Helping Children Prepare for their Work Future



David Gurteen, Jo Singel


Children; Education; Learning; Personal Development


United States, New York City

I have long been interested in children and their education and apart from having once been a child; now a father and for a while a school governor, I have never been directly involved in child education.

A little while ago, I noticed a woman sign-up for my knowledge-lettter. Her name was Jo Singel and she was Vice President for Leadership & Organizational Development at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. As I often do with seemingly interesting people I pop into Google and do a search on their name to learn a little bit more about them. And in doing so, I found Jo's resumé on the web. This is one of the things she had to say about herself:
Her passion also includes working with children and schools, bringing business professionals into classrooms and sharing knowledge to help prepare children for their work future. She also works with individuals, teams and not-for-profit organizations on leadership development and personal mastery.
I was intrigued and so dropped her an e-mail to ask her more about her work and to ask if I could publish something about it on my website. It turned out that Jo had never documented anything and so we agreed that I would interview her by e-mail. Its taken alittle while (sorry Jo - all my fault) but this is the result.

I hope you find her work as fascinating as I do and that you might even be inspired to do something of a similar nature.

David: I gather that one of your passions is working with children and schools, bringing business professionals into classrooms and sharing knowledge to help prepare children for their work future. I think this a wonderful idea. I don't think the business world really does enough to help educate and support children in thinking about their future - especially young children. Could you start by telling me a little of what you do and how you got started?

Jo: Yes, David, I agree that business haven't done enough to provide needed support to children in thinking about their future.

To that end, I'd like to share with you a business and school partnership that I initiated several years ago in a school district in New Jersey, I had been on the Board of a large Chamber of Commerce where we were working with a not-for-profit organization on an effort to build effective partnerships with local businesses and schools. Most of our success came in the form of free computers for students and teachers.

At that time, my son was a freshman in high school. Over the course of his school years, he had been a willing listener and participant in many of the leadership, communications and other programs I had developed and facilitated as a corporate trainer and coach. One day he remarked that the work I was doing with adults was very much needed by children in schools. He told me that he would not have known about developing leadership, decision-making, problem-solving and communication skills if it weren't for all the work I had shared with him over the years. I was immediately hooked and became determined to help make more available the skills and tools that would make a difference in the future work lives of children.

As I thought through an approach as to how to deliver these skills I began to see an opportunity to create what I believed was a win-win solution. Why not coach business professionals in these skills, and partner them with schools where they could teach children and teachers? And better yet, what a great opportunity to involve the community, school administrators and parents in taking an interest in building these kinds of programs together - thereby providing an effective environment for real and lasting learning to occur.

Starting with a small group of business professionals I designed a program which we eventually called, "Move on Life". The vision behind it was that by giving children the skills and tools to build a personal and shared vision, learn how to make effective decisions, solve problems using different tools, work together effectively and ultimately teach the skills to others, they would ultimately have more "choice" and would enter adulthood and the working world with the ability to move their lives forward in the direction they wanted to go. If others knew what they were doing - students, teachers, parents - and their community, might they not then have the opportunity to experience their leadership?

We were soon to learn there were added benefits. The skills and tools the business professionals acquired were put to good use back in their own organizations. Their teams benefited from the experience these professionals gained in the classroom. Not only were the students providing them with feedback but the school administrators and parents as well. Here was 360 degree feedback in action!

David: Jo, this sounds wonderful, in particular I love the way your relationship with your son sowed the seed in your mind for this program. I am eager to learn more. What really interests me is how you went about it as I would like to initiate a similar program here in the UK and encourage others to do the same. So first could you tell me more about the program itself. Could you tell me more about its content; how you developed it and how long it took to develop it?

Jo: I had been in communication with several business people through my consulting practice, sharing with them my ideas, vision for my work and my interest in working with schools and programs for children. In sharing my vision, I found that there was a "contagion" factor. People started asking me how they could help me, work with me or assist me. Eventually, I asked certain individuals to join in a Roundtable discussion around the topic. I chose people who had a similar interest, were "kindred spirits" who were motiviated to do good things for others. Some of these individuals were clients so they knew of my work and my aspirations. As a result, by the time I was ready to launch the idea, I had a cadre of professionals who were committed to the vision and the work.

The training was a work in progress. I started with holding informal sessions in a relaxed atmosphere and introduced the program concepts in a way that the individuals could experience first hand the effects of the activities. Most of the people involved in these sessions later reported that they were able to transfer what they had learned back to their own organizations. So there was an immediate benefit to participation. As I progressed in gaining interest among the schools, several individuals were prepared to join me in facilitating the Pilot session. They had gained the commitment from their organizations to allow them to participate in a twice-monthly, 9-month long program with additional meetings for designing activities and debriefing the sessions with the students.

Buy-in from the schools came first from my involvement with a not-for-profit educational organization that had already established relationships with the heads of these school districts. I met with the school administrators in one-on-one and group discussions to share my vision with them and get them excited about the potential results. In some instances, I asked my volunteers from large business organizations to accompany me. In the school district where we eventually piloted the program, we met with parents and teachers to share our vision and objectives. We also gave them a "taste" of the program. Many reported that they wanted to experience the program themselves!

