and can instil you with a sense of pride and achievement
  • You can develop transferable skills such as presentation skills; project management and planning; self-reflection and evaluating your own performance; adapting your language and pitching content for different audiences
  • It presents a new challenge to everyday work and you may gain a fresh perspective on your day to day work through the eyes of young people.
  • It will help you to build your confidence in delivering engagement projects and working with new audiences
  • It is a relatively ‘low hanging fruit’ for your first forays into public engagement, because schools provide a ready-made audience and the curriculum provides a framework to help you narrow down your subject area
  • You can inspire and inform the researchers of the future; ensuring the further study of your research area
  • You can benefit from new ideas and perspectives from the original thinking of young people, which may inspire your next research project
  • You can develop and deepen links between your employer and schools, strengthening your institution’s reputation in the community

2. Finding A School To Approach

You don’t have to start from scratch! Make sure you take advantage of all the available help and support rather than re-inventing the wheel, as the most efficient way is often to identify existing programmes and activities:

  • Colleagues in your organisation may already have links with local schools, so it’s a good idea to speak to your CSR/public engagement/business development/or communications team. They should also be able to advise you of existing schemes that can place you in a school
  • Another good starting point can be talking to your learned society or professional association, who are likely to have a department that works with schools.
  • Many construction bodies are working on tackling the skills gap by encouraging outreach (including ‘Built Environment Skills in Schools’) so contact them for ready-made relationships with schools
  • If you are new to working with schools, or you want to extend your public engagement activity, you might want to consider joining schemes such as the STEM Ambassadors Programme as they offer support, training and a CRB check

3. Talk To The School

Make early contact with the school to discuss expectations and to share ideas, rather than simply presenting them with a finished outline:

  • Offer the school as much advance notice as possible
  • The school calendar is strictly timetabled and the teacher may want to schedule you for a time when they have an ‘off-curriculum’ session or when you can support the teaching of a particular topic
  • You might be able to support a special project week
  • Schools have a number of conflicting priorities so you will need to have thought about how your activity is relevant to the school curriculum and how it will enrich their existing activities
  • Work with other organisations to present a comprehensive, joined-up view of your topic. (Bodies like ‘Built Environment Skills in Schools’ can help make those connections for you!)

4. Make It Relevant

Find out what the pupils are currently studying that’s relevant to your subject as it will give you an idea of their background knowledge and how to pitch your activity at the right level:

  • What is the most appropriate language for that age group?
  • Check your presentation and handouts thoroughly to make sure you avoid jargon
  • Pupils are often in the dark about the relevance of their school subjects to their life beyond – you can use this as an excellent opportunity to talk about the subjects that form the basis of your discipline

5. Take The Hands-On Approach

Be interactive and imaginative to get the pupils involved – the more hand’s on the better!

  • Remember that there are different styles of learning, and that pupils will have different abilities and interests so plan for this by including a range of activities.
  • Let the teacher know that you have thought about this – teachers are increasingly required to record the range of personal, learning and thinking skills of different classroom activities, so you’ll win friends here too
  • Motivate your audience by linking your activities to the real world and encouraging pupils to make their own discoveries. In discussions, open questions also tend to lead to more interesting answers

6. Think Beyond The School Assembly

There are lots of different activities you can run with schools and this may depend on the level of time commitment you can make to the school from the outset. Potential activities include:

  • Helping with practical projects and experiments, or performing demonstrations
  • Running an engaging workshop, relating to your subject area, to support or enhance the curriculum
  • Giving a talk about your research or your experiences as a researcher
  • Working with after school clubs or national schools’ competitions
  • Getting involved in school careers events
  • Mentoring pupils
  • Inviting students into your organisation for a tour
  • Working with teachers to help develop their knowledge of employment markets and skills shortages
  • Getting involved in the development of resources to be used in schools

7. Speak Their Language

You might recognise the style of this document’s title as ‘clickbait’, otherwise known as “an eyecatching link on a website which encourages people to read on”. Pupils exist in a world of online entertainment and information, so there’s a lot to be said for replicating that style in your outreach:

  • Gamification (the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity) gives pupils the chance to experience simulated worlds, and this is being used more and more often in careers advice (Bodies like ‘Built Environment Skills in Schools’ that make extensive use of gamification could save you the time of developing your own games!)
  • Construction as an industry has a lot of technology that pupils understand and engage with quickly, including virtual reality and 3D modelling (Bodies like ‘Built Environment Skills in Schools’ that make extensive use of visualisation could save you the time of developing your own…!)
  • Images are always very powerful, and infographics can convey a big message in a simple way
  • 1 in 3 school-age children don’t watch any broadcast television, and they’re often more likely to watch on-demand services like YouTube. Creating short Vines or YouTube-style videos means they can keep listening to your message even after the outreach session is finished

8. Increase The Realness

Staying inside the classroom is a sure-fire way for pupils to be disengaged, so find ways to move beyond the blackboard:

  • Many pupils will have never stepped into a boardroom or a site office before so offer taster sessions for the class at your offices
  • Half-day taster sessions talking about different types of jobs for different sectors are a good way to give young people a chance to find out what the working environment is really like. (Just in case we’ve been too subtle until now, bodies like ‘Built Environment Skills in Schools can help to coordinate this for you!)
  • Even the basics will help educate pupils on what an office environment is like

9. Take A Lesson Yourself

You might want to think about training and background reading to help increase your confidence and the value of your activity:

  • To gain an understanding of what a school, teacher or class might need, it is a good idea to have a look at the school curriculum. The National Curriculum website is a good place to start.
  • Presenting can be a tough gig, so if you want to keep your audience in rapture, take some time to rehearse your public speaking and presentation skills
  • The experience of working with schools is a development opportunity in itself, but you may wish to learn some techniques for relating to young people in particular. Check out the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement training opportunities.