Thursday, 23 May 2013

Building a business and leadership in the class: Year middle school long project

Well this year I wanted to give my class the opportunity to start something that could possibly carry on.  This is my first year at the school and I teach a group of students who travel from various locations outside of the catchment of the area.  Coming from a different Middle School I was able to use some of the ideas that were successful their and try to incorporate them in my class.  One thing that was quite successful in my former school was when a teacher started up a leadership group who focused on creating different food themed events (ie. smokie BBQ, Turkey Sandwich).  The events became quite popular throughout the school.  After moving I asked him about using the idea in my new school and he encouraged me to try it.  He was working with students as an extracurriculur group.

I decided to take this idea but incorporate it into my Career Education class.  It started in November and has been going on all year but the results are something I am quite proud of even though the process was tough at times.  Here is how it went.

We started by discussing what the concept was.  Creating a business that will make money and be enjoyable for the whole school.    The question was : What is something we could ourselves and create ourselves that students will want to purchase and take part in.  We did our first brainstorming session for a first possible event:  The ideas were : cupcake sale, cookie sale, popsicles or freezies.  I was underwhelmed by the ideas my students were coming up with.  They were having a tough time coming up with something original that could get a school excited.    Since we were just starting , I took the leadership role and acted as a "boss" of the business.  I told them that we are trying to create something unique, something that they would want, trying to build up a name for ourselves but they always wanted to go back to what they knew; basically have a Bake Sale.  I told my class they had a week to come up with a simple idea that was unique.

The second meeting time we came up with a name for our business: I let the students vote and even though I didn't like the name personally I let them live with it (Kwayfe) because my plan was to eventually step back and let them take control of the business.  Our meeting also came up with some interesting new ideas.  We were getting close to Christmas and so they wanted a holiday theme.  Selling gingerbread houses, some kind of fancy holiday cookies they thought was great or the eventual winner gourmet hot chocolate.  The ideas started flowing a little better and soon we had our first real idea: The Candy Coacoa.  Hot Chocolate made with milk, real whipped cream and different types of crumbled candy on top ( candy canes, smarties, sprinkles and chocolate chips were the options.  I was impressed!  It was something the school never had before and it looked like something we could market. 

Step 2:  I put my group into two teams:  Marketing and Organization.  I kept myself as leader at this point still and also took on most of the bookkeeping.   The one group put together and advertising campaign that included: posters, announcements online and on the P.A., as well as a free sample for teachers that got all the students worked up.  My organizers put together the plans:  organization of how we could make the coacoa, presale plans, pricing, jobs for the day.    It was amazing to see the students begin to step up as organizers and start to care about the project they were working on, they wanted to make money!  Yes money became an issue quickly.  They though the money was going to be for them but I had to inform them that the money had to be donated or spent at the school somehow, not just for a party or on themselves.  This became a part of the business though later.

Alot of the planning I was heavily involved in and guided them towards ways they could improve.  One of the key features really was the presale.  We advertised and then set up a table and sold them a for a week before the event.  Students actually paid to reserve a Candy Coacoa because if they didn't they wouldn't necessarily get on that day. This was a key feature because it gave us spending money since the students paid beforehand and it let us control our cost of supplies by knowing how many we had to make.

Another key element was that the students learned about food safety and also accountability.  There were times when students had to do work towards the advertising but also had a volleyball game or another obligation.  At first they would just go off and not fill in their boss why they wanted to leave.  After explaining to them about their responsiblity they suddenly had to manage their time to make sure they could do their Kwayfe job and fit in their homework and other obligations.  This was a huge learning curve for many.  Food safety drove me insane for a while because when making samples for the teachers students did the strangest things.  Making whipped cream or hot chocolate and the kids wanted to taste everything.  They would dip their fingers into the product to try it.  They learned quickly when I would througout an entire batch of cream or a whole hot chocolate that it was not acceptable.  The profit margin was going down each time someone sampled, so the group quickly figured out that it was not a good idea. 