The facilitator training was very much in keeping with my philosophy for the program which is we "learn by doing" and by teaching others. I had 3 core volunteers for the Pilot who had the capacity to spend time away from their jobs to facilitate/learn how to deliver the Program. The volunteers learned with the students. They were very open to new ideas and ways of doing things so it made the whole experience very enjoyable. We were there, not as experts, buy as facilitators of learning - soliciting feedback from the students, incorporating their ideas into the Program as we went. By the end of the program, our students were ready to teach others. They were able to present the high-level concepts and ideas to an in-coming class of students, sharing their vision for the program and their vision for leadership as well as community involvement. It was quite extraordinary. The students told us that it was the first time that they felt that they could relate to adults and be heard by them versus being spoken "to". That was the best feedback of all.

The Pilot was very successful, such that the School wanted to expand the program to include more students. Parents and teachers were also enthusiastic. At that time, I was competing for funding from the first expansion of technology in the classrooms. I was no longer able to self-fund the project and so had to abandon the effort until I had a model in place to continue the work. I had a volunteer who was ready to commit web technology to help expand the program to a dozen schools but it was my belief at the time that only face-to-face facilitation would work. It was my philosophy and aspiration that we'd build a cadre of dedicated professionals who were able to facilitate this learning experience for students in such a way that they'd transfer as much of their "tacit" knowledge as well as be role models for the students in their learning and teaching.

David: Jo, this is fascinating. So you taught the business professionals and they in turn they taught the teachers and students. I love what you say about "learning by doing" - I hate "chalk and talk" and love the students reaction that "it was the first time that they felt that they could relate to adults and be heard by them versus being spoken "to". It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by the educationalist John Holt :-

"Children do not need to be made to learn to be better, told what to do or shown how. If they are given access to enough of the world, they will see clearly enough what things are truly important to themselves and to others, and they will make for themselves a better path into that world then anyone else could make for them"
I also agree with you that face-to-face facilitation is essential. I think we tend to forget that the transfer of knowledge is not just about giving people the knowledge its also about passion, motivation, stimulation and support - its about engaging at an emotional level as well as an intellectual one and that is not so easy to do via communications technology however good.

So lets say someone wished to adopt a similar model. Could you explain in more detail how you designed the program?

Jo: I had been conducting a public seminar that I had designed called, "Creating Personal Mastery". At the core of the program was an emphasis on creating a personal vision for one's life. I believe that to experience as much of our potential and talent as possible, we need an awareness of our own direction, guiding principle, or passion. Beyond goal-setting, personal vision is a drive to accomplish something or live in a way that generates the greatest amount of aliveness. As children, we are most closely in touch with what captivates our attention and curiosity - unless someone or somethinhg intervenes. Over time and with enough enculturation we forget what brought us joy and personal satisfaction.

David: Jo, It often seems to me that schooling systematically destroys children's curiosity; their natural desire to learn and joy in working together and really does not prepare them for their working lives.

Jo: Yes, I applaud those programs that aim to prepare children for the world of work; that teach them computer skills, math, reading and writing. What I felt and continue to feel is missing is what we give to children by way of opportunity to explore their natural talents, to follow their own curiosity and learn with and from others experiences. Most of schoolwork is taught through lecture or children are put into groups and then need to fend for themselves with little in the way of skills or tools for working with others. No time is given for reflecting on their experiences, self-expression, feedback, coaching or mentoring.

My intention was to provide what was missing and to incorporate those things that only when we reach adulthood do we begin to become aware of faint longings and stirrings for something beyond routine existence. Why wait until then? If at all possible, why not provide to our children what we have only learned through hard earned experience? That there is more to life than a 9 to 5 job or waiting until the "nest is empty" to explore, taste, appreciate that which makes us uniquely different and individual. I asked myself why can't we provide our children with the benefit of the knowledge, our "lessons learned" and allow them the possibility of living meaningful lives from the very beginning of their becoming conscious and aware human beings.

David: Jo, What you are saying reminds me so much of the work of Theodore Zeldin . I heard him talk at the Royal Society of Arts in London recently and he made the point that "education does not help you decide what to do with your life."

Jo: To build on the philosophy of the program, there were a number of design principles that were incorporated. I've listed a summary of the most important elements, for example:

  • Ice breakers, games, simulations, team exercises - to stimulate thinking, build teamwork, create new ideas, problem-solve, make decisions, learn skills such as problem-solving, decision-making, communicating effectively, having your voice heard. Explore personal learning styles.
  • Facilitated Discussion - to facilitate children's natural abilities for self-expression. Encourage public self-expression and thinking through responses to thought provoking questions versus giving children answers.
  • Coaching - to guide children in making more conscious, intentional choices, decisions, prompting opinions, providing an alternative perspective.
  • Role Modeling - listening, clarifying, offering suggestions
  • Leadership - model open, non-judgmental communication, sharing personal vision
  • Off-sites - provide diverse environments for learning
  • Small Teams - stimulate interaction
  • Values - support honesty, commitment, self-responsibility, integrity, and courage
  • Environment - sit in circles, using the whole space to explore, move, and break away from the traditional audience/lecture mode
  • Improvisation - create on the spot activities
  • Self-direction - encourage student's leadership by having them facilitate activities
  • Resources - articles, books
By way of feedback to the facilitators, children reported that we listened to them at their level. They expressed that it was the first time they had been able to successfully communicate with an adult - to be heard and respected. They also shared with us that our being good role models went a long way toward building credibility and trust with them.

