Insights from taking my son to work

During December I created the opportunity for my 11 year old son to join me at work. George has just finished primary school and will be going into Year 7 in a few weeks time. I run my own consultancy businessĀ called Dialogic Learning and for the last 6 years have been working as an education consultant.

His mini-internship helped me to discover new insights about my work in education and in business, so I thought I would share these with you. First some information about the context.

Why bother?

I have been travelling as a consultant for 6 years. Leaving my family is a cost we all have to shoulder. I wanted George to better understand the work that I do, meet the people I spend my time with and to appreciate the places I have to visit.

Telling him about these things is a poor alternative to actually experiencing them and so the idea of him joining me was born.

At the end of a school day George once asked me:

Why can’t I just go out into the world and learn?

I am pleased to say I have done something about this and given him the opportunity to get out there.

What was it?

George’s paid mini-internship included the following:

What was the expectation on George?

George and I agreed that he was not just there to make up the numbers or sit in the corner. He understood that the expectation was to be fully involved and to participate as much as he could.

I am lucky enough to work with some great clients here and in Sydney who were all really open to having George join us. We spent some time sharing these expectations as we began our sessions and meetings – this helped George hear them again and for the group I was working with align with our expectation.

For the Sydney trip I wanted George to spend some time talking to the school leadership groups – presenting some ideas on his own. We had the idea to share a short presentation, as a soon-to-be primary school leaver, about some things he would like to change about school.

We collaborated on a short presentation that outlined 5 elements he believed are crucial to a successful school. He then used those ideas to develop some questions he put to each of the leadership teams. George ran a short discussion with the leadership teams using the questions as prompts.

If you want a PDF of George’s slides and question prompts we used, sign up for my weekly newsletter and I will share a copy.

What did you learn?

School is a bubble

No doubt about it. School can be an important bubble that cossets and protects our young learners, but it is a long way from the world of work and business. Which is OK. That said I think home can also be a bubble.

The whole experience has made me think about how our students might go from home to school, and from school to home. From bubble to bubble. Again that is OK, but for some, at the right time, they need a guided experience of the cities and communities we live in.

Not to participate in a diluted version of what they should expect in 10 years. Not to “get ready” for the world of work. Not as some pseudo-preparation for life. Not to do a project.

But to participate fully as an equal, to experience all the complexity and expectation that might come along with that and to learn by getting out “into the world”.


It brought us closer together

We achieved one of my main goals, which was for George to better appreciate the work I do and the people/places I spend my time with/in. We were a team for those few days and we bonded in a completely different way than being at home.

He was able to witness me with business partners and share experiences together. We chatted about the work after each experience, about the people and the way they approached everything. I am grateful for the time we spent together.

Now when I say I am going to Sydney to see Jamie or work with BVN, he knows who and where I mean.

The hidden curriculum is real

This idea has always been on my radar. The hidden curriculum refers to what children learn from school that is not explicitly taught. For example, this might be through the investment in high quality resources and equipment for sport. Students will read between the lines that “sport is highly valued here.”

This also works in much more negative ways, I just chose a positive example.

Two insights here. One is that George has been highly perceptive of the little details throughout his primary school experience. He shared these with the leadership teams during his presentation and also the shortcomings of those experiences.

I would expect that the student perception of their school and their learning experiences is hugely varied. Importantly though, their perception is their truth.

The other insight is about the shared expectation from the people George encountered during his time with me. He experienced adults working in different industries who were open, receptive, respectful, challenging and trusting of him. I know that has had a big impact.

It reminds me to pay attention to my own disposition, the language I use when first starting a session and to remain vigilant to how others are experiencing things.

Student participation in school improvement adds value

The picture of George standing in front of a group of school leaders in Sydney (top image) is definitely a highlight from last year. It has made me think about the way students are involved in the ongoing work of leadership teams.

I appreciate that George’s participation was different than normal, but what is stopping us have students taking up a residency in the leadership group. Much of what is discussed is about the welfare and experience of students – perhaps there are ways they could be more present.

Little life lessons are everywhere

A big insight I had, as George’s guide, was how much the little things I take for granted were important lessons for him to experience in these new contexts.

  • Shaking hands when you first meet
  • Looking people in the eye when you talk to them
  • Elevator etiquette. “No, you first…”
  • Punctuality
  • Making sure you are ready for the next meeting
  • Taking the time to understand who you are meeting

There were so many different little lessons along the way we experienced together. From social and group dynamics, the way successful dialogue typically unfolds, to planning travel and accommodation.

An important discussion with George was about the cost of our trip to Sydney and how my business earns money. We discussed revenue and cost, his ensuing calculations were much more authentic as it applied to our immediate context and something he was curious about.

The whole experience was a massive success for us both and also, based on the feedback (and emails for George), for those we spent time with.

I am keen to explore ways that George can participate in some future work days with me as he gets older. I am sure that it will continue to be a valuable experience for him. He is already talking about taking over the business!

Just a reminder that if you want a PDF of George’s challenge to the leadership teams, you just need to signup to my newsletter and I will send you a copy.

1 Comment

  1. Such a valuable experience for all of you. Thanks so much for writing about it. I am going to share it with our staff group next Tuesday. As always Tom, you have nourished my thinking and challenged my practices. Brilliant start to a fresh year!

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