Students organize an economics conference

st 2Please describe how your students exercised their leadership and the impact they had.

I was a teacher in Economics’ subjects. One of the classes I thought was a 12th grade class with 15 students and I taught them 8 different subjects. One the class “Project Management” was about developing a business plan (which would help them for their Vocational State Exam). As we were doing business plans last school year, I proposed my students to do something more fun, which would have an impact on a lot of student. They liked the idea and together we decided to organize the first Economics conference organized by students for students. The main goal of the conference was to propose adequate solutions to current problems on the topic of Gross Domestic Product and youth unemployment. Our idea was to make a formal proposal, which could be submitted to different institutions – private and public.

We started organizing the conference in September when we all decided on the main topic of the conference as well as the structure and the likely program. And then we decided that we would like around 80 students from all over Bulgaria to come to the town of Samokov. The conference would be 1 day and we decided to invite 4 guest speakers to have a Q&A session with the students in the morning and in the afternoon there would be 10 simultaneous workshop led by students. We also decided that all students who would like to come, would have to apply.

The next stage was to divide into different teams. So every student had to apply for the leadership positions he/she wanted to take. If more than one student applied, there was anonymous vote. There were 7 leadership teams – CEO, finance, logistics, PR, admissions, web design and support, technical support. Every team had a leader and at least one assistant. As there were about 6 months left to the conference, the leaders decided to have reflection days every 6 weeks (4 in total), so that they assure that everything is going on as planned. All the teams had their 6-weeks goals and their 1-week goals set before we started working on achieving the goals.

The CEO team was mainly responsible for meeting all targets and they were with the closest communication with me. They were also responsible for the opening and closing of the conference. The finance team was responsible for raising all the money (more than 5000 eur) and communicating with our main partner and sponsor – the Town Hall. The logistics team was managing the stay of all the participants, their transportation, food and comfort. The PR team was responsible for the marketing campaign and they were communicating with our VIP guests. The admissions team had the difficult job to select the 80 most motivated students (it has to be noted that our main criteria was motivation and drive). The web masters did everything which required the use of computers and internet – promotional video, facebook page, webpage, online questionnaires, etc.) The technical support team had to supply us with all the materials for the conference (like paper, folders, computers, projectors) and they were responsible for preparing all the rooms on the day of the conference.

I would like to note that there were three leadership role groups in this conference. The first one is, of course, the students of my class who organized the conference. The second groups was the students who led the workshops (7 out of 10 students were not from my class). And the third group was the teachers. There were three other teachers from the school who took part in the organization. The teacher in Food Preparation who cooked food for 150 people (together with around 20 of her students). The teacher in Catering who serviced all the participants and guests during the conference (together with around 20 of her students). The teaching in Tourism who organized tours in the town after the end of the conference (together with around 10 of her students)

On the day of the conference there were 76 students (around 150 applied) from 26 different schools from Bulgaria (that is 18 different regions) who were participants. 20 teachers accompanying the students. The conference was visited by the Mayor of the town, the head of the Education and Sports’ Department in the Town Hall and the head of the Regional Inspectorate of Education.

There were 4 guest speakers – one member of the European parliament, two from the Institute for Market Economy and Sofia University lecturer. 10 students led one an hour and half workshop each. 4 of the students were not from Economics or Management Vocational schools. The Town Hall sponsored us with 2000 eur which covered the stay of all the participating students and their teachers. The Town Hall provided the Sports’ Hall and 7 more rooms for the workshops for free for the whole day. Two of Teach for Bulgaria corporate partners sponsored us with 500 eur. The students managed to raise 600 eur from local companies.

The conference was successful as we now have a printed 40-page report including the work of all the 10 workshops. The report was officially presented to the mayor and one of our corporate partner. We have sent the report to the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Economics. We have also distributed 40 copies at the TSIP annual conference organized by Teach for Bulgaria.

st 3What role did you play in supporting your students’ leadership?

My main role was to facilitate my students. Before every team started planning I was having individual meetings with the team members. All of their products had a feedback from me (earlier products received 3-4 feedbacks from me).

I was also a back-up plan as the motivation of the students was fluctuating, but I must say that the last time I had to do something instead of the students was in December.

I also wanted my students to feel me as part of their team and not as the teacher, because this was OUR conference, so I had a few leadership roles as well – finding the e-mail addresses of 600+ schools, finding the guest speakers, communicating with the teachers. My main role, though, was training the facilitators of the workshops. I had to make sure that all the 10 students have a good structure and can take out the most out of the students taking part in their workshop. So I was giving feedback to their workshop script and I was having skype discussions with them.

st 4What did you and your students learn in this activity that will endure beyond today?

My main goal was to develop their critical thinking and problem solving skills. More specifically, how efficiently they find group solutions to problems that have many alternative ways of solving. For 6 months there was progress – the content of the problems were a lot more rigorous. I became a lot closer with the students. They started sharing a lot with me and were very open about the whole process. My ambition was by the end of our second year all the students to start realizing the whole process of learning and studying and that it is not about whether we like the subject, but what transferable skills we develop. I think achieved that because attendance in my classes was very high and they did organize a conference.

During our last year reflection with the students almost all of them told me that they mostly developed their team working skills and that this was the first time they realized they can work in groups. I haven’t thought about this and was really surprised by this and this is my biggest lessons of all. You don’t need to plan how you want to develop different skills. It is more important to plan one skill in a lot of depth and be sure it is the right skill.

But my biggest success is the following:
• Two students went to universities abroad
• Five students went to top universities in Sofia
• Two students went to university even though when I started teaching them they did not want to continue their education
• 11 out of 15 took the Vocational State Exam and they all passed it. At the beginning of my first year all students told me they would not take it (as it is not compulsory) and in the school, usually around half take the Vocational State Exam and less pass.

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