I believe that the children's positive experience had a residual effect on their parents, teaches and peers. The parents asked if they could participate in our program. Teachers were interested in learning about our techniques and tools. The most important aspects were the philosophy, guiding principles and values of the program and the facilitators. The process of involving parents, teachers, and the Principal and Superintendent early-on in a Parent/Children/Teachers night to explain the goals of the program and what would be involved in implementing it went a long way toward building commitment to the pilot and beyond.

We also wanted to provide opportunities for students to transfer their learning to their every-day lives, families and communities. During the pilot, we could see that by following this model, over time, we could have an impact and the children would plant seeds and share their vision beyond the walls of the classroom and the school.

Our intention was to facilitate their ability to make choices based on their vision and to feel confident in their decisions and the resources available to them.

David: This is really wonderful, I'd love to see more initiatives like this going on in schools but how did you find the business people to be involved?

Jo: I had been in the executive searching business for a number of years as well as having a management consulting practice. It was a practice of mine to share ideas through the facilitation of roundtables and luncheons highlighting different topics of interest for my clients. It wasn't unusual for me to solicit their support or partner with them in various projects. Such was the case with the school program, which came to be called, "Move on Life". I had been sharing my vision for the program with several clients who had expressed an interest in working on an interesting and innovative project where they could both learn and have the opportunity to make a contribution. I found that business people were quite hungry for a satisfying and personally rewarding experience outside of the day-to-day work environment.

David: That doesn't really surprise me, like you I find that most people would love to find a way to give something back to society - there is a hunger for it as you say. So ok, it wasn't too difficult to find the people but how did you cover your costs?

Jo: My business model was designed to bring professionals at a senior enough level in their organization that they could contribute time and in-kind services such as conference rooms, supplies, etc. All the work to design the pilot was done pro bono.

My idea was to involve the large businesses in the communities by enrolling a cadre of their employees to facilitate an in-school program.

Each volunteer professional would spend two hours each week in the classroom, attend a 1-day orientation workshop, lead one field trip preferably to their business site, and attend a quarterly 1-day workshop to deepen their learning, share their experiences and transfer knowledge among the volunteers.

The enrolling organization would contribute a one time only fee for each professional volunteered to the school and program.

I had also envisioned that the business people who participated in the first pilot would be the founding members and the governing body.

Eventually, the Founding Group would be responsible for keeping the program viable, ensuring the quality, making improvements and sharing the knowledge to other schools.

In all, prior to implementing the pilot, as I was sharing my vision for the Program I had over 12 schools volunteer to host the launch of the initial program in their schools.

David: Jo, Thank you very much for talking to me about your work with children in schools. I hope that by capturing here on my website the basic concepts behind this work that other people will be inspired to undertake similar initiatives. Once again thank you.

Jo Singel Jo Singel
Vice President
Leadership & Organizational Development
J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

Jo began her professional career working at Estee Lauder, Gulf&Western Ind., and General Instrument Corp. focusing on Public Relations and Human Resources respectively.

She transitioned into own business in the early 80's and founded Jonathan Lawrence Associates an executive search and management consulting firm. JLA's clients included many of NYC's premier financial institutions as well as general industry. Focused on IT, HR and Finance recruitment, JLA also worked with organizations on building "environments for collaboration and learning".

In the late 90's, she transitioned again to return to a corporate position at JPMorgan Chase. There she has been involved in Knowledge Management, Leadership Development and Organizational Learning. For the past several years, she has been the Knowledge Manager for Human Resources working closely with business partners in Technology, Corporate Shared Services, and Intranet Services to provide the Firm with a blend of people-focused and technology-savy perspective to help the organization achieve competitive advantage. She has had experience organizing and facilitating Communities of Practice, Knowledge Broker Networks and Change Management programs designed to enhance collaboration and transform people and work processes into effective platforms for organizational learning.

Her passion also includes working with children and schools, bringing business professionals into classrooms and sharing knowledge to help prepare children for their work future. She also works with individuals, teams and not-for-profit organizations on leadership development and personal mastery.

What is Knowledge Management? - Jane McKenzie

Mini-clip interview for Gurteen Knowledge with Jane McKenzie . What is Knowledge Management? Shot at the Henley Knowledge Management Forum in September 2006.

Jane is Professor of Management Knowledge and Learning at the Henley Management College .

Media Information: Image

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership
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