B!G Mentor and Teacher Chats
02 March 2022

B!G Mentor and Teacher Chats

On Thursday 17 February we hosted a Mentor Kick-Off session. This was very special as we had returning Mentor, Cormac O’Conaire and returning Teacher, Deirdre Wilson. Cormac and Deirdre were on hand to offer all sorts of support and guidance based on their experience of working on the programme last year.

Cormac is the Chief Design Officer at Design Partners which is one of our incredible foundation partners and he was first in the hot seat.

From your point of view, was the experience of big mentoring last year what you expected, because it’s not really traditional mentoring?
Cormac: No, it wasn’t what I expected. When I first signed up, you know, I was feeling great about getting involved and helping the next generation of creatives by giving something back. But, of course, we’re all busy professionals. So as the time drew near, I was thinking why did I sign up for this daunting task. This is daunting. I was expecting it to be a huge time suck. But actually, it wasn’t at all; the process was really nicely structured. It was very easy to follow, the format made it super easy. And it was pretty enjoyable actually. The most difficult part was probably me personally, making sure that my feedback was filtered to what mattered most and that it was clear. And I also discovered that many of the students hadn’t even heard about a creative process or a brief you know. I think a lot of us might have experience of mentoring professionals or design students so that was quite different and also just seeing what they got out of it. There was so much joy from being introduced to the creative process, learning skills like critical thinking and creative problem solving and the students were fantastic.

What tips or advice would you give to our 2022 B!G Mentors to get the most out of this?
Cormac: Similar to that last point I think being so used to giving advice to people who are in the design industry or in the creative industry, you kind of have to step back from that; meaning any of your feedback can’t contain design buzzwords or industry breaks or if they do, at least explain them. Don’t say things like try adopting a more multidisciplinary approach to finding more meaningful, empathetic solutions. Or if you do really, I found, especially from the first round of feedback, that if I was to say something like, try doing some more research to find better solutions to try to encourage divergent thinking, that was even not clear enough. Again you’re assuming that people know what you mean by research. Phrase it in a way by asking your family and friends about this product or service or space that you’re trying to find a solution to. Ask them what problems they have and then try and come up with great ideas to solve those problems. That kind of feedback I found was a lot more useful and you could clearly see that that type of feedback supercharged more ideas that they had.

So in terms of a B!G Idea glossary of what students are using, the language they’re using, that would be really helpful?
Cormac: Yeah definitely. One of the things I found as well was that the students often became obsessed with their first good idea, you know, they come across a great idea. Okay, we have it, let’s move on. Whereas in fact, I think part of this is maybe encouraging a little bit of teaching the basics of the creative process to help them develop these creative problem solving skills by looking a bit broader, encouraging them to explore other areas, other ideas, exciting them about the possibilities of what that might be and helping set their ambitions high.

“There was so much joy from being introduced to the creative process, learning skills like critical thinking and creative problem solving”

Cormac O'Conaire

Next up to share her pearls of wisdom was Deirdre Wilson, teacher in St. Leo’s College, Carlow. Deirdre teaches Science, Biology and Physics and she has lots of amazing experience in the STEM space. For the duration of the chat, Deirdre hid from her class in the storage closet! That’s the kind of dedication we look for in our Teachers!

So, first of all, how are the students getting on so far?
Deirdre: Yeah, really well actually. The delivery of the Swag bags about a week ago derailed the whole thing because all we did was play with Lego! But it’s brilliant, it’s all part of the creative process. I think this week, they realised actually how much they have already done. So when I said you are going to write a pitch, it’s going to be 500 words and I had 50 kids going ‘What?’ they nearly died! And then this moring it was like yeah our pitch is brilliant. It’s really good so they’re excited to get their feedback and they were on the sites this morning deciding who they’d like to be their Mentors!

That’s brilliant to hear. I’m so glad that the whole process is starting to make sense because I know for some of them it is their first time to dip their toe into anything creative so it is great to hear that you all feel supported through it. So if you could cast your mind back to last year what was the impact of that feedback on the classes or on student motivation?
Deirdre: Just as one example this morning I was reading through a pitch with a group of girls and they basically had about 17 ideas. And I said why wouldn’t you just narrow it down, why don’t you focus on one and they were like no, no, no that won’t work and I was like I guarantee the Mentor is going to give the feedback of why don’t you narrow it down and focus on just one idea and they were like that’s a great idea! It’s that idea when it’s from the outside world they really take the feedback seriously and I think that makes a difference. I could say it 10 times a day and it will go in one ear and out the other whereas with the Mentors, one of the girls said yesterday ‘but Miss, these are real-life people’. So I think that’s one of the biggest benefits of it.

I love it and I love that they are going on to the mentor site and opening up the bio’s even just to get a pathway into the creative industry and to get it into their mindset that these are viable careers.
Deirdre: I think one of the biggest things that came from that discussion this morning was there was such a broad spectrum of industries, of jobs, of occupations. I think at the start of the programme when I said we are going to focus on design one of the girls said ‘But Miss I’m not artistic’ and I was like ‘that’s not what design is all about. It’s huge, it’s a massive industry’. And I think that was one of the biggest learning points they took away that actually design is everywhere.

And last question with your teacher hat on, what does good feedback look like for you?
Deirdre: I think for me you need to be very specific. I think Cormac touched on it. If you say you need to do more research they will go, what’s research? They need a kind of springboard to go with so like Cormac was saying, if you ask them a question, they will act on that and they will answer it so maybe it’s instead of do some more research instead go ‘what would happen if’ and that will be something they can then look up and look into. So really specific questions are a great one. And using clear, concise language. I mean, I cannot tell you how many full stops and capital letters we had to edit this morning. So keep it small, nothing too complex, keep it really short and simple and I think maybe finding a focus. They don’t sometimes realise that we are looking for one big idea. So they are probably throwing about 20 ideas at you and expecting that they will be able to do this over a 6 week period so I think if you can put a spotlight over one idea that you think is good and say let’s focus on this one and run with that, that would be a good thing. So I would say be specific, ask questions and put a spotlight on one focus group.

Thanks so much to Cormac and Deirdre for taking the time out of their busy schedules to join us for the chats. Click on the link below to see the whole session.

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