How to run successful school events

How to run successful school events

I’m not teacher trained. Everything I have learned is from hands-on experience working in the many schools I’ve visited around the UK.

Empty classroom with desks and a blackboard

Primary, secondary, state, private, and specialist schools have been good enough to book my services over many years. Specialist schools might be for excluded children, unable to stay in mainstream education or those with learning disabilities for example.

This week I was lucky enough to be invited to run chocolate tasting workshops at a secondary school as part of an Enrichment Day. I ran the same workshop five times for five different classes. Hard work but the children loved it and feedback has been really positive. 

Here are my tips on how to run successful school events:

Be safe and follow protocols

Ensure you know what is expected by the school and what is required legally for your own protection and that of the school and children.  

DBS certification, Health and Safety information/certification if relevant, your safeguarding policy for example. Please do your research and find out what is required from the relevant authorities.

Types of events

The school will have booked you for a specific event. Ensure you have understood the outcomes they expect from the day and clearly communicated these.  

After sending over the initial information, I will try and arrange a phone call with the school contact to ensure I fully understand their expectations. It’s a chance for you to explain in your own words how the event will work too.

Remember, say yes and then work out how you are going to deliver what they want. You have the chance to tweak and advise what would work best for them.

Thanks to being asked to do things, I’ve developed workshops for primary schools that included chocolate making and tasting. I offer the same for secondary schools, as well as Enterprise Days.

Enterprise Days

I will typically work with a whole year group. When I was first tasked with putting on this type of day, I knew I had 180 pupils and I had to make it relevant and interactive for all. My aim was to get to smaller working groups.  

I started the day with a plenary session. Speaking to the whole year group and setting them up for the challenge before sending them back to their classrooms.  

Each class became a new chocolate company. Within each company were five departments. Every department had to communicate with each other to complete a business plan for a new chocolate company concept. Once this was submitted, they got to work on a presentation.  

We all came together to hear their pitches and a winning company was announced.

What the pupils create, their imagination and their enthusiasm is truly inspiring.   One lad once said to me, “I might run my own business as then I could really make a difference in the world.”

It’s all in the preparation

Prep within an inch of your life! Go over everything you will be doing with a fine toothcomb and ensure you are ready to deliver. You don’t have any time once you are in the classroom.

If you are going to be catering for any special needs, ensure you are fully aware of how best to handle things. Ask the teacher for advice if necessary.

The school may have informed you about any special dietary requirements (if relevant). I recommend checking again once in the classroom in case someone has been missed.

There is often hardly any time to even visit the loo on a school day, so have everything you need to hand. Include your drinks, snacks, and lunch.

Have the right mindset

You genuinely have to like the children.

They are enthusiastic, inquisitive, creative, and funny. You may find their behaviour a little challenging at times, but remember they are just kids. There is usually a reason for their behaviour and it’s your job to make everyone feel included and able.

You need to be on their side and want them to have a good time.  

If you can’t manage that, they will spot it a mile off.

Show your expertise

Demonstrate passion, enthusiasm, and interest in your topic. Bring it alive.

Dipping chocolates into a tank of chocolate

Think about the audience and how best they will receive the information. Engage the children with questions and allow them to interact. Bring props, visuals, hand things around.

However tired or trying some situations maybe, you need to be professional at all times.

If you are faced with a situation that you have not encountered before, use other experts to help you get this right. If you will be dealing with specific special needs, go seek advice on how best to communicate with your audience for example.

I recommend Next Page Books in Hitchin for some special needs advice and relevant reading material.

Control the room

Think about the age of the children in terms of room control. Clapping patterns might be ideal for primary school children, but inappropriate for older ones.

Be in charge, be firm and fair.

Work with the teacher. 

Different coloured chalks on a blackboard

How do they control noise in the class, emulate their methods, or introduce your own?  

Get buy-in from the pupils at the outset. Explain what you will be doing to ask them to stop talking and do that. Don’t start shouting over the class – you will lose your voice and control.

Rarely some teachers are not great at class control. I’ve been in classrooms where the teacher shouted all day and was disrespected by the class.  

Feel free to impose your own class control methods and ensure you get the class to listen.  

Who are the stakeholders?

The teacher may have booked you and wishes to demonstrate to the head or governors that it was a good investment.  

Help them achieve this. 

If they visit the classroom to see what’s going on, include them in activities if possible. Perhaps you could leave something behind, to demonstrate what the children have been working on. Gain feedback from the teachers/children to help justify the investment.

To every teacher out there who runs successful school events every day, I take my hat off to you. I’m in awe of the amazing things you do with our children every day. Be a teacher for a day and you will get to see how hard they work. Very rewarding work and worth all the effort.  

Wishing you good luck with your school events.

How to taste chocolate

How to taste chocolate

We are not talking about your everyday chocolate treats here. The taste of these is familiar to us and we tend to shove it all in without thinking too much!

How to taste chocolate properly, like a professional connoisseur is what we are going for here:

What chocolate?

It will likely be dark chocolate. There are many ‘notes’ to chocolate. It is a wonderful ingredient that can produce many flavour experiences such as nutty or fruity.

chunks of white and dark chocolate on a board with a wooden spoon filled with grated chocolate

There are, however, some fabulous examples of milk and white chocolate too at the gourmet end.

Don’t think just in terms of cocoa content. Quality is not necessarily about the cocoa content, but about the quality of the bean. Some dark chocolates have been highly roasted to disguise a poorer quality bean.

