Why You Might Want to Start a Classroom Business
At a Glance
Classroom Business Benefits: Enhancing vocational, social, and executive functioning skills for special education students.
Life Skills & Entrepreneurship: Opportunities to practice real-world tasks, from financial awareness to entrepreneurship in a controlled environment.
Upcoming Focus: Next in the series, we'll delve into business operation models that align with classroom goals and how to select the most beneficial one.
As teachers and students begin to settle into the groove of the new school year and learn more about each other, teachers may also begin to think about some of the longer term projects and goals they can establish with their classes and the best way to engage students with one of these bigger ideas. A classic example of such a project is the classroom business, which can feature skill sets ranging from following written instructions to executive functioning to planning and design.
Many great articles and presentations have been written on the topic with ideas for different businesses, advice for getting it off the ground, and ways teachers can help to manage the experience. Yet despite all the attention the classroom business model has gotten there isn’t much contemporary research out there on how it benefits special education students in learning important life skills.
While the Department of Labor touts some of the broad benefits of student entrepreneurship, the stated benefits are based on a decades old study and do not necessarily reflect the specifics of a classroom project like the ones most commonly discussed.
Of course there are lots of different activities we might try in the classroom that haven’t specifically been researched! But it can be helpful in those instances - especially ones that involve a lot of time and effort - to be extra conscious about student goals and how such projects align with meeting them. In this series we will be approaching the question of how to build a classroom business that fits the types of goals and skills that you and your current students want to work toward. So to get started in part one we are going to explore some potential answers to a very important question:
What are some ways that having a student business can be helpful for a special education classroom?
As we explore some potential answers you may find that some especially resonate with your classroom’s needs and goals while others don’t seem quite right. That is OK! Identifying what reasoning feels most applicable to your context can help inform next steps when we talk about how to decide on what to do in future parts of this series.
Some of the reasons why starting a classroom business may be beneficial to your students include:
Building vocational skills
For some classrooms, a business might be a prime opportunity to practice vocational skills! Many classroom businesses require a degree of job site based instruction to function as intended, and may also require a degree of tracking to make sure all the functions of the business are working as intended. For some classrooms, job site or community based instruction may be one of the top reasons to start a business!
Supporting microenterprise skills
Of course vocational skills are not limited to one’s ability to interpret and carry out job site instructions. There is a huge variety of vocational skills worth learning depending on your goals and a classroom business can emphasize putting tasks requiring those skills in the hands of students.
If you are interested in getting some ideas for vocational skills, our free IEP Goal Idea Bank offers dozens across a variety of categories including Student-Led Enterprises. Teachers interested in supporting the growth of microenterprise skills can hone in on teamwork elements, communication, problem solving skills, or goal setting and planning.
Support social skills and executive functioning skills
Classroom businesses are both a team effort and a large series of tasks that the team must collectively decide how to complete by the time each task needs to be completed.
Deciding what needs to be done and when based on the specifics of the classroom’s goals entails both a degree of team planning and deployment of executive functioning skills on a scale that many students may not have previously experienced.
In some cases students may have to go a step further and fit their own executive functioning and planning into that of the team. While some classroom businesses leave much of the planning to the teacher, for some classes it may be a worthwhile point of emphasis!
Support specific life skills
Some skills employed in supporting a classroom business overlap considerably with general life skills, from building a routine and time management to developing one’s financial awareness, budget planning, and concepts like keeping inventory and tracking cash flow.
Different students may take on different responsibilities within the business depending on which skills they wish to work on. Life skills are an important component of any student’s education and are a perfectly valid reason to undergo a larger project.
Generalizing skills learned in other lessons to a new activity
A classroom business is also a great way to deploy concepts that students have learned in other contexts, whether they are some of the life skills discussed in the previous section or many of the vocation-related skills we have discussed above.
A classroom business is both a higher stakes and complex way of deploying such skills and crucially still a safe space where it is OK to make mistakes and learn from them.
Helps students with postsecondary goals around entrepreneurship
While the Department of Labor article we shared earlier does not necessarily speak specifically to classroom businesses, it does speak to the benefits of students participating in entrepreneurship activities, from job interest to interest in attending college to the “belief that attaining one’s goals is within one’s control.”
Running a business, even a relatively simple classroom business, can be a complex undertaking with unexpected challenges to overcome and unexpected solutions and innovations to dream up. Students who have goals related to entrepreneurship after graduating will benefit from having the opportunity to run a type of business in a school environment, even if their entrepreneurship goals have a somewhat different focus.
While this was not an exhaustive list of the benefits associated with classroom businesses by any means, we hope that this first post has offered a sense of many of the different ways that a classroom business can be positioned to benefit a classroom. We also hope it may have offered a sense of how a classroom business started without a clear goal in mind could go down a path that is not as beneficial to the students running it as it could be.
In the next post of this series we will be sharing some business ideas with an eye toward how your choice of business operations model is most beneficial when it ties back to your established goals and purpose. In the meantime if you wish to share your own classroom business experience or let us know what you’d like to see in this series, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be back next week with part 2!