The event day was interesting as well. My group was excited, eager and organized.  We were preparing to make about 75 hot chocolates.  We were using urns to heat up the hot chocolate when two things happened that nearly brought the whole event down.  The first was that one of the urns was not plugged in and even though a student was standing next to it , stirring it for about 20 minutes they never noticed it unplugged.  That meant a whole batch of milk was still cold.  Then urn number 2 starting bubbling up some milk that was a brown colour.  The student in charge of cleaning it missed an entire part and so we had to throw out about 4 litres of milk.  Panic started to move in the room.  Everything was ready but the milk!  Students were starting to line up and anxious to try the Candy Coacoa that they had paid for.  I grabbed my crew and we had to come up with a plan.  A couple of students came up with the idea of microwaving the milk to get it hot (we luckily had a microwave handy) and off they went to get microwaveable cups to start heating up milk.  It was amazing to see the crew problem solve and figure it out.   It was busy for them but they were able to manage. 

We ended up only makign $40.00 but it was a start. 

Event #2

We began planning our second event after the Winter Break and this time I set up a couple of team leaders.  Marketing Leader and Organization Leader.  I also gave the bookkeeping responsibilities to one of the students who recieved all the receipts that came in.  I also did my own as well just to make sure everything was working out.  Event 2 we decided on making ice cream sundaes.  Waffle bowl, vanilla ice cream and the option of strawberries or blueberries and the option of hot fudge or caramel sauce (sauces were all made in the class room).  We added the whipped cream that we learned how to make in event 1 and we were off.  Giving more responsibilities to the crew and they began taking ownership of the business.  Many of the plans were quite similar with adverstising and marketing as well as the planning so the crew was using the things they learned.  We again presold sundaes and all was looking great until event day.  We went to the freezer to get the ice cream and someone had left the door open all night long.  Two buckets of ice cream melted.  The others were in another freezer and were fine.  Again the problem solvers were able to find a way to get more ice cream so that we could hold the event.  The students ended up making about 100 sundaes during the 40 minute lunch and were also able to clean up as well.  Job well done but again the profit margin came down with our near disaster from the morning. 

The thing is that we now had some money to play with.  What should we do with it .  The ideas from the students came pouring in.  I took all their ideas and just waited.  We actually took a bit of a hiatus from the business as we had other things to do in the class.  Then the weather started getting nicer and we came back to revisit the Kwayfe.  We brainstormed again and the ideas were getting much stronger.  The students started trying to find ways to make the business interesting and be a part of the school.  Then an idea came up that the group wanted to make Snow cones.  A student had a snow cone machine and they thought the school would love it.  I told the students that I didn't want to be responsible for someone else's snow cone machine but we could use our money to buy one.  The class couldn't believe my suggestion.  We could actually buy a snow cone machine for the school.  Well we had some money and reinvesting in the business sounded just fine by me.  I spoke with the principal and two weeks later a snow cone machine was delivered to the class. 

Event #3  Snow cones

This event I gave a CEO position to a couple of students and told them that they had to organize the crew and report back to me.  I observed and gave them advice when they needed but now the group was taking full responsibility.  The CEOs were now showing true leadership.  They asked me to get a few supplies that they were not able to get but they basically ran the whole event.  They were shocked when recess came and the rush of people wanting snow cones jammed the hallways.  Communication became a key and the students  had to fill orders quickly and efficiently.  They had to handle, and protect money as well as focus on customer service.  We had bought enough cups for 200 snow cones and completely sold out.    A huge success and all run by the students and they handled the pressure with amazing confidence.  After the event the students discussed how to make it more efficient and how to make the customers happier.  They came up with plans for reciepts and where to positioin the snow cone machine next time for better service.  I have had the students write down reflections as we have gone through the process. 

And so the business is up and running and the crew is now separating into different groups.  Sellers, marketer, setup , book keepers.  They have already thought of plans for next year even though many students won't be in my class they want to come back and help out.

We will see where it goes but I highly recommend it, it is probably something I will remember most of this year.  If you need any advice you can email or post a comment. 

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