Raw chocolate has unroasted or very lightly roasted beans to really showcase the bean’s properties. There are some interesting (and slightly more challenging) options to try, depending on your taste.

Be prepared to pay a lot more for your gourmet chocolate bars.

Where do I go for gourmet?

Visit a posh chocolate shop and they should be knowledgeable about what they are selling and help you choose according to your taste.

High-end chocolate shops will often offer tasting sessions. These are well worth it, as you can try a few and find out what chocolate you enjoy the most.

A good supermarket will also have a decent amount of quality chocolate bars on offer too.

There are good online retailers such as Cocoa Runners. They offer a tasting club and have a fantastic array of chocolate bars on offer. When I’m running a gourmet tasting, these are my go-to suppliers.

Chocolate Guru

I’m going to share the wise words of a chocolate guru – Chloe Doutre-Roussel. The chocolate buyer for Fortnum and Mason’s for a number of years. Doutre-Roussel is highly regarded in the chocolate world. I believe she is around a size 6 and used to taste her way through a 1lb of chocolate every day. She would get up early, swim, and drink only water until her tasting was completed. Nothing was allowed to taint her tastebuds and ruin the full effect of the chocolate.

Here’s how to taste chocolate
(taken from The Chocolate Connoisseur- By Chloe Doutre-Roussel)

When presented with a square of chocolate:

  1. Look at it: what do you see? Colour? Shine? Texture? Blooming or discolouration?
  2. Touch it: what do you feel? How does the broken surface look: smooth or rough and bubbly? Sticky?
  3. Listen to it: what do you hear as you snap a square in half?
  4. Smell it: what do you find?
  5. Taste it: put a tiny piece in your mouth, chew it, then stop and allow it to melt.
  6. Concentrate on how you feel, and if there is any change in flavour of what your tongue feels over time.
  7. Look for flavours:
    • do you recognise them?
    • perhaps they evolve over time?
    • interact with each other, or do they seem to come in separate phases?
      is one more present and clear than the others, or do they combine?
    • rate their intensity.
  8. Good chocolate has three distinct phases. Try to distinguish them:
    • what you feel in the first seconds
    • what you feel while it slowly melts
    • now swallow, what you feel now. This phase is called the ‘end of mouth’.

The Finish

chocolate making

Like many, I only used to eat the cheapo chocolate that we find everywhere. Since I made chocolate my business, I’ve learned to really appreciate the finer chocolates out there. I find the everyday chocolate a little too sweet these days. I still enjoy a naughty treat now and again, but prefer the better quality stuff. It has so much more to it.

I want you to notice the finish – when you enjoy good dark chocolate, the flavour will stay in your mouth so much longer. We want a nice long finish!

Come us tell us what good chocolate you have been tasting over on my Facebook page.

Imagine if tasting chocolate was part of your business. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it!

Tales from the Chocolate Tank (part 1)

Tales from the Chocolate Tank (part 1)

I’m not so keen on telling this story, as the re-telling brings back ‘bad’ memories.

Two tanks of chocolate

Most of the tales from my chocolate tanks bring back happy memories, inspiration, and joy. I will be sharing more tales in future blogs, so watch this space!

I’m kick-starting my tales with a total chocolate-disaster though darling!

It’s all in the planning

I was booked for a corporate chocolate team-build, and I always check the venue and access beforehand. I had some concerns as there was no on-site parking, but I was assured of a loading bay for access.

On arrival, the loading bay was blocked. As time was ticking on, I had to find somewhere else to park. The nearest alternative was a multi-storey car park. I found a spot and told the venue I had arrived. I was unloading my car when it all went very wrong!

Disaster struck

In case of access issues, I had bought a trolley (premonition on my part?). Including my large chocolate tank, I loaded up the trolley and set off.

Two paces from the car, the whole trolley load fell to the ground. My chocolate tank toppled off the top, spilling all its contents (eight kilos of molten chocolate) all over the car park floor.

Not only did it spill, but it also splashed all over my body and clothing leaving me dripping in chocolate and a total mess.

I couldn’t deliver the event for the client at all. Even if I had gone along and ‘made do’ with the other chocolate activities we had planned I was unfit for purpose. Covered head to toe in chocolate is not the best look!

Honesty is the best policy

I phoned and explained what had happened, and to my shame I even found myself getting upset on the phone. It was only a fun thing for them, but I always wish to deliver what I promise and I was truly devastated to let my client down.

Of course, I offered their money back and to do the event on another day. To their utter credit, they just asked me to make the chocolates on their behalf and deliver them at a later date. No question of me giving them a refund. How kind is that? Of course, I bought an extra treat for each of them and popped that in their bags of chocolates too.

Meanwhile…..

Back at the car park, kind people were coming up to me and asking if I was OK. Snivelling, covered in brown ‘stuff’ – how brave were they to approach me at all!

The icing on the cake came when a lady driving a huge 4 x 4 drove straight through the chocolate puddle and got me covered in even more chocolate. Without even a backward glance – it was the final straw!

So I packed up my wares and headed out of the multi-storey, only to find that I had forgotten to validate my car park ticket in the mayhem. Getting out of my car to go and see the attendant, he saw me approach, took one look at me immediately opened the barrier. I thanked him and said, “I think you will find there is a bit of chocolate on Level 3”!

It was a great to experience how good people are when you are honest, open, and do your best for them, despite the difficulties you are facing! I have also definitely learned from this rather messy mistake.

It’s also provided a good few laughs at a dinner party or two – you can borrow it if you like, but I don’t recommend repeating the experience!

Come and tell us your funny stories over on my facebook page.