The power of collaborative learning

Kaizen: the secret behind the success of #BreakfastClub @revphilipgreen #ukedchat #SLTChat

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Philip Green has been teaching business subjects in a variety of contexts for 25 years. He has been a member of the Aldenham staff for 10 years. He combines his work in school with being a Curate in the Church of England. Find him on Twitter @revphilipgreen


Students working on a Kaizen exercise – how to assemble cars in the most efficient manner

Perhaps the best thing about being a Business Education teacher is that we have the opportunity to undertake experiential learning. Over the course of my career, I have been in numerous factories, boardrooms and offices to broaden my students – and my – understanding of the business world. We can tell students something in the classroom and they can regurgitate it in exams. But when it comes from someone standing on a factory floor, they really internalise it.


I had one of the best such visits I’ve ever had last November, when I took a group of Year 13 students to the Jaguar factory in Birmingham. The sheer size of the facility, and the complexity of the manufacturing process for a Jaguar XJ is quite awesome and the students all came away with a much greater understanding of how large-scale operations such as car assembly work.

I took away two particular things from this trip. The first was in the very final stage of production, where the cars are checked and the bonnets put on before being released to dealers. I shall never forget the care with which an employee took to get a bonnet exactly aligned – no mean feat when the car had been worked on by so many different people. Only when he was completely happy with it was it released – even if it meant stopping the entire line behind him. I thought that we might learn a great deal from the importance the company based on getting the quality of its products exactly right.


Students programming the robot to perform a simple operation


The second aspect was learning about Jaguar’s Kaizen process. Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy which broadly translates as continuous improvement. And what the Jaguar management have been able to do is to get every worker to see that everyone in the organisation benefits from things being done better. (If a Jaguar employee brings forth a suggestion adopted by the company, he or she gets the use of a top-of-the-range car for the weekend, and bragging rights to boot!) Kaizen only really works when it is a bottom-up strategy, and it needs to be shared by management and workers alike if it is to be successful.

With this visit still occupying my mind, I went to Aldenham’s fortnightly Teach-meet breakfast the next morning. And it struck me that what was really happening was actually a very similar process to what I had learnt about the day before. We sat around and essentially discussed how we could make our teaching more effective. As ever, there was a healthy bunch of suggestions coming forth, and I left the meeting buzzing.

And why I think the Teach-meet format works is that they are ideas coming from us – from the chalkface, if you like. If precisely the same suggestions came from management, I (and possibly we!) would not be anything like as enthusiastic about implementing them. Because they come from my peers, they leave me enthused and convinced that I could make them work in my classroom.

I wouldn’t say no if the Headmaster bought the staff a Jaguar F-type for our use for a weekend if we had one of our teaching and learning strategies adopted by the school. But the knowledge that something I’ve brought to the meeting has been adopted by a colleague to make their teaching a little more efficient, or their students’ learning a little more effective, is reward enough for me.




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